Feast of the Immaculate Conception – 159th anniversary of the SMA foundation
8 December 2015
The anniversary of the foundation of the Society of African Missions [SMA] was celebrated throughout the Society on 8 December, the exact date, 159 years ago, when Bishop Marion deBrésillac went to the Chapel of Our Lady of Fourvière on the hill overlooking Lyon, France, to dedicate his Society to the Mother of God.
In Blackrock Road we celebrated a double anniversary – the foundation of the Society and the Golden Jubilee of the priestly ordination of Bishop Tim Carroll SMA [pictured above with Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA]. More than 60 SMA brothers and priests gathered for the Mass, celebrated by Bishop Tim, and at a lunch afterwards in the community dining room. The Irish Vice Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan, preached at the Mass. In his homily, Fr Malachy touched on four points: feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins today, the foundation of the SMA, and the Golden Jubilee of Bishop Tim Carroll. The following is an edited version of his homily.
For a moment, I would like us to think of our own mothers. For most of us, our mothers have gone home to God. But if you were given the chance to create your own mother, how would you create her? Imagine how beautiful you would make her. Well, God did create his own mother and so imagine what a master-piece she must be. And what would be the greatest gift that God could give to his own mother, surely it would be to have her preserved from all stain of sin.
Every year on today’s date, the Catholic Church celebrates its tradition-based belief and dogma that Mary was immaculately conceived in the womb of her very own human mother, Anne. Mary was that chosen vessel, chosen by God himself, to be the one who would bring forth the saviour of the world.
In the gospel we heard the angel say to Mary, “Hail, full of grace”. The particular word Luke used to describe Mary as “full of grace” means that Mary was full of grace all her life. It is saying that Mary is full of grace not just at the moment the angel comes to her but that she is full of grace since the beginning of her life. The angel in greeting Mary as “full of grace” actually describes Mary’s very being.
When Mary appeared to Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858, she didn’t say, “I am an Immaculate Conception”. But she said: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
Today, on this great Feast Day, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy begins. As Pope Francis says: “It will be a Holy Year of Mercy”. It is to be a year of steeping ourselves into the mystery of mercy. Pope Francis wants us to understand – that no one is ever beyond the mercy of God. In Rome today, a Holy Door is opened and the Pope has asked that in every Cathedral a similar door be opened. It symbolises the portal of Mercy and the welcome offered to all for the healing and forgiveness of all the world. Mary is known as the “Portal of Grace” as it was through the portal of her womb that the Person of the face of God was to take flesh. Each of us then should take the opportunity to step through that “Open Door of Mercy” both to receive that gift and then to be ourselves “doors of mercy”.
On this date, the 8th December, 1856 – Bishop Marion de Bresillac led a small group of 6 companions to the shrine of our Our Lady of Fourviere in Lyons. There he consecrated the Society of African Missions to Our Lady and together this small group dedicated themselves to the work of the African Missions. This is the 159thAnniversary and every year we mark this feast as our Foundation Day.It’s good to recall our beginnings and with the eyes of history see that we were not alone on that journey. We draw inspiration from the knowledge that the Lord was with us and blessed our efforts all over the continent of Africa and beyond. The growth and flowering of the new units in our Society is surely a great blessing for us and a testament that the work started 159 years ago still continues and that Mission is very much alive today.
Our Founder was surely a bit uncertain about the future and how it would turn out. And like Mary, he trusted in a God who is always faithful. So we remember him in prayer today – for his generosity in answering the Lord’s call and for his willingness to offer his life in total fidelity to the Will of God. Wanting only what God wants of him. Can we say the same of ourselves as sons of De Bresillac? Do we want what God wants of us?
This leads in nicely to say something about Bishop Tim Carroll as we mark the golden jubilee anniversary of his priesthood.Bishop Tim, a native of Millstreet, was ordained an SMA Priest on 20th December 1965 along with 16 classmates. One was them was also to become a bishop – the late Bishop John Moore of Bauchi Diocese, Nigeria.
In October 1966, he set sail for West Africa and was appointed to the Ibadan Region of Nigeria. After his Tyro at Challenge, Ibadan under the guidance of the late Fr Bart McCarthy, Tim was appointed to the then Prefecture of Ilorin. Ilorin was raised to a Diocese in 1969 with Bishop Willie Mahony as its first bishop.
