Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA celebrated the 25th anniversary of his Ordination on 25 June with his SMA community in Blackrock Road, Cork. During a Thanksgiving Mass, led by the SMA community Leader, Fr Colum O’Shea, the following homily was delivered by Fr Eddie O’Connor. It has been slightly edited to explain some of the places mentioned by Fr O’Connor.
Today we celebrate Fr Malachy’s Silver Jubilee – ordained priest on this day 25 years ago by the late Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich. It’s a date that holds very special memories for him and for his family and the community of Tullyallen. But it’s memorable in another way since his ordination date is also the anniversary of the death of Melchior de Marion Brésillac, the Founder of our Society to which Malachy had promised his life as a missionary.
Malachy was born on 23rd July 1962 to John and Mary Flanagan and was one of eleven children. After ordination he was appointed to Ilorin and he spent the next 7 years in the diocese of Ilorin – at the Cathedral with Fr Sean Lynch, in Guffanti in Borgu with Fr P.J. Kelly, then taking over from Fr Paddy McGovern in Offa and after this to New Bussa near Kainji Dam. When Kontagora became an Apostolic Prefecture in 1996 (which includes the Borgu and New Bussa areas) he joined Msgr Tim Carroll as Chancellor and Justice and Peace Co-ordinator. At first he looked after St. Michael’s Cathedral but then joined Msgr Carroll in the GRA area of the town. In 2006 he was appointed Assistant Provincial Bursar and took over from Fr Jarlath Walsh as Provincial Bursar in 2007.
Kontagora Prefecture, and later Vicariate, was a huge challenge to those who worked there – 25,000 sq. miles. The situation was very different from what we met in the Southern Zaria area of Kaduna 20 years before. We also had the bad roads but education was established and development programmes were in train. So when Malachy read the Gospel passage, “seeing the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd,” he could empathise with the Kamberis and other non-Hausa people who had been downtrodden for far too long with few opportunities to raise themselves up. But sympathy and scripture quotations weren’t enough. The people had to be uplifted from their brokenness and poverty – had to be educated, have their health needs taken care of and a programme of development for the whole person put in place.
The paper work in drawing up projects, sending reports and accounts was only part of his work but no one could doubt that this work was of great importance in helping people towards their economic and social independence. His work in Kontagora took a load of responsibility off Bishop Tim’s shoulders.
Malachy – calmly, efficiently, patiently and in faith – worked with clergy and laity in his own way and in his own time without any fuss in the fields of health care, support in justice issues, literacy. When it came to well-digging projects in the villages Malachy was of particular help since he has the gift of water divining. We might need that gift yet in Blackrock Road when Phil Hogan lands us with big water charges!
But Malachy and his co-workers in Kontagora weren’t social workers. They never lost sight of the fact that they were missionaries and that they were there to establish the Church on a firm foundation with catechesis and sacraments as well as the social empowerment of their people. Churches were built, the lay organisations for women, men and the youth were encouraged and strengthened and there was a regular programme of adult catechesis. Their work and their lives witnessed to the good news that God is working in a broken world and making it new.
From the 1990s on came the growth of militant Islam, especially with the introduction of Sharia law – the intimidation, the almost tangible hatred of Christians, the attacks on churches and missions, the burning of churches, officials determined to frustrate you at all levels because of what you represented. Kontagora was not spared the wanton destruction of such violence. Living in this atmosphere demanded deep reserves of strength – courage and faith – for priests and people. It takes its toll.
It was in Kontagora that Malachy really blossomed and showed his talents. In all that he did he was putting into practice the Founder’s belief that the missionary should respect and preserve the culture of the people he or she serves.
The words of Bishop Matthew Kukah at the ordination of Bishop Bulus Yohanna testified to the work of the SMAs of which Malachy is one of our younger and valued members:
Today this great work is being continued and that is what we are celebrating here. We are celebrating a transition, a change of baton, a coming to fruition, the growth of a seamless faith that has been handed over to us. The challenge now is for us to continue the good work that has been entrusted to us.
Malachy played his own part in that transition.
Then came 2006 and, as a good SMA, he answered the call to serve the Society in yet another role – that of Provincial Bursar. With his quiet competence and pleasant manner he has carried out his work over those years – work that few of us would feel able to do. From my own dealings with him over the last 4 years I have found him open and understanding – not always easy to be that way at the time of annual accounts with a fellow whose balance sheet doesn’t always balance! Many are the nights Malachy’s office light burns late so that our patrimony is protected. Last year he was elected Vice-Provincial – a job he combines with that of Provincial Bursar.
Malachy, whether as a member of the community, of the house council or anything he was asked to do by the Superior, has always been available and given himself freely. At all times he has been interested in the welfare of his confreres and in the staff – and his suggestions and observations come out of concern for the welfare of the individual and the house. He’s a regular visitor to St. Theresa’s Nursing Unit and is kind and understanding to all. He’s a man with a good sense of humour and good for a song when the occasion calls for it.
Discipleship is costly and in the hidden corners of Malachy’s life – beneath the calm exterior – there must have been demands, sadness, fears, doubts, many little crosses laid on him – all of which he had to endure in the loneliness that all too often is the missionary’s companion – which demanded total trust in the Lord of the Harvest. But he is still with us as a faithful servant of the Society and the Church, a man of faith, a man who has answered the call to discipleship in his ordination, in his Yes to Ilorin, to Kontagora, to his work here in Blackrock Road – to the posts of Provincial Bursar and Vice-Provincial.
A Jubilee is a time not only to celebrate but especially to give thanks to God who made it all possible, to his father who has passed away and to his mother, family members and friends and his community in Tullyallen, to his Society and especially to the peoples of Nigeria among whom he worked and who gave him so much joy and satisfaction.
And so we look to the future with our trust in the Lord, echoing the words of Cardinal Newman fromLead kindly light:“so long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still will lead me on”.
Malachy, “May God who has begun this good work in you, bring it to fulfilment”. Amen.