Fr James G (Jim) Lee SMA
THROUGH WAR… AND PEACE….
Jim Lee was ordained 53 years ago and has been in Africa for most of the time since. Now 81 years old he is one of the longest serving SMA missionaries in Africa.
He spent his early missionary career in Nigeria where he spent many years at St Leo’s Teacher Training College, Abeokuta . Since 1976 he has been on assignment in the Archdiocese of Monrovia, Liberia.
“I was strongly influenced by my early contacts with Canon Cahill, the Parish Priest of Dromaroad and a brother of Fr Thomas Sexton Cahill SMA who died in 1942. He encouraged me to become a missionary priest when I expressed interest in priesthood. So I came to SMA”.
Armed with a theology degree from Maryknoll, NY, and a catechetics diploma from Lumen Vitae, Belgium, much of his missionary life was spent teaching. More recently he has been involved in the pastoral and social development areas and for many years he has been Administative Assistant to the Archbishop of Monrovia. This involves being largely responsible for the finances of the Archdiocese though nowadays he has able lay assistance. He continues in that role with the current Apostolic Administator of Monrovia, Fr Andrew Karnley. Every week-end he travels the nine-mile journey to Holy Family Parish, Colwell, as pastor to a community for many years without a priest.
Jim has worked in Liberia under the civilian government of President Tolbert and the military rule of Samuel Doe, Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor. He is now happy to see civilian rule restored under the current Acting President Bryant and is looking forward to full democracy being implemented after the forthcoming elections.
He has been in Liberia throughout the 15 years of civil war. “This was a terrible time for the country and people… For me it was difficult and frightening, but somehow I accepted it and struggled to be of help to the suffering people. I am grateful for lots of help I received from Ireland and from the Irish SMA Province”. He experienced the war conditions at first hand and saw it “having a devastataing effect on the country… Thankfully things are now moving towards normality but the scars of war will take a long time to heal”. He is full of praise for the work of the 15,000-strong UN Peacekeeping Force and especially for the Irish Army contingent who “have been simply wonderful and very kind to the people.
The long years of service to Liberia has not gone without recognition. In 2004, Jim was admitted to the Humane Order of African Redemption by the Government of Liberia with a grade of Knight Grand Band in recognition of his efforts in humanitarian assistance.
What of retirement? “I want to work until I am unable… and I want to die out there”, he says unwilling to whittle down any of the commitment he made to pursue his missionary vocation.
Would you like to join Fr Jim?
Would you like to hear more of the life stories of peoples in Africa?
Why not contact the SMA Vocations Director?
1924: Born in Belfast, native of Dunturk near Dromaroad, Co Down
1946-1952: Studies with SMA: Galway and Dromantine
1951: Permanent member of SMA
1952: Archdiocese of Lagos, Nigeria.
1976 to date: Archdiocese of Monrovia, Liberia
Cell Phone: +231 6 515 372