September 2005 General Meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

29 Sep 2005


29 September 2005

Irish Bishops’ Conference September General Meeting

Following the completion yesterday evening of the September General
Meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference in Maynooth, the following
statement has been issued addressing:

– Northern Ireland
– Hurricane Katrina
– Stewardship Trust
– Synod of Bishops in Rome
– Day for Life 2005
– Communication with Priests
– Honouring Missionaries who have died violently
in the service of mission

Northern Ireland

In response to Monday’s announcement of complete decommissioning on the part
of the IRA by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
(IICD) and the two independent witnesses, Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid,
the Bishops welcomed the confirmation by the IICD, and the two independent
Church witnesses, that the IRA has honoured the commitments set out in its
statement of 28th July 2005.

“The IICD’s confirmation that decommissioning has taken place represents an
immensely significant confidence-building measure in favour of a more peaceful
and stable society in Northern Ireland. Monday’s announcement is a vindication
of the efforts undertaken by all those who have, over the years, courageously
worked to replace violence with dialogue.

“We hope that all who exercise leadership will continue to affirm the political
process as the means to resolve any remaining issues in the search for peace.
We call on all other paramilitary groups to affirm their commitment to
exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

“We wish to congratulate General John de Chastelain and his colleagues for
their professionalism, thoroughness and patience. We wish also to commend
the judgement and integrity of Rev. Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid, two men
who have, for many years, consistently and generously committed themselves
to the resolution of conflict in our society.

“While we acknowledge this long awaited achievement, we are mindful of all
those who have suffered as a result of violence, and we keep them in our

The Bishops also expressed their concern about the increase in sectarian attacks
on homes, Churches, schools and halls in recent months and expressed their
sympathy to all of those who had been caught up in these attacks.

Hurricane Katrina
The Bishops called on the faithful to remember in their prayers the tens of
thousands who have suffered as a result of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating
affect on Louisiana and Mississippi in the United States on the 29th and
30th August last.

The Bishops have designated Sunday 6th November next, the feast of All the
Saints of Ireland, as a day when Irish people would be given an opportunity
to make contributions to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, including support
for severely damaged Churches and Catholic schools, many run by Irish priests.
Funds forwarded to the Irish Episcopal Conference will be sent to the Diocese
of Biloxi in Mississippi. The Bishop of Biloxi, Dr Thomas Rodi, has contacted
the Conference to outline the extent of the human devastation caused by
Hurricane Katrina. The proposed initiative is one part of the Irish Bishops
response as various other initiatives, undertaken by individual dioceses, are
also underway to help relieve the suffering throughout the Gulf Coast region.

At the June meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference the Bishops requested
the National Executive Committee of CURA to discontinue the policy of offering
the Positive Options Leaflet and to work with the Conference in raising the
concerns, as set out in the June statement, with the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.
Arising from their discussions at the September meeting, the Bishops have asked
the National Executive Committee to continue its acceptance of that request
for the moment.

The Bishops are continuing their dialogue with the four Letterkenny volunteers
and the National Executive Committee of CURA. The Bishops also expressed their
deep appreciation of the work of CURA over the last 30 years and they discussed
the ways in which this great work can be undertaken in the future.

Stewardship Trust
Bishops are continuing their current consultation regarding the Stewardship
Trust. Arising from this review, a sub-committee of Bishops has been established
in order to make recommendations on the future of the Stewardship trust to the
December meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference.

Synod of Bishops in Rome
The President and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference, Archbishop of Armagh,
Dr Seán Brady and Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, will attend the 11th
Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops entitled “The Eucharist: Source
and summit of the life and mission of the Church”. The Synod will be held in
Rome from 2nd to the 29th October.

Archbishop Brady said: “I ask people to pray that the Synod will be attentive
to the Holy Spirit and that its work will lead all to a greater appreciation
of the presence of Jesus in our midst, for love of us, in the gift of the
Eucharist. It is my hope that the Synod would be a source of renewal in
commitment to the Eucharist as the source and summit of the life of every
follower of Jesus.”

