Fr Michael Nohilly SMA died peacefully in the Cork University Hospital [CUH] 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. Before the transfer of Fr Michael’s remains to Wilton, a Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated in the SMA House, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork. Fr Anthony Kelly, SMA Provincial Councillor, preached at this Mass. Fr Michael and Fr Anthony had worked together for some years in Ghana, West Africa.
The Mass readings were: 1 Timothy 6:11–16 and John 19:17-18, 25 & 30. The following is an edited version of Fr Anthony’s homily.
Jesus invites us to follow him and in return he promises to bring us home.
Jesus never said it would be easy but he did that those who follow Him would not walk in darkness but would have the light of Life. To ‘follow him‘ means taking up our own Cross, whatever this may be. Someone once said that the Greatest Man that ever walked this earth was given a Cross, and if you are lucky you will get one too. All of us that knew Michael Nohilly know that he was given a very heavy cross about 12 years ago when, following a stroke, he lost the power of his speech and his hearing. For a man that liked to joke and laugh and engage with people this must have been a very heavy Cross. St Rose of Lima whose feast day was a few weeks ago said she had a vision where Jesus spoke to her saying that without the Cross there is no road to Heaven but in that same vision the Lord also told her that the measure of Heavenly gifts is increased in proportion to the Cross that we are asked to carry. As Christians we believe that the vocation of suffering is accompanied by the grace and strength to carry the cross and this according to St Rose has a purifying effect on us. Michael bore that cross with courage and until recently with great patience and love.
A few months ago, after the death of his brother Johnny, Michael seemed to give up and he seemed to feel the moment of his approaching death was drawing near. He was no longer interested in a walk or a chat or engaging with people around him or even watching Golf on TV. That was the case during the week when he was admitted in CUH. He indicated to the Doctor that he was not interested in any medical intervention. Like Jesus in the Gospel of today he “knew that everything had been completed”. He made signs to the Doctor that he wanted to go to the Lord. He demonstrated this by waving his hands. For those of us that were with him this was hard to accept but Michael was a man of Faith and he had complete trust in the promise of Jesus “come to me all you who are burdened and heavily laden and I will give you rest for your souls”. Moreover, he was ready to go to meet his Lord and Saviour. He certainly lived out his life in the words of St Paul in todays first reading “Strive to be holy and godly, live in Faith and Love, fight the good fight of Faith and win everlasting life to which you were called”. Fr Denis Ryan and I had the great privilege of working alongside Michael as he fought the good fight in Sunyani diocese in Ghana through his work and love for people.
I was so blessed to have Michael as my first Parish priest in 1977. He was a great, great pastoral man putting the people first at all times. Everything he did was done willingly and with great care and preparation.
Language: He faithfully practiced the Twi language and encouraged me too to work at the language during my first years in Ghana. He went to great lengths to show me how to organise the work, catechism classes for those preparing for the sacraments. He had a wonderful grasp of the language himself and would floor the people during his homilies by peppering them with proverbs. He encouraged the people to get involved in the Credit Union and to take out loans to better their farms and their homes.
Pastoral work: He was meticulous about his pastoral work. We shared the visitation of outstations and after a week on trek he would always encourage me to take a day off and go to stay overnight with one of our confreres. He had a great balance of work, prayer and leisure. He organised home visitation in the town where we stayed. He helped the villages to help themselves by encouraging them to start a small church or a school of their own. During the time we were in Ghana there were coups and counter coups so things were scarce but Michael encouraged people in the villages to cooperate and he formed them into Zones so each Zone took turns to do a project in their own village, e.g. build a school.
Education: There was a huge shortage of teachers for these new schools. No teacher wanted to go to teach in a remote village. To address these problems, he encouraged the local youth – girls and boys – to attend teacher training College to get a certificate of education so that they could teach in a basic school.
Championing the Underdog: He was a supporter of the underdog and when he saw how women were treated in Africa he supported and encouraged them to better their lives. We had a text from one of his former school friends from Ballinafad schooldays, who described him as a great motivator and a very practical man. He was certainly that in his ministry as a missionary in Ghana. How well he motivated the people in a practical way to build a school always put up Wooden Pillars get the roof on and then let the people build the walls and put in floors.
Se wo furo dua pa a, obi be pia wo ho………..be pia wo to! Salt of the earth.
Fun: He always had a great sense of fun. Villagers loved to visit as he would welcome them and, if they had travelled a long distance, he would give them a cup of tea and a slice of bread and they would be so proud and happy. When someone would disappoint him or let him down by not turning up on time or maybe not turning up at all he would use a custom Nsa – Ka and tell them he could not greet them until they rectified the situation. He would even admonish me also, right up to recently. A few times when he and I returned from visiting Galway, I would park in the house next door to Blackrock Road [Feltrim] and Michael would have to walk through the grounds to get to St Theresa’s where he lived. He would make the sign that he was not happy but he would always appreciate when I would leave him at the Door of St Theresa’s.
I know I was very lucky to have Michael as my first Parish Priest in Ghana because he taught me everything about Missionary work and how to go about it in a loving way. People loved him and he loved them. He always respected their customs and treated them with dignity and respect. He was a great Missionary. I have no doubt he is now enjoying Peace and Love and all the good things about Heaven where he is meeting his brother nephew and brother in Law. May the gentle soul of Michael rest in Peace.
Read Obituary of Fr Michael Nohilly here.
Read the Homily of Fr Seamus Nohilly SMA at the Funeral Mass.
Apologies for the delay in publishing this homily which were due to circumstances beyond my control. Fr Martin Kavanagh SMA