Some weeks ago when Johnie Haverty gave me a copy of a book of his life as a missionary he had just completed, he wrote inside, “Eddie, It’s been a great life”. When he wrote these words he was on his sick bed, on strong pain medication for the cancer that was gaining a stronger hold daily – with no hope of recovery. Yet he could say these words and mean them.
This is a life that spanned 56 years in Nigeria – through the early years of an independent Nigeria, the terrible years of the Nigerian Civil War, the emergence of new political and religious leadership, his deep commitment to his work as a teacher in Kaduna, Zaria and later as principal in St. Mary’s Secondary School (Mr. Sawok succeeded him as principal and his son, Charles, Chief Immigration Officer in the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin is here today with his wife) and then in his final move, to Kachia, 35 miles away as a class teacher where he was free to involve himself in a multitude of things he had wanted to be involved in over years but administrative duties in school restrained him. Teaching was a big Yes for him because he was forming young people for a brighter future but administration was a very small Yes that had to be endured. Now in Kachia he was free to involve himself freely with a deeper participation in church activities, in social development, deeper interaction with the people of the town and the villages.
I feel that when his book, “My Mission Memories” was printed he applied the words of Simeon at the Presentation in the Temple to himself: “Now, Lord, you can let your servant go in peace just as you have promised.” He said to me last week, “It’s time for me to slip away now” and, it happened as he wished, peacefully on Monday morning.
One Saturday recently he asked me: “Where did you go today? “ I said: “I went to Kinsale for lunch and then to the beach in Garretstown (a big sandy beach near Kinsale)”” …………He asked then, “and what did you do?” I said: “I sat in the car, opened the windows, looked at the wind surfers, the people on the beach walking dogs and chatting, all enjoying the sun and the sea. And I read the newspaper.” He said: “You sat and you read the paper!” He said: “I couldn’t do it. I’d have to walk around and talk to people.”
That was Johnie Haverty in a nutshell. Truly a people’s man. That’s what he did all his life, everywhere he went, whether in Craughwell, in Kaduna, Kachia, at a hurling match, a game of golf, a Church function, having a glass of beer – never on his own – always with people.
As I mention hurling, at one time we could get the All-Ireland on the short-wave radio. But on the day Galway were playing there was no talking during the match and just in case the radio misbehaved he had 2 more near at hand!
Johnie was not only liked wherever he was but he was very much loved. He cared about people, their lives, their happiness, their upsets and their failures and, if possible, he tried to do something to make a difference. He did it as a priest who looked after his flock with his regular visitation of out-stations and his care of the central station. It was no bother to him to be out all day on a motor-cycle for Mass in a village, Baptisms, an occasional Marriage, maybe pegging out a new church – in places difficult to get to. The presence of Archbishop Matthew Nda-goso of Kaduna here today is an acknowledgement of Johnie’s contribution to the Kaduna archdiocese and beyond. He had regular visits from past pupils and they turned up trumps when he looked for assistance locally.
For Johnie God was not in a special area of his daily life but he was everywhere – in the classroom, at the market, on the building site of his school, out for a walk in the evening, in his visits to the sick. He didn’t talk very much about religion, at least to me, but he didn’t have to talk – he lived his faith through the love and hope that shone through everything he did – through his compassion and sincerity to all those who were touched by his goodness. His faith and practice of it were very personal. In the morning time his rosary beads would be found entangled in the bed sheets – it was his companion in the quiet dark hours of the night. In the morning when he woke the first picture he saw was that of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and it was the last one he saw before he put out the light. On the wall was his own crucifix and no one knew better than Johnie that he walked the same road of suffering as Jesus. Before he would admit that he was in pain he would have to be really suffering but he’d struggle to hold out before looking for relief.
His work in the field of education brought opportunities and hope to many hundreds of children in the Kachia area. He began with a nursery/primary school, then built a secondary school – all gained enviable reputations for the quality of education imparted. Reduced school fees were provided for those genuinely in need. Social development projects followed such as the grain stores where people could buy the corn for lower prices than in the market. Johnie believed in voluntary labour for his community projects – drawing water, mixing concrete, digging foundations. The people owned the project even though it was financial assistance from Fr. Mike Farrell, his best friend, the people of Craughwell, his family members, SMA grants, that made sure his projects bear fruit. They gave strength to the giving hand that eased the burden of poverty.
But behind the happy stories of the schools, the churches, the new parish carved out of St. John’s, Kachia, and many more happy and progressive events of Johnie Haverty’s life there were also the dark days. He was affected by the insecurity that affected many of the local people with kidnappings for ransom – often people known to him – and the menace of armed robbers especially on the road to Kaduna and the road to Abuja – roads he often travelled.
Johnie was honoured with a Chieftaincy title in 2011– not an honorary title of which there are plenty but the real thing where he had the right to sit on the Council of the Adara people. This tribe numbers about 1 million people. The title was an honour given to him as an expression of the deep gratitude of the Adara people through their Chief Maiwada Galadima for Johnie’s life among them and for the immense contribution he had made spiritually and socially to the Kachia area. A great sadness came when his friend, the paramount Chief of the Adara people was murdered last year. Right up to his own passing this tragic event cast a dark cloud when he reminisced about Nigeria.
I remember in 2000 after the religious riots in Kachia, the Chairman of the Local Govt. asked Johnie for a loan of money to feed those who were displaced because their houses had been burned – they were all Muslims. Johnie gave the loan and saved lives though some of the Christian neighbours misunderstood the gesture.
During his days of health Johnie was an occasional visitor to us in Blackrock Road but when he accepted the reality of his illness which meant leaving Nigeria and returning to Ireland he told me that from then on he would join us in Cork. Of course a big plus was his sister Sr. Agnes who was with the OLA Sisters near us in Ballintemple as was his cousin, Sr. Mary Cahill and a day scarcely passed that one or both of them were not with him. He came and he had no regrets because the care and love that he showed to so many in his life was lavished on him in plenty in St. Theresa’s, our medical unit in SMA House, Blackrock Road. The dedication of our care staff to him and to each of our sick brothers has always been of the best
He was a popular man, well-liked by everyone but more than these he was a man greatly and deservedly loved by his family, – he was always in touch with them and with their frequent visits they almost became honorary SMAs; he was loved by his friends in Ireland and in Nigeria. He described Fr. Mike Farrell as his best friend – a man who would never let him down. He couldn’t divide himself but he truly loved Nigeria and he loved Craughwell and Galway. His heart was big enough for all.
Johnie, rest in peace.