25 June 2015 – SMA Founder’s Day
African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork
Fr Colum O’Shea was the Principal Celebrant of the Mass to commemorate the 156th anniversary of the death of the SMA Founder, Bishop Marion deBrésillac. The following is an edited version of the homily Fr Colum preached at that Mass.
We don’t hear anything again about the Ebola disease which devastated parts of West Africa in recent times. It was headline news for a good period. Freetown was one of the cities struck by the disease.
I imagine if you removed the personnel in the white protective clothing it would have resembled the miserable conditions that our Founder and his companions met in 1859.
In 1859 it was an outbreak of Yellow Fever and not Ebola that decimated Freetown. Back then there was no recourse to International aid.
When reading the account of the final days of the Founder and his companions we get a picture of darkness, failure, hopelessness and death.
These very same images – darkness, failure, hopelessness and death – were very evident on that Good Friday on Calvary, when the broken body of Jesus hung on a Cross.
Just as new life rose from the ashes on Calvary so too with Freetown.
Freetown did not mark the ending but the beginning of something new and wonderful.
The original tomb of the Founder and his companions in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Freetown was a real resurrection experience. The Society survived against all the odds. In times of crises history has a knack of throwing up leaders who respond to seemingly impossible situations. In our case the person who came to the rescue was Fr Augustin Planque SMA, who we honour as Co-Founder of the Society. He was the one who took control and was responsible for keeping the boat afloat.
The Society has experienced many crises since then and it has weathered many a storm. It survived because we are a resurrection people and Jesus is at the helm. I think it is only fair too to acknowledge and commend those who have generously taken on leadership positions down the years to the present time.
We are presently living in changing times, challenging times, interesting times. And we have plenty to be proud of. Yes the Irish Province is decreasing in numbers as are some of the older units. Today the number of Irish SMA members stands at 172 members.
But that is not the full story, we need to look at the bigger picture.
The number of SMA priests of the Districts in Formation is 250. This year we celebrate 25 Ordinations to Priesthood: 5 from India, 2 from the Philippines and 18 from several African countries, including 5 from Nigeria [where many of you here this morning ministered].
We have more than 300 students in our houses of formation, So, on the numbers front, the Society is in a healthy condition. It is not just a numbers game.
Due to the influx of new life the Society has been able to expand and diversify. The Good News continues to be preached.
We have reason to celebrate because we have been part of and have contributed to the success of the mission which Melchior de Marion Brésillac launched 159 years ago. When he died on 25 June 1859 his missionary spirit did not die.
His followers inherited his DNA. We share his missionary DNA, as did all those who have gone before us. While we grow old and slow down that DNA remains active. We need to tune into it. It motivated and energised us to go on mission to preach the Gospel. It inspired us and continues to inspire us to promote love, justice, peace and care of the earth.
The mission continues.