Day for Life 2005

The Day for Life was first proposed by the late Pope John Paul II who asked
the Bishops of the world to set aside a Sunday each year when issues concerning
human life are highlighted and discussed.

The Conference has designated the first Sunday in October as the Day for Life
each year. A Pastoral Letter produced by the Bishops, Cherishing the Evening
of Life, will be published tomorrow to celebrate the Day for Life 2005 on
2nd October. This year’s pastoral is a joint production along with the two
Episcopal Conferences of Scotland and England & Wales.

Communications with Priests

In order to improve awareness amongst priests of the work of the Irish Episcopal
Conference, it was decided that priests would receive a briefing on each General
Meeting of the Conference, by email. It is hoped that this initiative will be
operational by the March 2006 meeting of the Episcopal Conference.

Honouring Missionaries who have died violently in the service of mission
October is the month throughout the world dedicated to the celebration of
mission. Each year the Church in Ireland chooses a particular theme with
which to mark mission month and this year the theme for Mission Alive 2005
is: “Witnesses to the faith”. In October the Bishops ask the faithful to
remember the work and lives of Irish missionaries who have died violently
overseas in the service of mission.

This year’s theme was suggested by Archbishop Seán Brady to the National
Mission Council. Archbishop Brady, having read the history of the Columbans,
noted the number of members who have given their lives for their faith and
mission. He proposed that their work as missionaries ought to be acknowledged.
The National Mission Council supported this suggestion and adopted the
current theme: ‘Witness to the faith’ for this year’s mission month.

Also commenting on this year’s theme, Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Chairman of the
National Mission Council (a body representing the Bishops, the Irish Missionary
Union and the Pontifical Missionary Societies) said: “More Irish missionaries
have lost their lives in this generation than at any equivalent period of time
over the last 100 years. The task of the missionary today is more challenging
than ever before. Thankfully, in Ireland, this challenge has not deterred
many heroic men and women from coming forward to fulfill their missionary
vocation in a manner which gives a splendid witness to the faith.”

Following this, the Irish Missionary Union (IMU) requested its members and
the Bishops of Ireland to submit names and details of missionaries who died
violently overseas in the service of mission. It is proposed to remember these
witnesses and their ministries during October.

Due to the large volume of names submitted and in order to implement a meaningful
programme of events which would also reflect the witness and work of the IMU,
14 witnesses were selected.

These names reflect a geographical spread within the country, a variety
of ministries, representative of laity, Brothers, Sisters, Priests and
different age-groups as well as personal stories reflecting a wide range
of Gospel witness and values.

Throughout the month of October the Church in Ireland will remember, at local
and national level, 14 of the total number of people who gave their lives for
the faith. In the relevant parishes, the lives of these good and generous
people will be remembered in a variety of liturgical ceremonies. In the
celebration of the missionary lives of these 14 people, all of the people who
have lost their lives over the years, in the service of God on mission, will
also be honoured.

Please see the celebration details and a summary of events surrounding the
deaths of the 14 missionaries below:

Local Parish Celebrations:

Sr. Joan Sawyer. SSC Born in Donegore, Co. Antrim 1932, Died in Peru 1983. To be celebrated in Holy Family Parish in Belfast. Date to be confirmed.

Niall McMenamin, VMM Born in Letterkenny, Co Donegal in 1969. Died in Kenya 1993.
Celebration in St Eunan’s Cathedral Letterkenny, Sunday 23rd October at 4 pm.

Fr John Heneghan. SSC Born in Mayo 1882, Died in the Philippines 1945
Celebration in Louisburgh, Co Mayo.

