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Fr John Hannon SMA


Fr John Hannon SMAThe funeral of Fr Hannon took place on Friday 3 December at St Barnabas' Church, Matasia. More than 3,000 people - bishops, priests, religious and laity - attended the obsequies.

The principal celebrant of the Funeral Mass was Archbishop Giovanni Tonucci, Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya. He was assisted by, among others, Archbishop Raphael S Ndingi Mwana 'a Nzeki of Nairobi, Bishop Cornelius Schilder MHM of Ngong, Bishop Patrick Harrington SMA of Lodwar, Bishop Maurice Anthony Crowley SPS of Kitale and Bishop Noel O'Regan SMA of Ndola (Zambia) a classmate.

The Irish Government was represented by Mr Joseph O'Brien, Honorary Consul. Representatives of Concern and Trócaire also attended.

The Society of African Missions was represented by Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, Irish Provincial Superior, Fr Patrick Devine SMA, Regional Superior Kenya and Fr Patrick O'Rourke SMA Regional Superior Tanzania. Many SMA members attended as well as many hundreds of missionaries and religious working in Kenya.

The Archdiocese of Lagos, Nigeria, where Fr Hannon worked previously was represented by his classmate Fr Edward Hartnett SMA and by Fr Anthony Obanla, secretary to Cardinal Okogie. Fr Padraic Kelly SMA another classmate was also present.

10 members of Fr Hannon's family travelled from Ireland to Kenya for the funeral.


~ Remembrance Mass ~

A Remembrance Mass was celebrated in Blessed Virgin of the Rosary Church, Newmarket-on-Fergus on Friday 10 December. Bishop William Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe was the principal celebrant. Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll delivered the homily which can be found below on page 3.

Press Release


Tragic Death of Fr John Hannon sma

Fr John Hannon SMA 1939-2004

With deep regret the Society of African Missions, Irish Province, announces the tragic death of Father John Hannon SMA. Father Hannon died in a robbery at his parish house at Matasia, Ngong about 25 km from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Fr Hannon comes from Killulla, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare where he was born on 24 April 1939. He was ordained priest on 18 December 1967. From 1968 until 1993 he ministered in the Archdiocese of Lagos, Nigeria where he earned a reputation for opening and developing parish centres in the growing suburbs of the city.

Father Hannon has been in Kenya since 1994 and was based in Matasia in the diocese of Ngong for the past four years. He worked previously at St Monica's Parish, Kitengela (also in Ngong Diocese) and at St Joseph's Parish, Jericho in the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Fr Hannon was an earnest helper of the less well-off. Building of centres for non-formal education and skills training was a constant feature of Fr Hannon's missionary apostolate.

He was in the process of completing a Parish Hall at Matasia and had initiated a €14,000 project to equip the hall as a Training Centre. He had a long and proven record in the building of centres for training and education of young people in practical skills. His work in recent times was among the Maasai people. Fr John saw the need for skills training of young women in areas like domestic economy, secretarial work, hair dressing, sewing and knitting as crucial for their dignity and livelihood.

Fr Hannon is survived by two sisters and five brothers, including Fr Tim based at Miami, Florida.

As details come to hand and for further information see SMA website: http://www.sma.ie/

Press Release issued by Fr Tom Curran SMA, Provincial Communications Director e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





Remembrance Mass for Fr John Hannon SMA RIP
at Newmarket-on Fergus, Co Clare, December 10th, 2004.
Homily preached by Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior

Isaiah 61: 1-3.6.8-9
Romans 14: 7-12
Luke 12: 35-40

Robert Pinsky, American poet laureate from 1997-2000 observed that "a people is defined and unified not by blood but by shared memory. Deciding to remember, and what to remember, is how we decide who we are." The blood of family kinship and solidarity runs strong and deep in the Hannon family. This was perhaps never more evident than when they buried their beloved Fr John at St Barnabas' Church, Matasia, in the diocese of Ngong, Kenya just one week ago today. They are left, as we all are, with the sadness of human loss. But they are blessed too with many fine memories. Memories not only of John himself but of the poignant and powerful funeral liturgy conducted in his honour. What memories they keep of John and of his final resting place will in a very real sense define who they are.

But there is a much bigger memory that we are all partaking of here tonight. This is the memory of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each time we celebrate Mass we participate in this memory. Jesus said, "Do this in memory of me". Every Mass recalls Calvary. But it is far more than a mere recalling. "The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body" [CCC, 1362] In other words, Christ's one saving sacrifice of himself on Calvary is made present for us each time we celebrate Mass. This, in fact, is what gives meaning to all our remembering.

