Biography of Bishop Kelly



A Co Galway-born bishop, who spent 70 years as a priest of the Society of African Missions, has been honoured in a new book on his life and work that was launched in his home-town of Ballinsloe on Friday 25 August 2006.

The Book, entitled Bishop Kelly of Western Nigeria, was launched by Archbishop Joseph Cassidy (retired Archbishop of Tuam) at a special function at Gullane’s Hotel, Ballinasloe. The attendance included many church leaders from Ireland and Nigeria.

Mgr Patrick Joseph Kelly, a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), made a huge contribution to Nigerian society in terms of evangelization, education, and medical services.

Born in Craugh in 1894, he went to primary school in Aughrim and then to “The Pines”, now St Joseph’s, Garbally. The eldest son, he shelved a priestly vocation for some years to help on the family’s new farm acquired from the Land Commission at Tristaun.

When his younger brothers were old enough to take over, he went to the African Missions College in Cork. Beginning his studies in 1915, he was ordained a priest of the Society in 1921 and sailed for Africa.

His mission lay in the Irish Province’s new Vicariate of ‘Western Nigeria’. With the help of a French missionary he quickly learned to survive and, after some time, in his first mission of Eku, where he was alone, he proved to be an excellent pastor with a particular concern for the sick and dying.

A fluent Irish speaker he made great progress in learning the local African languages and spoke all of the major ones of his district. Though quiet and even shy, he was well liked by the Urhobos and others, who quickly discerned that he was a man out of the ordinary, a true man of God, who had their interests at heart.

Appreciated by his fellow missionaries, he was appointed their Religious Superior in 1931 and, in 1939, nominated Vicar Apostolic of Western Nigeria. Home on leave the following year, he was ordained bishop in St Michael’s, Ballinasloe, by Msgr Dignan, the bishop of Clonfert.

Bishop Kelly put God first in everything, but did not leave everything to Him. He was particularly committed to education and, building on his predecessors’ achievements, developed a network of some 700 primary schools and over 90 secondary schools, as well as teacher training colleges and seminaries.

Under him Church membership grew from about 30,000 in 1940 to over 180,000. He retired from his diocese, “Benin City”, in 1973, and died in Cork just two weeks short of his ninety-seventh birthday in August 1991.

The author, Fr Michael O’Shea SMA, is a missionary in Zambia and has already published two books on mission: Missionaries and Miners, The beginnings of the Church in Zambia, and Mission or Martyrdom, the Spirituality of Melchior de Marion Brésillac and the Society of African Missions.

The book is available at a cost of euro 10 or euro 12 (including p&p). For further information, please contact Fr John Horgan SMA, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork. Telephone: 021-4292871.

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