Fr. Declan O’Toole, MHM Born in Galway 1971 Died in Uganda 2002
Celebration in Headford, Co Galway on Mission Sunday

Fr. Rufus Halley, SSC Born in Waterford 1944 Died in the Philippines 2001
Celebration in Butlerstown

Br. John Conway. SJ Born in Kerry 1920 Died in Zimbabwe 1977
Celebration in Tralee

Sr. Sheila Corcoran, OP Born in Kerry 1925 Died in South Africa 2000
Celebration in Killorglin

Fr. John Hannon, SMA Born in Clare 1939 Died in Kenya 2004
Celebration in New market on Fergus: November 6th 11 am Mass

Archbishop Michael Courtney Born in Tipperary 1945, Died in Burundi 2003
Celebration in Nenagh: 23rd October, Clonfert January 8th 2006

Br. Larry Timmons, OFM Born in Westmeath in 1949. Died in Kenya 1997
Celebration in Delvin Co Westmeath on October 9th

Sr. Teresa Egan, St. Joseph of Cluny Born in Laois in 1927 Died in St. Lucia 2000
Celebration in Clonaslee, Co Laois on October 9th

Fr. Felim McAllister, CSSp Born in Dublin in 1941, Died in Sierra Leone 1994
Celebration in Donabate, October 23rd

Fr. Declan Collins SDB Born in Louth 1952 Died in South Africa in 2002.
Celebration in Termonfeckin, October 23rd

Sr. Cecilia Thackaberry PBVM. Born in Dublin 1909.Died in Nigeria 1969
Celebration in Dolphin’s Barn, Oct 22nd.

Archbishop Michael Courtney, Papal Envoy to Burundi

Archbishop Michael Courtney died in Burundi on 29 December 2003 at the
age of 58 years, after serving as both pastor and diplomat in the war-torn
country for three years.

He was killed in an ambush in December while returning from a funeral. The
Archbishop had spent three years as Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi. He had
cancelled his usual post-Christmas break because of hopes of a breakthrough
in the peace process in Burundi. He had played a key role in persuading
some of the rebel groups to lay down their arms.

Before travelling to Burundi in 2000, Archbishop Courtney had served as the
Pontifical Representative of the Holy See in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal,
India, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Egypt. He also served as Special Envoy of the
Holy See to the Council of Europe and allied institutions in Strasbourg.

Archbishop Courtney was ordained in 1968 for the Diocese of Clonfert. He
was ordained Bishop in November 2000. He is buried in his native Nenagh.

Fr Rufus Halley, SSC Columban Missionaries
Fr Rufus Halley (57) was a talented linguist and peacemaker who spent more
than 20 years promoting Muslim/Christian dialogue in Asia.

He was appointed to the Philippines shortly after his ordination to the
priesthood at Easter 1969. He lived among the rural poor near the capital
of Manila.

In 1980, he moved to Mindanao in the south of the Philippines and volunteered
to engage in the Columban’s work of dialogue with Muslims. In a bid to break
down distrust, Fr Rufus integrated with both Christian and Muslim communities
by learning two local languages and worked for many years in a store owned by
a Muslim selling rice and corn.

Fr Rufus died on August 28th 2001 when shot by would-be kidnappers on his
way home to his parish. In death, he was mourned by both Christians and
Muslims in Mindanao. Both communities kept vigil by his coffin and hundreds
of Muslims attended his funeral mass and burial.

Fr John Heneghan, SSC Columban Missionaries
Fr Heneghan (62) was inspired by the 1916 volunteers to join the missions.
At Easter 1916, he heard the confessions of Tuam volunteers on their way to
join the Rising and he said to a fellow priest: “If those brave lads are
ready to die for Ireland, I, a priest, ought to be ready to die for Christ.”

Fr Heneghan was one of the first to join the newly founded Maynooth Mission
to China (Columban Fathers) in 1916 and was the first editor of the “Far East.”

He travelled to the Philippines in 1931 when he was 49 years old and
administered to the Malate parish in Manila. As a parish for English-speaking
people, mostly Americans, the parish was constantly under suspicion by the
authorities. To be a European meant to be at risk during the battle for
Manila between US and Japanese forces.

There is reason to believe that the priests in Malate cooperated with the
Filipino underground in smuggling medicines and food to the internees.
None of the Columbans in the Malate parish survived to given an account of
what happened.