Our Christian faith sustains us in the belief that in death life is changed, not ended. Our readings this evening confirm us in that faith. St Paul reminds us in very graphic terms in our passage chosen from Romans that "if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord". Our gospel reminds us that we never know the day or the hour that the Master may call us home. We do, however, need to be ready at all times. "You must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect". One of the lovely things we learned during the short trip to Kenya for John's funeral was that during the day prior to his murder he had asked to speak to a priest colleague. He talked with him for several hours about the most pertinent personal things in his life and concluded the session by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. What better way could anyone prepare for the call of the Lord.

The opening reading from the prophet Isaiah foretells the mission that Jesus would later claim as his very own mission. To receive the anointing of God's Spirit in order to "bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives; to comfort those who mourn". As we shall see later this too was the very same mission to which John Hannon dedicated his entire life, even to the point of death.

John Hannon was born here in Newmarket-on-Fergus on 22nd April, 1939. After his schooling in the local primary school and St Flannan's College, Ennis he later found himself studying for the missionary priesthood in the Society of African Missions. He was ordained priest in Newry Cathedral on December 18th, 1967 and his first missionary posting was to the archdiocese of Lagos in Nigeria. John was to spend the next 25 years labouring in the Lord's vineyard in Lagos.

Memories abound from his time in Lagos. In the archdiocese he was best known for his building prowess and his love of youths. John never took the simple route to any achievement. Not for him the ministry of a settled parish. He always wanted to break new ground. He was the quintessential missionary. He never wanted to stay in a place once the church there was firmly established. Thus he was always to be found on the outskirts of the city. Nothing drove him more than the desire to open new stations so that new Christian communities could be formed. He would go into an area that was almost completely derelict and in the space of a few short years have transformed it into a thriving parish environment. And these establishments were always erected among the poorest of the poor. He not only brought life to the church community but the community as a whole. And it was not only the Catholic community that benefitted from his enterprise. Wherever John moved whole networks of community were to follow in his wake.

John never used fancy words to describe his mission philosophy. But if one were to put words on it it could be well described as the holistic or integral development of peoples. It was once said that common sense is genius dressed up in working clothes. John's genius was revealed in the practical and the concrete. He built many fine structures of concrete and iron. But, perhaps more importantly, he built up also peoples self-esteem. He built up peoples' spiritual lives through celebrating the sacraments for them and offering solid catechetical programmes; he catered to their health needs by establishing health clinics; he catered to their economic needs by establishing small industries and trained illiterate peoples in various skills and trades such as typing and sowing so that they could become self-supporting and support a family; he catered to their educational needs by providing them with school fees and sometimes establishing centres for training in reading, etc. And he often had to do all this against the wishes of some powerful local interests. He rarely established any new parish without first incurring the wrath of some local chieftain who thought his own control was better served by keeping the people in poverty and ignorance. But John had such a keen sense of social justice that he never stood back from the battle to lift up peoples' lives irrespective of the personal cost such an undertaking necessarily involved.

John's ability to combine a strong faith in Jesus Christ and the living out of that faith in practical terms described above is beautifully captured by Cardinal Okogie, archbishop of Lagos, in his message of condolence read out at the funeral service at Matasia last Friday. I quote this powerful paragraph, "John, a great missionary, always ensured that he had with him the Bible, the Cross, as well as practical skills which he passed on to the people wherever he went. In doing this, he empowered them spiritually, socially and economically. His ability to combine practical life and a life of prayer made him firmly rooted in the spirit and tradition of the Society of African Missions. The Society no doubt has lost a loyal ambassador. In all his activities, John made no mistake of minding the work of God as to forget the God of the work. His love for Jesus prompted all he did. He was a man of prayer and a committed priest always ready to labour for Christ not counting the cost".
John's passion for truth and justice meant that he was impatient to get things done. He hated hypocrisy. He never sacrificed principle for popularity. He had strong views and he was never afraid to express them even at the cost of upsetting the civil and ecclesiastical establishments. His compassion for the poor, for orphans and street children knew no bounds and he did not hide his impatience with those he considered to be failing to provide solutions to urgent social problems.

