Fr James Fegan SMA [RIP] – Obituary

The death has taken place, after a short illness, of Fr James Fegan SMA. Fr Fegan died peacefully at the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, on Monday morning, 9 November 2020. Fr Anthony Kelly SMA was with him when he died.

James Fegan (better known in the SMA as Jim) was the eldest child of James and Ellen [née Sloan] of Burren, Warrenpoint, Co Down, born on 20 July 1948 in Downpatrick Hospital, Co Down. He is predeceased by his parents, three of his brothers, Eugene, Anthony and Frank, sisters-in-law Deirdre and Joyce, brother-in-law Mike and his nephew baby Seán. His sisters Collette (Rafferty), Rosemary (Ridler), Eileen (Cywinski) and brothers John, Noel, Gerard, Martin, Gabriel and Thomas survive him.

He attended Carrick Primary School, Burren, St Joseph’s Boy’s High School, Newry and St Colman’s College, Newry. In 1966, he entered the SMA Novitiate at Cloughballymore, Co Galway. The following year he transferred to the African Missions major seminary at Dromantine, Newry, for philosophy and theology studies. In 1968, the SMA made a decision to close Dromantine as a seminary and so, in 1972, Jim transferred to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare, to complete his studies.

Along with 7 classmates, Jim became a permanent member of the Society on 8 June 1972 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty, Bishop of Dromore, in St Brigid’s Church, Newry on 10 June 1973 along with two other SMA priests, a Kiltegan missionary and two diocesan priests. The SMA 1973 class were the first SMA group to be ordained from Maynooth and were the first to be ordained in their home dioceses.

After ordination, Jim was assigned to Nigeria but due to the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War [1966-70], many missionaries were unable to get Visas. He was then assigned to the recently-established SMA mission in Ndola diocese, Zambia. Jim taught in Chiwala secondary school and assisted the late Fr Sexton Doran in the SMA parish at Francisdale. After leaving Zambia, Fr Jim ministered in Springfield diocese, USA and the diocese of Menevia, Wales. From 1981 to 1987, Fr Jim was a missionary in Sunyani dicoese, Ghana. It was a very difficult time for the people of Ghana with civil unrest at times but, most of all, severe shortages of food, medicines, spare parts for vehicles etc. 

He was part of the SMA Promotion teams in different parts of Ireland, collecting Mission boxes in Claremorris and Blackrock Road. From 1989 – 1995, Fr Jim was the FVC Director for Leinster. In this important work, he travelled all over Leinster starting groups of supporters who help in the education of our seminarians, in Ireland and beyond. After a Sabbatical break in 1995, Fr Jim returned to the mission in Ghana, this time as part of the Formation team in Sowutuom. In 1998, Jim returned finally to Ireland and, despite a serious eye complaint, he re-joined the SMA Promotions team, based in Blackrock Road. In 2010, his eyesight had deteriorated to an extent that it was no longer possible for him to drive and do the work expected of him and so he officially retired in Blackrock Road. In these last 10 years, Fr Jim spent many hours in prayer and contemplation. He had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to our Blessed Mother. This opened up opportunities for him to engage with many families, leading them in prayer and celebrating Masses with them on occasion.

Fr James is deeply regretted by his sisters and brothers, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, his aunts Vera Fegan and Bridie Sloan, and his uncles Jimmy Sloan and Johnny Quinn. relatives, friends, the people of the Dioceses of Ndola (Zambia), Springfield (USA), Sunyani (Ghana), Menevia (Wales), and his confreres in the Society of African Missions.

In line with government guidelines, the funeral was strictly private with a limited number of family members allowed.

Fr Malachy Flanagan, SMA Provincial Leader, celebrated the Funeral Mass in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork, after which Fr James was laid to rest in the SMA community cemetery. Fr Anthony Kelly, SMA Provincial Councillor and a colleague of Fr James in Ghana, preached the funeral homily.