Fr Vincent Lawless SMA – Obituary
Fr Vincent Lawless SMA died early on the morning of Monday, 5 September 2016, in the University Hospital, Cork [CUH]. It was fitting that two of his nieces, Helen Lawless and Noreen Reid, were with him when he went to his eternal reward as many of Fr Vincent’s family and friends travelled regularly from Galway and other parts to visit him during his months in the SMA House, Blackrock Road and also to the CUH in more recent weeks.
Vincent was the second son born to May [née Walsh] and Stephen Lawless. He attended Kiltulla National School and then went to the De La Salle Brothers College in Loughrea, Co Galway.
On his mother’s side of the family he was related to Fr Willie Cummins [former PP of Kilconieron], Fr Michael Cummins SMA and Sr Gervasi who worked in western Australia. So it was not surprising when the young school leaver decided to join the SMA and go as a missionary to Africa.
For his SMA formation he went to the SMA Novitiate at Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway, the African Missions College in Wilton, Cork. He undertook his theology studies at the African Missions, Dromantine, Newry, Co Down where he became a permanent member of the Society on 11 June 1956.
His Ordination to the priesthood on 18 December 1956 made newspaper headlines in his local paper: “History was made in the parish of Kilconieron, Co Galway, when Rev Fr Vincent Lawless, SMA, was ordained to the priesthood at Newry Cathedral … There is no record of anyone from the parish having been ordained to the priesthood for the past 100 years.” His return to his home, at Lisnadrisha, Kiltulla, was led by the Ballinasloe Brass Band and “in every town and village bonfires blazed at every crossroads and on every hill in the parish.”
Fr Vincent arrived in Nigeria in 1957 and, after the normal initiation period of language learning etc., he was appointed to the then diocese of Kaduna. Among the many parishes he served is wereare Gawu, FadanKono, Kaduna City, Mabushi, Minna and Zuru.
In January 1967 he was appointed to open a new mission in FadanKono. Fr Eddie O’Connor in his book, From the Niger to the Sahara writes: “This village was about one hour’s drive off the Saminaka to SamaruKataf road. Much of this area had already been opened up by Protestant missionaries but Fr Vincent made his own impact over the years not only in the traditional Catholic missionary approach to villages but in other pastoral programmes. The Dry Season Course for catechetical work in the parishes by unpaid catechists (masu-wa’azi) was one of his initiatives. This was to distinguish them from the officially recognised catechists of the Catechetical Training Centre, Malamfashi, who were trained at first by Fr Bede Jagoe OP and other Dominicans and then by Fr Michael McGrath SMA and their lay assistants. The FadanKono programme was very successful and was soon emulated by almost all the parishes of the Archdiocese and beyond. Its aim was to give basic training in Christian Doctrine, Scripture, Liturgy, Literacy and leadership skills. The course lasted 3 years and the participants spent the dry season months at Kono each year. As time went on the deaneries of the Archdiocese held their own dry season courses which were helped financially by Missio, a German aid agency.
FadanKono was also the birthplace of another project which seemed to herald a major step forward for the lay apostolate, that of lay ministries. By 1977 this project had been accepted in almost all the parishes and twenty of the participants had been installed as lectors or lectors/acolytes. It was an ambitious venture which, if it had been taken to its proposed conclusion, would have had the lay ministers, not only leading the Sunday service but also empowered to baptise and distribute Holy Communion in the absence of the priest. Eventually the program was discontinued because of difficulties in its implementation and monitoring.”
During these years of parish ministry Fr Vincent was also elected by his SMA colleagues to leadership positions in the Nigeria North Region, including a term as Deputy Regional Superior [1979 – 1983].
His 33 years in Nigeria were interrupted several times with bouts of ill health including a heart bypass operation and convalescence after an horrific car accident on the Bukuru – Jos road in April 1982. To this day people find it hard to believe that he survived, suffering four breaks to his femur and fractured ribs as well as other injuries. He had to be cut out of his car which was a writeoff. The medical team in Jos insisted that he return to Ireland for more intensive care. After convalescence in the Orthopaedic Hospital and the SMA House on the Blackrock Road, Cork, Fr Vincent returned to Nigeria in 1984 where he continued his valuable ministry. It was during this period that he served as Society Superior for Kaduna.
Eventually the legacy of his injuries forced his return to Ireland and, from 1991 – 2001, he served in the parishes of Killoran and Gurteen in his home diocese of Clonfert. During this time he renewed his interest in a more active way in the GAA, serving for a time as Chaplain and President of the Galway Camogie Board. It was during this period that Galway won an All-Ireland Senior championship. Despite his injuries in 1982, Fr Vincent began to again play golf and enjoyed regular rounds of the game with family and friends.
In 2001 Fr Vincent retired formally from fulltime parish ministry though he continued to help out in neighbouring parishes when asked to do so by the local clergy. Though burdened with increasing mobility difficulties he kept up his spirits and carried on as best he could. However, on 20 February 2015, he came to the St Theresa’s Nursing Unit at the SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork where he could receive care from the specialised staff there. Several hospitalisations followed as his condition became more serious. The many welcome visits from relatives, friends and fellow SMAs he worked with in Kaduna sustained him during these past 18 months. He attended the regular community exercises each day, including daily Mass and meals.
On Monday evening, 5 September, Fr Vincent returned back to Blackrock Road and, before his body was transferred to Galway, Mass was celebrated for the repose of his soul at 10.30am on Tuesday. His brother, Fr Brendan [who served as an SMA priest for some years and is now PP of Portumna in Clonfert diocese] was the Principal Celebrant. Fr John Horgan, who knew Fr Vincent in the seminary, preached on the man he knew as a seminarian and in more recent years a man carrying the cross of ill health. One of the notable attributes Fr Vincent showed during both periods was ‘determination’.
Fr Vincent Lawless will be laid to rest after 2pm Mass on Thursday, 8 September, in Kilconieron parish cemetery.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. Requiescat in pace.