Paradoxically, I think, it was this impatience that marked John out as a very real human being. He may be a modern day martyr but he was not a plastic character and he was certainly no plastic saint. I think he would be the first to object to some of the fine tributes that have been paid to him over this past two weeks. He did not always have an easy relationship with his bishop or Society superiors. I myself, like most of my predecessors, have been the recipient of some strong letters admonishing me for my inability to see things from John's perspective. But one always knew that behind the annoyance was a heart that pained because his people were suffering and he felt their suffering would continue as long as his project was unattended to.

What John did in Lagos he was to continue to do in Kenya. Here again his love of youth and his love for the poor were very much to the core. In about three years he had built up a thriving community at Matasia from a very small nucleus. That he was appreciated at Matasia was abundantly clear from the extraordinary farewell he received last Friday.

John's horrible death was absolutely tragic. It seems doubly tragic that a man who dedicated his whole life to others should suffer such a fate. We may perhaps never know the mindset that inspired those who carried out this foul deed. But we can be very sure that they do not truly represent Africa. Sad to say, such an experience is not alien to our own experience here in Ireland. There is scarcely a day goes by that we do not hear of one or two or more murders. All murder is senseless. All murder is evil. Whether it happens in Africa or Ireland it has the same senseless quality. And such evil can only be countered by genuine goodness, goodness that results from an ever deeper conversion to Jesus Christ.

But if his death was tragic, his burial was magnificent. The people of his parish were embarrassed and shamed by his murder. But greater than the embarrassment and shame was their sense of huge loss of the Father they loved dearly and whom they knew loved them. The outpouring of grief was tangible. So too was the tremendous pride they took in all that he had achieved among them. They showed that he belonged among them by preparing a marvellous funeral liturgy and a burial place in the centre of the Stations of the Cross that John had lately erected in the church compound. The whole church of Kenya came out in force to show its solidarity. Ten bishops of the local church were present at the Mass which was led by the Papal Nuncio to Kenya. Up to 150 priests were joined by as many religious sisters and brothers. At least 3000 people came to pay their last respects.

John is now at final rest among the people to whom he gave his entire life, the people to whom he belonged. He will be missed by his family and loyal supporters. John was always very proud of the great support he got from the people of this locality and other contacts in Ireland. He will be missed by all of us his colleagues and confreres in the SMA. And he will be sorely missed by the people of Matasia and Kenya in general. But the memories we carry will sustain us in Christian hope. And we pray that the life of this courageous and indefatigable missionary will inspire in each of us a desire to commit ourselves more fully to the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are told by St Paul that "the life and death of each of us has its influence on others". John Hannon's life has certainly not been lived in vain.

Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

Anniversary Mass for Fr John Hannon SMA

Fr John Hannon SMA, killed in Kenya in November 2004, was remembered in his native Newmarket-on-Fergus on Sunday 6 November 2005. Mass to celebrate Irish missionaries who gave their lives as witnesses to faith was celebrated in the Parish Church of the Holy Rosary. SMA priests were led by the Provincial Superior, Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, who was the main celebrant of the Mass and preached the homily. The local priests were led by Parish Priest, Canon Reuben Butler PP, who blessed the Memorial Cross erected by the parishioners in the nearby priests' cemetery. The liturgy was enhanced by maps, emblems and symbols mostly drawn by the children of the local primary schools. The large congregation included many of Fr John's family. The local church choir augmented the liturgy with their singing and music. Sr Margaret Quinn MMM, Superior General of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and a native of the parish, also spoke. The text of the Homily of Fr O'Driscoll is on next page.

Pictures below depict some of the beautiful work and the ceremony.



Memorial to
Fr John Hannon SMA

Canon Reuben Butler PP,
blesses the Memorial Cross.
Fr Tony Casey CC is with
the servers in background

Fr John Clancy SMA
prays at the Memorial Cross

Map of Africa drawn by
primary school children

Map of South America drawn by
local primary school children


Some of the choir and congregation at the Memorial Mass

Mass servers at the memorial Mass

Concelebrants at the Memorial Mass in Church of the Holy Rosary Newmarket-on-Fergus

Mission Alive "Witness to Faith" exhibition at the Memorial Mass

The following is the text of the homily preached by Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior of the Irish Province of SMA, at the Memorial Mass for the late Fr John Hannon SMA. The Mass was celebrated in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary on Sunday, 6 November, 2005. It was part of the Mission Alive programme organised by the Irish Missionary Union this year to commemorate Irish missionaries who died when on active servie in mission lands. Fr John Hannon SMA was killed in Kenya on 25 November 2004.

Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, Provincial SuperiorHomily (6 November 2005)

Last Sunday, we had a Mass at Mount Argus in Dublin to honour all Irish missionaries who had died abroad in witness to the faith. Families and parishioners from all corners of Ireland gathered for this Mass. Newmarket-on-Fergus was well represented there.

Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, in his homily spoke in very striking terms of the contribution of Irish missionaries down the centuries. He mentioned how at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome many bishops from far-off countries came up to him to say they wished to thank the Irish people through him for the valiant work of Irish missionaries in their countries. There is hardly a corner of the globe that has been untouched by Irish missionaries.

John Hannon was one such missionary. It is important to keep in mind that John did not grow up in a vacuum. He grew up in the Hannon family in this community of Newmarket-on-Fergus. What he learned here through school and socialising had a huge impact on the kind of person he became. All that he shared with the people of Africa, whether in Lagos or Nairobi, is in some way part of the story of all of you. John was formed here: so what he became was part of what you are. Through John’s mission, places with strange sounding names like Igege in Nigeria or Ngong in Kenya will forever be connected to Newmarket-on-Fergus.

And believe me the sharing was not all one way. Any missionary will tell you, and John was no exception, we receive a lot more than we can ever give. Perhaps we can bring more on the material level, but we receive gifts unmeasurable on other levels. Perhaps, what we missionaries have fallen down on is to share with the church here at home the richness of the faith and cultural expression of peoples very different to ourselves. I believe that is one area we missionaries can improve on in order to bring a new freshness to the church here in Ireland, a freshness that could be most valuable in these difficult times.

The focus of the Mission Alive programme this year has not been on the death of missionaries as such but more on the witness of their lives. We look to their lives in order to be inspired and renewed in our own faith journey. On the question of death, our Mass this morning gives us a very striking passage from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Paul reminds us that we must not be people without hope. Just as Jesus himself rose from the dead we believe that he will bring with him those who have died in his name. We believe that of all our brothers and sisters who have died in Christ. For the missionaries who have died we believe that in a way the blood that they have shed becomes a kind of fertilizer to our faith today. That is already happening in this parish.

About one month ago I had the great pleasure of accompanying Fr Tony to the four primary schools in this parish. I spoke a little bit about mission and the life of Fr John Hannon. And I gave each class a project to carry out for me. I know many of those pupils are at Mass here today. I must say their projects far surpassed my expectations. Just look around you.

  • The Map of the World and John’s Mission
  • The names of all missionaries from this parish
  • The Map of Africa
  • The Map of South America. That map is special too because it represents the continent where Fr Tony will go on mission early next year when he commits himself for six years in the country of Peru.

Don’t you think the pupils have done an excellent job? Let’s give them a well deserved ‘Bualadh Bos’

One group I want to focus on for a moment is the Apostolic Workers. These are in many ways the unspoken heroes of mission. They do a fantastic job of prayer and support in the background. I want to tell you this morning that you are very much appreciated. Without your assistance a lot of what missionaries achieve would just not be possible. I know there is an active group in this parish and it is fitting that you will present a Mass vestment at the presentation of gifts.

What the life of someone like John Hannon and these other missionaries from your parish teaches us is that we should never become complacent or lackadaisical about our faith. John’s whole ministry was devoted to the poor, the underdog, the marginalised, the disempowered, the powerless. His work should surely inspire us to work towards alleviating the various injustices in our world today.

The last ten days or so in Ireland has taught us that as Church we have much to repent of, much to change in the very culture of how we do things, much to be sorry for and change in the way we treat the most vulnerable of Christ’s body. Society itself has many lessons to learn in this area also. The biggest lesson to learn is to be vigilant. Such things as child abuse and other forms of abuse happen when we become complacent whether about faith or life itself. The institutional Church became complacent and arrogant because it felt it had all the answers. But we can all become complacent, especially in times when things on the material level seem to be going very well.

The lesson of vigilance is brought home to us in this morning’s gospel. Here we have the rather strange parable of the wise and foolish virgins. There are incongruities in this story that run very counter to the Christian ethic of generosity. But this parable is not about sharing but about preparation. It is about being ready.

Here in this parish of Newmarket-on-Fergus what better way could this Christian community get ready than to look again at the lives of the missionaries sent out from this parish. When looking at their lives you can become inspired by their persevering commitment to the poor, the marginalised and the powerless to find within yourselves a response to tackle the injustices of the society in which you live today. The gospel you live can really be Good News to the poor.
In that way your mission will truly be Alive. And the Witnesses of Faith will have left a legacy that can never be tarnished.