Bishop Tim is pictured with the oldest member of the Irish Province, Brother Tom Fitzgerald, who spent many years on mission in western Nigeria.
Tim was posted to Oro parish and then later to Lafiagi under Bacita Parish where he was involved in teaching and parish ministry.In both places Tim immersed himself into the learning of the local language and was able to speak Yoruba and Nupewith ease. From 1979 to 1996, Tim was posted at Agwara Parish in North Borgu – still under Ilorin Diocese. And it was in this area that Tim’s passion about learning, speaking and preserving the native languages came to the fore. Tim is a gifted Linguist. Not only did he learn Hausa – the predominant language among Northern Nigeria but Tim set himself at learning the language of the dominant tribe in the area – the Kamberis – or correctly known as the Cishinginis. Tim learnt to speak Kamberi and then when on to translate the gospels and other religious texts into Kamberi and also produced basic literacy books in that language. And Tim didn’t stop there – he also did similar translation works in the Lelna Language (Dakakari) and the Dukawa language.
In December 1995, Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom decided that this area of North Borgu and across the river towards Yauri, Kontagora and Zuru should be carved out and become a new jurisdiction. Tim was chosen as its first Prefect Apostolic. This was a huge upheaval for Tim –and I am sure the words of Mary echoed in his heart – “let what you have said be done” and again “not my will but yours”. Tim now had to leave Agwara Parish and take up residence in Kontagora which became the headquarters of this new jurisdiction. But it was also an exciting time and there was lots of energy and enthusiasm -it was like a new beginning as new structures needed to be put in place for the future for what one day will become a diocese. Up to now, this area was on the margins of three existing dioceses – of Ilorin, Sokoto and Minna. Now it would get the attention it deserved.It’s interesting to note, that staring off, Tim had just 9 priests to help him cover this new but huge area which was just over half the size of Ireland – 4 SMA’s, 3 Kiltegans and 2 Diocesan Priests who joined us from Minna Diocese. Kontagora Prefecture consisted of just 7 parishes.
So, with the support of the SMA’s, Kiltegans and the two diocesan priests, Tim’s vision of a self-sufficientand a self-reliant church was put into action. New parishes were opened, new schools, new convents, catechist training centre, primary evangelisation at the coalface, new outstations, students for the seminary and new local priests. Development and progress was evident. By 2002, Rome raised the Prefecture to the status of a Vicariate and Tim was chosen as Bishop – the Vicar Apostolic.
In 1996, as the Prefecture of Kontagora was being set up, Tim had asked me to be his secretary and chancellor of the Prefecture. I accepted and for the next ten years, I worked alongside Tim in laying the foundations and building up this new jurisdiction – a time and a work I enjoyed and I thank Tim for that opportunity.
In I990, I had the privilege of being present at the occasion of Tim’s Silver Jubilee celebration in Agwara Parish. It’s very interesting that a young seminarian present at that celebration is now Tim’s successor as Bishop of Kontagora in the person of Bishop Bulus Yohanna. Today there are 17 parishes, 26 priests;only two are Irish SMA’s and a host of religious sisters, catechists, schools, health clinics and hundreds of outstations. The gospel seed has surely grown and produced – all within a space of under 20 years.
Tim continued in the role as Bishop of Kontagora till 2010 when ill health forced him to step down. Back in Cork – and not ready to retire, Tim generously accepted the appointment of being Provincial Secretary – a position he held till the end of last year.Tim has a great knowledge of the scriptures and this is evident in his homilies which are always down to earth and “grounded” and I know we look forward to his homilies here in the oratory. Tim is also a great lover of poetry and astronomy.
On left we have Bishop Tim and a classmate, Fr Denis O’Sullivan SMA.
– A Jubilee always calls for a celebration – which we’re doing today. – A Jubilee calls us to look back over what has been – all that has happened.
– A Jubilee calls us to learn from the past and move on.-A Jubilee calls us to look to the future with a renewed vision.
Tim, as you reflect and ponder over the past, may you now look to the future with renewed vision. We wish you every blessing in your retirement as we thank God with you for the past 50 years of sowing the seed and labouring in the Lord’s vineyard.
Ad Multos Annos.