Fr Heneghan (62) and four other Columbans died during the battle for Manila.
Their bodies were never found.

Sr Joan Sawyer, Columban Sisters
The site where Sr Joan Sawyer was killed has become a place of pilgrimage
for people who have family members in prison and who are struggling with
poverty and pain.

Sr Joan from Donegore in Co Antrim was professed in 1957. She was assigned
to the United States in 1971 before being sent to Peru in 1977. While in
Peru, Sr Joan worked in both the shanty towns or barriadas of the capital
city Lima and the rural communities in the Andes. At that time, Peru was
wrecked by civil war. Today, it continues to be scarred by poverty and

Sr Joan died on December 14th 1983 while engaged in prison visitation in
the notorious prison for men at Lurigancho. After finishing her tasks for
the day, she found that three Marist Sisters and two women helpers were
being held hostage by nine prisoners.

Seven of the nine prisoners and Sr Joan were killed when police opened
fire. In 1984, a huge wooden cross was erected where the massacre took
place on which was written the names of those who were killed.

Sr Sheila Corcoran OP, Dominican sisters
Kerry born Sr Sheila Corcoran left Ireland for South Africa on her 24th
birthday and worked there as a teacher for more than 50 years.

Sr Sheila trained as a primary teacher in the University of Stellenbosch
where she learned Afrikaans. She taught in an inner city school near
the Cape Town docks and taught for many years in schools that catered
for poorer children. When she became deaf she trained as a remedial
teacher at the University of Cape Town and gave individual tuition to
black children.

While working as bursar at Holy Rosary Convent in Port Elizabeth, Sr Sheila
found that one of the sisters was being threatened by a stranger with a
knife. She was attacked in the incident. She was brought to hospital but
never recovered. She died on July 18th 2000. Doctors testify that her
death was the result of the attack.

Sr Sheila was born in Kilorglin in 1925. She was aged 75 when she died.

Larry Timmons, OSF, Franciscan Brother
Br Larry Timmons from Delvin in Co Westmeath travelled to Kenya in 1980
where he became involved in a series of teaching positions.

He became involved in community development in Lare when the area was hit
by semi-famine conditions which were caused by drought and crop failure.
He became involved in water projects, improving farm methods, raising
funds and sinking pumps. He acquired and distributed food and seeds to
the local community.

Br Timmons went on to build St Clare’s Polytechnic which was completed in
1996. Skills based programmes were held in this venue.

He was instrumental, as part of a team, in developing a range of projects
aimed at improving people’s diets.

Br Timmons (48) died in the early hours of Wednesday, January 22nd 1997.
Up to 20 robbers came to the compound and robbed money. A policeman arrived
and began to shoot. Br Timmons was killed instantly and the robbers escaped
unharmed. Br Larry is buried at the Franciscan cemetery in Clara, Co Offaly.
The work he began is still being carried on by the Franciscan Brothers and
the local community.

Fr Felim McAllister, Holy Ghost Congregation
Fr Felim McAllister spent nearly 30 years in a country ravaged by civil war
and which has consistently been named today as the world’s poorest country.

A Holy Ghost Father from Donabate, Fr Felim was ordained in 1967 and was
appointed to Sierra Leone in west Africa in 1968.

During the first three years, he worked in the parishes of Serabu and Damballa
in the Southern Province. He then worked for 12 years in Kailahun in the east
of the country. He travelled to remote corners of his large parish by motor
bike or on foot. He sought funds and participated in the construction of
three bridges.

After taking a sabbatical, Fr Felim returned to Sierra Leone in 1985 and was
appointed to the mission in Panguma – a small town north of Kenema in the
capital of the Eastern Province. He trained local catechists and sent them
to the villages and towns. He built churches in many towns as well as schools
and the hospital at Panguma.

Caught up in the civil war, Felim (52) was fatally wounded as he tried to
ferry the mission personnel to safety by car. He was wounded as he left
the hospital at Panguma with others in an ambush launched by marauding troops
in March 1994.

