19 April 2019 – Good Friday
We gather on this Good Friday – when we commemorate the death of our Saviour – to bid farewell to our dear confrere, Fr Alberto, and to pray that he now shares in the risen life of the Lord who has promised eternal life to all who believe in him.
Welcome to all who have come here today to take part in this funeral service, especially the members of his family in Italy, his SMA confreres and OLA sisters with whom he worked.
I wish to convey my condolences to his sister Maria, brother-in-law, Giorgio; his nieces, Elizabetta and Elena, grandnieces, grandnephew, relatives and friends.
We remember in this Service the deceased members of Fr Alberto family, his parents, Anselmo and Maria Teresa, and grandniece, Maria Teresa.
“He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed; to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.”
“If God is for us, who can be against us.”
“Heal the sick who are there and tell them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you’.
Fr Alberto gave his life and talents in the service of others as a doctor and an SMA priest. He laboured among the poorest and neediest people of Africa. He not only brought the liberating message of the Gospel to the oppressed, he also brought healing to the sick and hope to those pushed to the margins of life. He lived simply and demanded nothing for himself. He now goes to enter into the joy of his Lord and Master and live with him eternally. As we mourn his passing from us, we thank God for his long missionary life in the Lord’s vineyard as we recall some of the key moments of that life.
Alberto was born in Torino (Turin), Italy, on 3 February 1937 – only son of Anselmo Olivoni and Maria Teresa Palazzi. They also had one daughter, Maria, who is here with us today. From 1943 – ’48 Alberto did his primary education with the Salesians in Torino, and his Secondary Education with the Jesuits, also in Torino from 1948 – 56. Having completed Secondary School, Alberto decided he wanted to become a doctor. So he embarked on a course of medical studies at the University of Torino from 1956 – 61. Following his graduation, Alberto worked as a Doctor in Italy. After a few years he felt called to become a lay missionary and decided to leave Italy and work as a doctor in Nigeria. From 1964 to 1978, he worked in St Louis Hospital, Owo, Ondo State, apart from one year (1967-68) when he worked in Oke-Offa Hospital, Ibadan. He also worked as a doctor in Uganda, Thailand and Chad.
In 1982 he decided he wanted to become a missionary priest with the SMA. In a reflection he wrote on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of his Ordination, Alberto stated that it was his contact with the SMA while living in Akure, Ondo State, that sowed the seeds of a priestly vocation. He makes explicit mention of Bishop William Field SMA as a major influence. He undertook the study of Philosophy and Theology and training for the priesthood at the Collegio Pontificio Beda in Rome. While studying at the Beda, he lived at the SMA Generalate in Rome. It is during those years that I first met Alberto during a visit to Rome in 1985 for a symposium on Liberation Theology at Urbaniana University.
Alberto took three temporary oaths of membership of the SMA through the Italian Province before being accepted as a permanent member of the Society on 6 January 1986 by the then Superior General, Fr Patrick Harrington. Then, followed two years of diaconate experience in Ondo, Nigeria, he was ordained to the Priesthood in St Joseph’s Church, Blackrock Road by Bishop William Mahony SMA on 14 July 88.
Following Ordination, Fr Alberto returned to Nigeria and ministered as a priest in Our Lady, Queen of Angels Parish, Akure, along with Fr Andrew Sullivan while continuing to work as a doctor in St Louis Hospital. In 1989 he moved to Ilorin Diocese and, in addition to his priestly ministry, he worked as a doctor in St Brendan’s Catholic Hospital, Bacita, at that time run by the OLA sisters, until 2004. From 2004 he moved to Kontagora Vicariate where he worked for 2 years before taking on a new assignment in the Bauchi diocese in 2006. He was to work there until his retirement to Blackrock Road in 2013.
All in all, Alberto had spent almost 40 years of his life in the service of the people of Nigeria, 14 as a Doctor and 25 as a Priest and doctor. Alberto’s years in Nigeria coincided with a period of remarkable growth for the Church in that country – a growth which led to the emergence of a strong, self-confident, vibrant and today missionary Church which is now sending out its own missionary to many parts of the world, including Ireland. It was, undoubtedly, the dedication and commitment of Fr Alberto, and of missionaries like him, with their great sense of service and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of others less fortunate than themselves, which, by God’s grace, made that miracle of transformation possible.
The Church will always need men and women like Fr Alberto willing to given themselves totally to the missionary vocation. Fr Alberto’s life gave a striking witness to what Pope St John Paul II has termed “the special vocation of missionaries for life.” The Pope goes on to state that this special life-long vocation “retains all its validity: it is the model of the Church’s missionary commitment, which always stands in need of radical and total self-giving, of new and bold endeavours. Therefore, the men and women missionaries who have devoted their whole lives to bearing witness to the risen Lord among the nations must not allow themselves to be daunted by doubts, misunderstanding, rejection or persecution” (Redemptoris Missio, no 65).
The last six years of Fr Alberto’s life were spent in the SMA community of Blackrock Road, where he continued to contribute to the life of the Province and participate as fully as possible in all aspects of the life of the community. He was a man of strong convictions though most of the time he kept these to himself. He was, above all, a man of sterling faith and constant prayer who kept the Lord at the centre of his life. He lived simply and never wished to be a burden on anyone. When his health deteriorated recently, he was well taken care of by the nurses and carers of St Theresa’s Nursing Unit and, in his final days on earth, by the Nurses and carers of the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork. It was a great blessing for him that his immediate family were able to be with him at the end of his life – which came more quickly than most of us expected. He kept in touch with them and looking forward very much to his bi-annual vacation with them in Torino, Italy. He died as he has lived, quietly and without fuss, at peace with himself and ready to meet the Master when he called him.
May the Lord whom he had served so well welcome him into the company of the blessed in Heaven.
Michael McCabe SMA