Fr Michael Nohilly SMA [RIP] – Obituary

Fr Michael Augustine Nohilly SMA died peacefully in the Cork University Hospital on Tuesday, 27 September 2022, aged 76 years. Fr Nohilly was buried after a Concelebrated Funeral Mass in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork on Friday, 30 September 2022.

Michael Nohilly was the fifth of seven children born to Joe and Nora [née Burns] on 27 August 1946 of Cummer, Tuam, Co Galway. Michael attended Cummer Monastery Primary School (Franciscan Brothers). His secondary schooling was at the SMA Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, Belcarra, Castlebar, Co Mayo and Tuam CBS. Having decided to respond to a call to missionary priesthood, Michael followed an older brother, Seamus, into the SMA.

He began his priestly formation at the SMA Novitiate in Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway and became a member of the Society on 29 June 1967. He studied Philosophy and Theology at the SMA Major seminary in Dromantine, Newry, Co Down (1967-1972) and completed his theology studies at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare where the SMA had moved to following the closure of Dromantine. This was done partly to ensure a greater connection between the SMA and the diocesan clergy and to take advantage of the greater variety of courses available in the National Seminary and in Maynooth University.

He was ordained a priest in St Colman’s Church, Cummer, by the late Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev Joseph Cunnane, on 13 June 1973.

Michael, along with two classmates, was appointed to the Archdiocese of Kaduna, Nigeria. The Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970, and the issuing of Visas for Irish missionaries became an issue with the Nigerian authorities. When it was clear that no Visas would be issued, Michael was reassigned to the fledgling Irish SMA mission in Sunyani diocese, Ghana. He arrived in Ghana on 2 November 1973 and served there until May 1990 where he was an exemplary missionary, particularly noted for his commitment to speak the local Twi language, and amazing his parishioners by his proficiency in the language and using their proverbs to illustrate some teaching or other or in his homilies.  Visiting the large number of outstations attached the different parishes he served was also notable, which included sleeping in a school classroom or a hut during his visits. Ghana was a very challenging mission during Michael’s time there. Food and medicines were in short supply and our missionaries – as well as the Ghanaian people themselves – suffered a lot but our men stayed with them. During 1984-1985, Michael had a sabbatical year which gave him, as well as an opportunity to update himself in theology and missionary methods, time to rest and gain some weight. After his sabbatical, Bishop James Owusu of Sunyani diocese was happy to welcome Michael back and resume his service of the people. In his homily at a Mass on the day of Fr Michael’s burial, Fr Anthony Kelly speaks of how Michael was always encouraging the people to help themselves – be it building a school, clinic, farming or whatever. “People loved him and he loved them. He always respected their customs and treated them with dignity and respect. He was a great Missionary.” During his years in Ghana, Michael was elected as the Deputy Superior of the team there and attended Society meetings on their behalf. On his departure from Ghana, Bishop Owusu wrote of Michael to the Irish Provincial Superior, “Father has done a lot for my people and no amount of words can be said to pay him our debt of gratitude. We only have to ask the good Lord to reward him fittingly.”

Fr Michael returned to Ireland in 1990 and in November of that year he joined the SMA Promotion Team in the West of Ireland, living at the SMA House near Claremorris, Co Mayo. After two years, he was asked to help out in the SMA Parish – St Peter the Apostle – in Neilstown, Clondalkin, Dublin, before going to the SMA mission in South Africa. From 1993 to 1996, Michael served in both Rustenburg diocese and Pretoria Archdiocese in that country. Returning to Ireland, Michael began what could be described as the second major part of his life – serving in the Archdiocese of Tuam for 18 years. Knock Shrine, Annaghdown, Breaffy (an outstation of Castlebar parish), Moylough and Parke-Crimlin were Fr Michael’s Irish mission fields where, again, he was noted for his kindness and hospitality.

In 2011 Michael had a stroke. While he recovered sufficiently to resume ministry in Parke-Crimlin parish it soon became apparent to him that he could no longer continue as his speaking and hearing were badly affected – conditions that deteriorated further in the coming 2/3 years. Consequently, in 2014, he stepped down from fulltime pastoral ministry and spent a short while in the SMA community in Claregalway but it soon became clear that Michael needed the nursing care provided in the SMA St Theresa’s Nursing Unit in Blackrock Road, Cork. Over the last 7 years, since 2015, Michael settled into the community and participated in the different activities in so far as he could in light of his increasing deafness.

In the words of the second reading at his Funeral Mass: Fr Michael has ‘fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me‘. [2 Timothy 4:7]

Fr Michael is deeply regretted by his sisters Peggy [Gilmore] and Una [Mitchell], his brothers Fr Seamus SMA, Tom and Eamonn, sisters-in-law Margaret, Marie and Gemma, and his brother-in-law Michael Mitchell, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, other relatives, friends, the people of the Diocese of Sunyani, Ghana; Archdiocese of Pretoria, South Africa and the Archdiocese of Tuam, Ireland, and his confreres in the Society of African Missions.

His remains reposed at the African Missions House, Blackrock Road, Cork on Thursday 29 September from 4pm to 5.30pm. A Thanksgiving Mass for the life of Fr Michael was celebrated on Friday, 30 September. Fr Anthony Kelly, SMA Provincial Councillor, preached the Homily. Read his homily here.

His remains were then brought to St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork, for his Funeral Mass at 12 noon followed by burial in the community cemetery. His brother, Fr Seamus SMA, was Principal Celebrant and Homilist. Read his homily here. He was assisted by the SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan and the Provincial Councillor, Fr Anthony Kelly SMA.

Apologies for the delay in publishing this Obituary which were due to circumstances beyond my control. Fr Martin Kavanagh SMA

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