When the war ended in Sierra Leone, Fr Felim’s family and friends fundraised
to contribute to the rehabilitation of the children’s ward of the hospital
which had been damaged during the war. This hospital is now ready for reopening.

Fr Felim is buried in Sierra Leone and a memorial has been erected to him
in Donabate Church in Dublin.

John Conway, Jesuits
As a lay man, Brother Conway worked in the construction industry in England
and these skills proved useful in his later life as a missionary.

Having left school at 14 to support his family in Tralee, Co Kerry, Brother
Conway entered the Jesuit novitiate in London in 1948.

He travelled in 1954 to Chishawahe, now Zimbabwe. After a few years he
founded a new mission at Maramba. The people in this area to the north of
the country had little contact with the government or the church. It was
an undeveloped site and his task was to bring builders and building material
there and to supervise their work. As the builders got on with the job, he
started to attend the peoples’ needs. He would give injections, extract
teeth, treated burns and snakebites. Local people called him the “healer.”

In 1969 he returned to St Paul’s Mission at Musami where he taught, fed
and built playgrounds for children.

Brother Conway later returned to St Paul’s Mission at Musami where he and
six others were killed, in February 6th 1977, by nationalist guerrillas. It
was a time of conflict in Zimbabwe when nationalist forces fought the
Rhodesian army to gain majority rule. Brother Conway was 57 at the time
of his death.

Sr Teresa Egan, St Joseph of Cluny Sisters
Sr Teresa Egan was born in Coolnamoney in Co Laois in 1927 and finished
secondary school in St Mary’s College in Mountmellick. Just one month
after being professed in the Congregation of St Joseph of Cluny in 1949,
Sr Teresa was assigned to the Province of the West Indies where she began
a long and distinguished teaching career.

She attended the Catholic Teacher Training College in Port-of-Spain and
upon graduation, she taught until her retirement in 1983. She was then
requested by the Minister for Education to teach home economics to the
older pupils of four primary schools. She did this for nine years.

After 40 years of dedication in St Lucia, she was awarded the medal
“Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” in December 1999.

Tragically, Sr Teresa was killed by breakaway members of the Rastafarian
cult on the Feast of the Holy Family in December 2000. She was attacked
by a masked gang as she attended as Minister of the Eucharist in the
Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Castries. The
Cathedral was burnt and some members of the congregation were set

Sr Teresa, who originally hailed from Co Laois, was buried in Calvary
in Castries.

Fr Declan O’Toole, MHM Mill Hill Missionaries
When Fr Declan O’Toole from Headford, Co. Galway took up his appointment
to Uganda in 1997 after his ordination, he was returning to a country he
knew well.

Fr O’Toole had already had a two-year missionary experience in Uganda
during his theological studies. As a priest, he now served as one of
the first team members in the new outreach programme by the Mill Hill
Missionaries to the Jie people in the Diocese of Kotido. This was a
relatively undeveloped area and proved to be a very dangerous situation
in which to minister.

Fr O’Toole was involved over the years as a peacemaker arranging Church
sponsored peace accords between the warring tribes. He focused public
attention on the breakdown of peace talks, the insecurity of the roads,
the many killings and the great danger that the people and missionaries
there lived under.

Fr O’Toole was ambushed along with two staff members while driving on
the road in March 2002. A single gunman, dressed in soldiers’ uniform,
stopped the vehicle on the road. All three were killed at close range.
Nothing was taken from the car.

Fr. O’Toole, a past-pupil of the Presentation College in Headford was
laid to rest underneath the tree planted on the occasion of his ordination.

Sr Cecilia Thackaberry, PBVM Presentation Sisters
Sr Cecilia Thackaberry became a missionary for the first time at the
age of 56 years.

Born in Dublin in 1909, Sr Cecilia entered the Presentation Order in
Buxton and served in England from the war years until 1965.

