Fr Brendan Dunning SMA [RIP]

The Society of African Missions are mourning the unexpected death of Fr Brendan Dunning SMA, which took place in Laurel Lodge Nursing Home, Longford Town, on Monday, 13 April 2020. Fr Brendan was living there since 17 April last year.

After Primary school in Clonown, Brendan went to the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, Belcarra, Co Mayo – a school run by the SMA for boys considering a vocation as missionary priests. After completing his Leaving Certificate [1962], Brendan entered the SMA Novitiate in Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway and, in October 1963, moved to the SMA House in Wilton, Cork in order to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in UCC.

His theology studies took place at the African Missions Major Seminary, Dromantine, near Newry, Co Down. Brendan was ordained for the Society of African Missions [SMA] in Newry Cathedral on 17 December 1969. He arrived in Nigeria in August 1970. Fr Brendan was a renowned teacher and Sports Master in the Colleges he taught in: Ozoro Teacher Training College and Mater Dei College in Ashaka [both in Warri diocese] and in Aquinas College, Akure [Ondo diocese] and St Joseph’s College, Ondo. In a tribute to him following his death a former student wrote of his time in St Joseph’s: “that was where Fr Dunning had the greatest impact on many young peoples lives, as academician and sports coach.”

A senior colleague, the late Fr James Higgins SMA, wrote of him, “A born teacher, Brendan had a great way with students.  His active interest in sport enabled him to train good football teams, all of which added to his prestige in the school and the village”. [Kindling the Fire, 2003, p 118]. He was Chaplain to the 

His love for parish work led him to assist in the local parishes in Ozoro, Ashaka and Akure at weekends. He eventually asked to be relieved from teaching to go fulltime into parish work and, in 1987, he was appointed as Parish Priest of St John’s parish, Okitipupa, in the south of Ondo diocese. He had to make use of a canoe to visit many of his outstations [as he had to do in Warri diocese], spending some days in each outstation, sleeping under a mosquito net in the church or a classroom. 

Brendan also served in different Society and other appointments in Ireland, though his heart was always in Nigeria. He was the Director of the SMA Family Vocations Community [FVC] in Leinster and later in the west of Ireland for 14 years. He was greatly appreciated by the staff at the SMA Zimmermann House in Claregalway and in the surrounding parishes where he assisted at weekends.

The people of St Peter the Apostle parish, Neilstown, Dublin [1991-1995], Caltra parish, Co Galway [2002-2006] and Lacken parish, Co Mayo [2015-2018] all mourn a tireless pastor who gave of himself unstintingly in caring for the young and the elderly, for families and those who were sick and housebound. He was a tireless preacher but always tempered with a kindness for one and all.

Fr Brendan was predeceased by his parents, John and Mary [née Gavin], his sister Rose [Rogers] and brother Michael.

Fr Brendan is deeply mourned by his immediate family, his sisters Sr Philomena FMDM [London] and Marian [Clonown], his brothers Thomas [Manchester], Eamon [Dublin] and Tony [Clonown], his nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, relatives and a huge circle of friends. We in the Society of African Missions and many other clergy and religious are also mourning his death, but know we have gained a great intercessor before the Throne of God.

And I cannot close this brief tribute to Fr Brendan without mentioning his “deep devotion” to his beloved Roscommon GAA [come on the Rossies!] and Manchester United – his ringtone was the ManU anthem. 

God rest you, Fr Brendan.

Due to the government restrictions on travel, Fr Brendan’s funeral is strictly private. He will be buried in the SMA community cemetery in Wilton, Cork.