Today, I stand to salute a great man, whose greatness is bellowed by his utter humility. A priest, a teacher, a moulder of character. An Irish man, a priest of the other of St. Patrick’s Society – Very Rev. Fr. J. D. O’Connell, SPS, MFR.
After serving as a priest of Minna Diocese for 55yrs and school Principal for 50, Fr’s time in Nigeria is slowly coming to an end. It was therefore only apt that one of the many occasions in his honor be held today.
One day, I will write about this man. About his time at Government Secondary School Minna which is more correctly called Fr’s school – there is no higher honor than to be called Fr’s boy. A badge many wear with pride. His boys are legion; former governors, commissioners, lawmakers and even the legendary Cyril Stober. If you were a young boy in Minna and you were not in GSS, you were of all men, to be most pitied. And I perhaps may hold the distinction of being the only girl Fr wanted to offer admission to after it became an all-boys school – I mean, he had a complete plan of how I would sew the trademark gray trousers.
Remembering his stories of carrying wooden desks and chairs across River Kaduna to the hinter areas of Wushishi bring tears to my eyes.
Remembering his stories of disabling one headlight of his car so that the truant boys he was after, in the bush would not realize it was he, imagining it was a motorbike until he was upon them, bring laughter to my lips.
If you saw a school boy walking home in gray trousers but without a school shirt or with one leg of shoe, just know Fr was punishing him. Go home and explain to your parents why you went to school with shirt and came back without.
One day, I will write about this man, quietly dignified in the suffering that Parkisons brought him in this latter part of his stay. Determined to be completely self-reliant and hesitant to ask for help if he thought it was going to be a burden. Wanting to cause the least amount of disruption possible. One day, I will write about him, and it will break my heart.
Everyone in Niger feel an intense need to show this man how much he really means to us: from road walks to traditional titles. Today the Niger state government announced the re-naming of GSS Minna to Fr. J. D O’Connell Secondary School. That they may truly be Fr’s boys.
Fr O’Connell, much like the rest of us, doesn’t want to go. And when I say ‘Fr, don’t go’, he laughs. Because we both know that he is loyal to his vows, even to the last; Poverty. Abstinence. Obedience. Always Obedience.
It is the same laugh we get when he’s being stubborn about something. The same laugh we get when we say ‘Fr, you’re not sitting properly. Stand up and sit properly’. And he laughs, and stands up and attempts to fit his Parkinson-afflicted body properly into the chair. Or when we ask ‘Fr, have you been exercising?’ Always that laugh.
Jennifer and I are not in Minna at the moment so on Monday he called us to ask us our email addresses. On Tuesday, we both received mails with almost 30 pictures form the varioua activities going on now. Because Fr. O’Connell.
One day, I will write about this man. But today, let me say, here is a man who completely embodied his society’s motto: Caritas Christi Urget Nos; The love of Christ compels us.
Today, let me say ‘Here is a man, truly like Christ’. Here is a Man of God.
I’m afraid to tag all the Fr’s Boys on my Facebook friend list because this post will become a market! (That’s how we refer to GSS when we talk – Fr how was market today?) But I will. And if you are tagged and you believe Fr had any impact on your life, share on your wall and tag your friends! Heck, share this post on your blogs and everywhere else.
God bless Fr. O’Connell. God bless us all.