In September 1965, Sr Cecilia led a group of two other sisters who
embarked on the 26 day journey to Port Harcourt in Nigeria. The
Presentations Sisters had been invited by the local Bishop to minister
in his Diocese. On arrival in Nigeria, the sisters took charge of the
Sancta Marian nursery and primary schools. Sr Cecilia started evening
classes for a girl who could not afford schools fees.

Nigeria was experiencing upheaval after gaining its independence from
Britain in 1960. The eastern region became independent in 1967 under
the name Republic of Biafra. Federal troops invaded Biafra that year
and the Presentation community moved from Port Harcourt to Owerri.

Sr Cecilia became involved in organising relief work and medical care
for refugees facing famine who flocked to Owerri. A sick bay was
established in Owerri. People testify to her life of dedication in
spite of fragile health.

On the day of her death in September 1969, Sr Cecilia and Sr Elizabeth
were taking a nurse out to look after one of their newest sick bays.
They had only travelled three miles when their vehicle was hit by fire
from a low flying Nigerian aircraft. Sr Cecilia and the driver were
killed in the attack.

Bishop Okoye, who had invited the sisters to Port Harbour, said: “she
was our first martyr of charity….”

Her remains were laid to rest under the lime trees in the grounds of
the parish church at Emekuku beside the grave of other missionaries.

Fr Declan Collins, SDB Salesian Fathers
Fr Collins was a banker before he became a missionary priest with
the Salesian Don Bosco order.

He hailed from Baltray in Co Louth and was ordained in 1990. The
following year he travelled to South Africa where he worked for
several years with street children in Cape Town and later in Swaziland.

A year before he died, he took up an appointment at Ennerdale – an
Indian township near Johannesburg. On 16th November 2002, he was
putting the finishing touches to preparations for the opening and
blessing of a new multi-purpose hall. A short time later, he was
found dead. He had suffering multiple wounds in what appeared to
be an attempted robbery. Police later feared that Declan, as an
outspoken critic of drug gangs, was targeted by one of those gangs.

One news report said that his challenging work in Cape Town included
work with homeless children and adults, on whose behalf he lobbied
for fair policing. He was instrumental in building pressure for an
inquiry in the mid-1990s, which led to the charging of five city
traffic officers in connection with torture and abuse.

After his death at the age of 50, his family set up the Declan
Collins Trust to keep his work and memory alive.

Niall McMenamin, Voluntary Missionary Movement
The good health of the people of Entasekera village in Kenya is a
fitting tribute to lay missionary Niall McMenamin from Letterkenny
in Co Donegal who died in the village at the age of 23.

Niall had graduated in construction studies at the Letterkenny
Regional Training College when he joined the Voluntary Missionary
Movement. He travelled to Tanzania in 1992 where he worked for
almost a year on building projects. He later moved to Loita district
in Kenya where he supervised a team of 40 workers building a new
health centre in Entasekera village.

Located in the remote area of South Central Kenya, this district
could not be reached by public transport. The long and difficult
journey to the nearest hospital often resulted in the needless death
of patients.

In addition to co-ordinating the building work, Niall was responsible
for paying the workers’ wages. Niall was killed on August 24th 1993
by a robber seeking the wages.

The hospital in Entasekera which opened six years after Niall’s death
is a living legacy to his missionary endeavours.

Fr. John Hannon, SMA Society of African Missionaries
Fr Hannon spent more than 35 years in Africa where he became well
known for his building prowess and his love of youth in both Nigeria
and Kenya.

Ordained a priest in 1967, his first missionary posting was to the
Archdiocese of Lagos in Nigeria where he worked for the next 25 years.

He transformed derelict areas into a thriving parish environments.
He believed in the holistic development of people: he celebrated the
sacraments, set up catechetical programmes, established health clinics,
training programmes and small businesses for the poor.

When transferred to Kenya, he became Parish Priest at St. Barnabas’
Church in Matasia in Ngong and again built up a thriving community.
He had served for 10 years in Kenya and was 65 years old when he was
killed by robbers on November 24th, 2004.

Fr Hannon was born in Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare and studied in
St Flannan’s College in Ennis before joining the Society of African


Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)