Friday 19 January 2018

Irish priest and friend of Mugabe is posthumously honoured in Zimbabwe with special award

Fr Paschal Slevin
Fr Paschal Slevin
Fr Paschal Slevin

Blanaid Barr

Irish priest, Fr Paschal Slevin, is being posthumously honoured in Zimbabwe in recognition of exceptional charitable work.

A ceremony will be held in Harare during which the Franciscan missionary friar will be awarded the Royal Order of Munhumutapa for his services to Zimbabwe. It's the highest award that can be bestowed on a foreigner.

This award has only been accorded to six other people, five of which were Presidents of newly independent African countries.

Current Vice-President of the Republic of Zimbabwe E D Mnangagwa wrote a personal letter of condolence to the family, stating, “He worked tirelessly for the emancipation of the majority if Zimbabweans at great personal risk.”

Fr Paschal Slevin
Fr Paschal Slevin

Paschal was born in 1934 into a family of seven living in a small village in Westmeath. He is remembered as an excellent footballer, and was part of the Westmeath Minor Football team that won the Leinster title. Paschal studied locally until 1947 when he left to attend the Franciscan College in Multyfarnham.

Ordained in 1960, he began his charity works in the white-controlled Southern Rhodesia, joining the mission at Wedza. He drastically improved the infrastructure to support local families, establishing a boarding school and expanding the mission hospital.

As his mission continued tumultuous times began in Zimbabwe. The War of Liberation broke out and Wedza was one of the first places investigated by white authorities in 1976.

The school was closed, the friars expelled, and Paschal was forced to return to Ireland.

Four years after his expulsion Paschal made a triumphant return to Zimbabwe, welcomed by his friend and new president Robert Mugabe. Paschal believed education would transform the life of Zimbabweans, and worked to provide a scheme allowing poor students to access secondary education.

Paschal’s positivity and kind-heartedness became renowned throughout the mission. Athanasio Dzadagu, a fellow Priest who worked with Paschal, stated in a tribute, “out of my twenty-five years of priesthood, that year spend in Hwedza with Fr Paschal was my happiest.”

In 1922 as Paschal’s health declined he was forced again to return to Ireland, this time to have a brain tumour removed. He attempted a to Zimbabwe in 1999 but his health proved a permanent obstacle and he relocated to Cork in 2004.

Paschal died on May 1, 2017 in St Joesph’s in Shankill.

His funeral was attended by the acting Ambassador of Zimbabwe based in London, who, as a child, attended the Wedza school established by Paschal.

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