Fr Robert (Bob) O’Regan SMA
The oldest member of the Irish Province, Fr Bob O’Regan, died peacefully at St Theresa’s Nursing Unit, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork at 7am on Tuesday, 21 August 2012. He was 97 years old.
Bob O’Regan was born on 18 January 1915 in the family home at 6 Tonyville, High Street, Cork. He was the eldest of six children born to William and Elizabeth O’Regan (née Barry). His primary education was at CBS Sullivan’s Quay (1922 – 1928) and he did his secondary schooling in Presentation College, Western Road. After completing his education, Bob worked for some years in Buckley’s Cabinet & Furniture Makers on Lavitt’s Quay. A keen sportsman, he was a member of the Nemo Rangers Club and played hurling for them in the 1930’s. Bob loved everything about his native city and was intensely interested, and knowledgeable, about the history of its different neighbourhoods and streets.
He began his formation with the African Missions in 1937, at the age of 22, and took his First Oath on 2 July 1939, after completing his Novitiate and Philosophy at Cloughballymore, Co Galway. Bob became a permanent member of the Society on 13 June 1942. Normally, SMA priests were ordained in St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry, Co Down. Because of the war it was difficult for people to travel to Newry and several SMA priests were ordained in their home areas. As a result Bob was ordained to the priesthood, along with a number of diocesan priests, on 20 December in St Patrick’s Church, Skibbereen, Co Cork by the last independent Bishop of Ross, Dr Denis Moynihan.
After Ordination Fr Bob was appointed to Mid Western part of Nigeria, then still a British colony, to what was then the Vicariate Apostolic of Asaba-Benin (formerly VA of Western Nigeria). He was to spend nearly thirty years in that part of the Lord’s vineyard, seeing the creation of the dioceses of Benin City (1950), Lokoja (1955) and Warri from Asaba-Benin. He served in many parts of the Vicariate and diocese, led by Bishop Patrick J Kelly SMA.
He began his missionary career in the Okene / Kabba District, living at Kabba and Lokoja. When Kabba became a Prefecture under the care of the Canadian Spiritans, the three remaining SMA priests there moved back into Benin City: Bob went south to the riverine area around Warri. (The other two Lokoja SMA’s, Fr Maurice Maguire and Fr Frank Convey, opened Igarra in the Akoko-Edo area of the diocese). Fr Bob worked for some years in Ashaka from where, in 1954, he began a new parish at Ughelli. In October 1956, Fr Michael McGlinchey was appointed as curate in Ughelli.
The other two Lokoja SMA’s, Fr Maurice Maguire and Fr Frank Convey, opened Igarra in the Akoko-Edo area of the diocese.
When Warri diocese was created, on 10 March 1964, Bishop Lucas Nwaezeapu asked Bob to be his Secretary, recognizing his great skill as an administrator and orderly way of doing things. After some time at this work, Bob returned to Benin City diocese and ministered first at the Holy Cross Cathedral parish in Benin City itself.
While there he founded a new parish: St Joseph’s. It was a remarkable achievement as he lived in a school classroom for the entire period. Fr Dick Wall SMA remarks that the welcome one received from Bob in his classroom / home was exceptional. “You always received a royal welcome whenever you called to Bob.” This echoes what Fr James Higgins wrote of Bob in his book, Kindling the Fire: ‘Bob’s friendly, calm temperament made him accessible to all and he helped to initiate many young priests into pastoral work” (Nigerian & Irish). His final appointment in Nigeria was as Parish Priest of Ogwashi-Uku.
Fr Bob served in Ashaka parish during the Nigerian Civil War and, despite the ever-present danger to him as the frontline moved back and forth across this part of Nigeria, he stayed with the people throughout the War, which ended in 1970.
Fr Bob left Nigeria finally in October 1972 and worked from October 1973 to February 1980 in England, in the dioceses of Clifton and Portsmouth. Following a request from the British Provincial Superior, Fr Donal Fennessy, Bob agreed to join the staff at the SMA Formation House in New Barnet as House Bursar. He carried out that work diligently for eleven years before handing over to Fr Peter Thompson, with whom he had worked in Benin City many years before. Staying on in New Barnet, Fr Bob was a fatherly figure to the SMA seminarians who hold him in high regard and affection. It was remarked by one of them that Bob had “a suitcase of cards, for all occasions. Each day he posted cards to different people for births, deaths, marriages, whatever. Bob received the largest amount of mail each day in New Barnet.”
In 1993, Fr Bob moved back to his native Cork and lived for a while in the family home in High Street. The following year he moved into the SMA House on Blackrock Road where he remained until his death. Whilst there he celebrated his Ordination Diamond Jubilee and would have celebrated his Platinum [70 years] this December.
Bob is predeceased by his sister Monica, and his four brothers: Finbarr, Patrick, James and Liam. He is survived and mourned by his sisters-in-law, Monica and Anne, nephews and nieces, relatives and friends as well as his confreres in the Society of African Missions.
Requiescat in Pace
Tuesday, 21 August 2012
5.30pm: Reception of remains at the SMA House, Blackrock Road
7pm: Rosary in the Community Oratory.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
7pm: Prayers for the Dead followed by removal of remains to St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton.
Thursday, 23 August 2012
12 noon: Concelebrated Funeral Mass followed by burial in the adjoining SMA cemetery.