Fr Jeremiah O’Connell SMA – Obituary
After 56 years of unbroken missionary service in the Archdiocese of Jos, Nigeria, Fr Jeremiah [Derry] O’Connell died peacefully at 4am in the SMA House, Blackrock Road on Wednesday, 17 August 2016, aged 84 years.
Funeral homily will be published on Saturday afternoon.
Jeremiah Paul O’Connell was born on 10 May 1932, the youngest of three children born to John and Margaret [née O’Donovan]. His brother, Seán, was also an SMA priest and he died on 26 November 2003. Their sister Breda [Keyes] survives them.
Popularly known as Derry he was baptised in the parish of Ss Peter & Paul, Cork City and confirmed in St Finbarr’s West [The Lough], where the family lived on Hartland’s Avenue.
After secondary schooling in the Presentation Brothers’ College in Cork, Derry followed his brother, Seán, into the SMA, beginning his studies at the SMA Noviciate, Cloughballymore, Co Galway in 1950. After taking his first oath of membership in the Society he transferred to the African Missions Major seminary at Dromantine, Newry for theological studies. After making his Permanent commitment in the SMA on 13 June 1955, Derry was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman, Newry on 13 June 1956, one of 28 ordained during that Marian Year.
After ordination, Fr Derry was sent to undertake BSc Studies at University College, Cork, studying Chemistry, Maths and Physics.
In 1961 he was appointed to the teaching staff of St Joseph’s College, Vom, in Jos diocese where Fr Maurice Burke was the Principal. From March – October 1962 Fr Derry completed his studies in Cork. Returning to Nigeria in October 1962 he was appointed to the teaching staff at St Murumba’s College, Jos Town, for ten weeks. In January 1963 he was back on the Vom staff where Fr Anthony Glynn, who had come from Ghana, had succeeded Fr Burke as Principal. He remained there until late 1967.
On the occasion of Fr Derry’s Golden Jubilee in 2006, Fr Kieran O’Reilly, SMA Superior General, wrote to him as follows: “The most recent Nigeria North Newsletter lists some of the ways you have lived out your missionary priesthood over the last 50 years: in education at St Joseph’s College, Vom, and St Murumba’s, Jos; as parish priest of St Theresa’s and St Louis parishes, Jos; as well as serving in Kwa parish during school holidays.” Perhaps Fr O’Reilly’s most telling comment in his letter of congratulations
was “I know that many of the diocesan clergy find in you a valued confidant and adviser. Perhaps this last service to the Church in Africa is the most valuable as you help these young priests in their ministerial and personal priestly life.” For sure, Fr Derry worked tirelessly to achieve one of the aims of our Founder, Bishop deBrésillac: ‘the formation of a local clergy’.
His administrative skills were recognized by the late Archbishop G G Ganaka and his successor, the present Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. Fr Derry served them as Vicar General from 1975 to 2001.
A noteworthy aspect of Fr Derry’s ministry was the fact that, during school holidays, he would assist his confreres in Kwa parish, one of the most challenging areas of the diocese. After ten years in St Murumba’s College, Jos [some of them as Principal] he moved into fulltime parish ministry, first in St Theresa’s Cathedral parish and, since 1979 in St Louis parish, both in Jos Town. As well as being in charge of these busy parishes and
serving as Vicar General, Fr Derry was also responsible for the financial administration in the Archdiocese for many years.
From his birth, Derry O’Connell has struggled with health challenges. Born prematurely many doubted he would live. But he did and, in his missionary life, he showed that same inner strength that helped him survive his infancy. A lifelong smoker – even on the afternoon before his death he sat in the garden having a cigarette – the quality of his life was affected for many years but he would not give them up! He came home on annual leave in June and, following a period of hospitalisation, he returned to convalesce in St Theresa’s Nursing unit at the SMA House, Blackrock Road.
Despite being diagnosed with a terminal illness due to his smoking Fr Derry was planning to return to his beloved Jos later this year but God had other plans when He called him to his eternal rest. As Fr John Denvir SMA put it at the Reception of Fr Derry’s remains in Blackrock Road: “The Hebrew word ruach means breath and spirit. While with advancing years and recent illness his breath and breathing were decreasing, his spirit for mission remained as determined as ever.“
Fr Jeremiah [Derry] O’Connell will be buried in the SMA community cemetery, Wilton, Cork after 12 noon concelebrated Mass on Saturday, 20 August 2016.
He is deservedly regretted by his sister, Breda Keyes, his nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, relatives, friends and his SMA Confreres as well as the Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev Ignatius Kaigama and the clergy, religious and the faithful of Jos Archdiocese whom he served for 56 years.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. Requiescat in pace.