Society leaders meet
Every six years the members of the Society of African Missions (SMA) meet to elect their leaders. This happens at the international level (electing a General Council) and at a national level (electing a Provincial Council). At the same time Superiors are elected to lead each Region (country) in Africa where there are SMA missionaries. We are, this year, at the middle of the present six-year mandate of leadership.
Two weeks ago the international meeting – the Plenary Council – took place in Holland. Now each particular unit is conducting its ‘local’ meeting. From 14 – 19 June the Irish Provincial Council and the representatives from Africa and from the local communities in Ireland are meeting at the Provincial House in Cork for the Extraordinary Provincial Council (EPC). The Provincial Leader, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll (pictured right) along with his Vice Provincial, Fr John Dunne and the Provincial Councillor, Fr Damian Bresnahan will host the meeting.
The other participants are the Leaders of the five SMA Houses in Ireland (Frs Dan Cashman, Seamus Nohilly, John O’Brien, Colum O’Shea and Peter Thompson), Regional Superiors from Nigeria North (Fr Maurice Henry), Nigeria South (Tim Cullinane), South Africa (John Kilcoyne), Tanzania (Fr Paddy O’Rourke), Zambia (Anthony Kelly). Kenya will be represented by the Irish member on the Regional Council, Fr Padraig Devine.
Following a reorganising of the SMA administration in Nigeria this will be the last time that there will be two representatives from this, the largest nation in Africa (one in every five Africans is a Nigerian!) From 1 October, Nigeria becomes a single Region with its headquarters in Abuja. Fr Maurice Henry has been elected as the first Superior for the entire country. The outgoing, and last, Superior of Nigeria South, Fr Tim Cullinane (pictured left with Cardinal Anthony Okogie of Lagos) will vacate the Regional House in Ibadan and move on to a new assignment in the Society. With the ordination of three more this year there are now 33 Nigerian SMA priests. They are part of the Bight of Benin District-in-formation. Most of them are on mission in other parts of Africa. Just as Nigerians go abroad on mission, SMA priests from other African countries are working in Nigeria. Some come from Benin Republic, Central African Republic, Ghana and Kenya. We also have a number of Indian SMA priests serving in different parts of Nigeria.
Tanzania possibly presents the most multicultural face of the SMA – with missionaries from 9 different nations: Benin Republic, Canada, India, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines and Poland.
Here in Ireland too things have changed rapidly. Falling vocations, the economic recession which has affected the ability of some to support the needs of the missions, the present situation of the Church in Ireland, the increasing numbers of retired members, secularisation of society … all these need to be taken account of as the EPC looks to the future and how to continue the work entrusted to us as missionaries in Africa.
Our picture, right, shows Frs John Kilcoyne (Regional Superior, South Africa), Dan Cashman (Leader of the SMA Wilton community) and Peter Thyompson (Leader of the SMA Dromantine community).
The reality briefly described here is totally different to the SMA of 20 years ago. Then there were no African or Indian members of the SMA. The age profile of the Society in Africa was increasing rapidly as vocations in Ireland, and in the other parts of the Society (Europe and N America), were rapidly declining. But with the advent of new members from other parts of the world, particularly African countries, India, Philippines and Poland, there is a new dynamism at work in the SMA.
The SMA Superior General, Fr Kieran O’Reilly (pictured left), will participate for part of the meeting, reminding the participants of the priorities etc decided on at the international meeting recently. It will be one of his final tasks before stepping down as SMA Superior General to take on his new ministry as the Bishop of Killaloe. The EPC will discuss the vacancy which has thus arisen on the SMA General Council in the light of Fr O’Reilly’s appointment.
The EPC, taking account of the present reality of the Society – both internationally and with regard to the Irish Province – will evaluate the plans made 3 years ago and will see how they need to be developed further so that the work of mission can be progressed through the efforts of the members of this Society of African Missions.
We ask your prayers for the EPC members. May the Holy Spirit guide them in their deliberations.