Fr Michael Boyle SMA, the oldest member of the Irish Province, passed peacefully to his eternal reward on Ash Wednesday morning in St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Warrenpoint, Co Down, aged 96 years. In accordance with his wishes, his Funeral Mass took place in the Community Chapel in the African Missions, Dromantine, Newry, on Friday, 19 February 2021 at 11am.
Due to Irish government travel regulations the Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA, was unable to attend the funeral. He was represented by the Dromantine Local Leader, Fr Damien Bresnahan SMA, who celebrated the Funeral Mass in the presence of the Dromantine community and some of Fr Boyle’s relatives. Assisting Fr Damien at the Mass and burial was the Very Rev Canon Francis Boyle, the last surviving member of Fr Michael’s immediate family.
The following is an edited version of Fr Damien’s homily.
“Little could Michael Boyle ever have imagined where the road of life would have brought him when he left O’Hagan & O’Hare’s Chemist, Newry, to go out to Dromantine in 1945 for an interview for the Missionary Priesthood with the Society of African Missions (SMA).
At the age of twenty years, Michael answered the Call from God and presented himself for mission. That same year he headed West, to Cloughballymore, Co Galway, to the SMA Novitiate for two years before going to Dromantine for his studies and formation programme for the missionary life with the SMA.
Of course, the main preparation was the formation Michael got at home, in Warrenpoint and later Rosetta Park, Belfast, from his parents James and Delia and his siblings. Being nurtured in the faith within the Boyle family and growing up as the middle child of seven, Michael was well prepared to leave home and country and take up the missionary life.
The gifts and talents that Michael was blessed with would find plenty of scope for sharing with the wonderful people he was to meet in the various missions in mid-west Nigeria.
I always knew that Fr Michael had special qualities but it was only recently that I learned that he was born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone and at was possibly this factor that gave him a special edge in life!!
In 1951, Michael was ordained for priesthood in the Society of African Missions with eleven other classmates. The Ordination was celebrated in St. Catherine’s Dominican Church, Newry on 13th June as Newry Cathedral was undergoing renovation. Made up of witty and interesting characters, you could imagine how this SMA class of 12 might have looked upon themselves as the current 12 apostles of their day!
Fr Michael celebrated his first Mass in the Parish church in Warrenpoint with family and parishioners before he set sail for West Africa and the welcoming shores of Nigeria.
His appointment was to the Diocese of Benin City and he arrived in the town of Asaba in late 1951. For the next forty-two years Fr Michael was to serve in many Mission stations and parishes throughout Benin and later the Diocese of Warri: Asaba, Sapele, Ozoro, Warri, Ughelli, Benin City, Eme-Ora, Ekpoma, Ewatto, Ugo, Osiomo, Agbor and Kwale.
During the Nigerian Civil War Fr Michael became Bishop Kelly’s secretary and as Fr Jimmy Higgins put it – ‘there in that little office, just off Bishop’s bungalow, Fr. Michael kept the records and the financial accounts of this vast diocese, with efficient, meticulous scrupulosity’. Michael has great admiration for Bishop Kelly and in many ways imbibed something of Bishop Kelly’s simple and austere style of living.
Michael was abstemious and a strict disciplinarian who brooked no nonsense either as manager of schools or pastor of souls – but with this of course, he himself was very hard working – very conscientious and devoted to his work. Sr Loreto McCarthy, OLA, who worked with Michael at Agbor, was telling me that if you wanted something done well you could ask Fr Michael and he would be sure to see to it.
Many knew him as a sympathetic priest, especially to those in need. Many sick people, invalids, handicapped and catechists who came under his care in the Bishop’s compound and in so many Mission stations, can never forget his loving help. Michael spent nothing on himself but all was for the needs of others.
When he was Parish Priest of Ugo he was also an attentive chaplain to the women, men and children who lived at the Osiomo Leprosy Settlement. Fr Dick Wall claims that Michael’s brief training as a chemist at O’ Hagan & O’Hares, Newry, before joining the SMA, was a great help to him in the work with those suffering from leprosy.
It seemed appropriate that Fr Michael died on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent which is a special time in the Church for those preparing to receive Sacraments at Easter. He always took a very active interest in catechumens, often preparing them personally for the reception of the sacraments. At this time in many Mission parishes many people will be following that path during this Lenten Season leading up to Easter. This important ministry was so central to Fr Michael’s mission life.
Due to persistent ill-health in the early 1990s Fr Michael reluctantly had to retire in 1993 and returned to live in Belfast, while being a member of the SMA Apostolic Community at Dromantine. At the end of 2014, Michael moved to live in Dromantine and spent the last few years at St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Warrenpoint, where he received wonderful care from the nurses, carers and all the staff there. The SMA and the Boyle family are so grateful to all at St Josephs’s.
However, it has to be said that ‘the star’ in Fr Michael’s constellation was undoubtedly Jacqueline Kennedy who continued to care for him – not just in Dromantine but throughout his time in St Joseph’s. It was so appropriate and proper that Jacqueline would be with Fr Michael when he breathed his last on Ash Wednesday morning just after 11am. Thank you Jacqueline for all your devoted care.
‘Ageing is a privilege, denied to many’. Fr Michael was certainly among the privileged as he celebrated his 96th birthday on the first day of this month of February. He was so blessed with clarity of mind and continued to the end to enjoy a laugh and fun with his quirky and dry wit and sense of humour.
We have gathered in celebration today to pray Michael home to God to join his parents, his sister Sr. Joan OSF, his brothers Canon Liam, James, Dom Bernard OCSO and Xavier and all the many people to whom he made a difference during his long life and especially his many years of generous missionary service.
He will be missed by his brother Fr Frank and all those whose lives he touched – but no one can begrudge his easy, gentle passing as he goes to share the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven. May Fr Michael rest in peace.”
Following the Funeral Mass, Fr Michael was laid to rest beside his parents and others in the family plot in Kilbroney, Rostrevor, Co Down.