FR Martin O’Connell of the 1978 St Patrick’s Missionary Society Class passed away peacefully in the Care Unit in St Patrick’s, Kiltegan on Sunday, October 30.
Martin Joseph O’Connell was born on March 1, 1945 to John O’Connell and his wife Mary (nee Hession) of Kiniska, Claregalway, Co. Galway. He was the eldest of a family of six boys and four girls.
He received his primary education in Claregalway National School from 1951 to 1959. After primary school he went to work in Rooney & Reidy Furniture business. He joined the Legion of Mary and became the President of the Praesidium.
Embarking on many “pereginatios” as a Legionary to England sowed the seeds of a missionary vocation. In 1968 he applied to join St. Patrick’s, Kiltegan. Because he had no secondary education, he spent three years in St. Patrick’s Buchlyvie, Scotland, where he obtained his O Levels. He was admitted to the Spiritual Year in September 1971.
He did his philosophy studies in Douglas, Cork for two years. He then proceeded to study theology for four years in Kiltegan and was ordained on June 10, 1978.
After ordination Martin was appointed to the diocese of Ogoja in Nigeria. His first tour was spent living with different priests to get a feel for the varied apostolates of the diocese as part of his orientation. One of his first parishes was Wula; from there he moved to Ugep and by 1982 he was parish priest of Mbube. Afterwards he worked in the parishes of Bansara and Obudu. In 1995 he took a sabbatical and did the three month Spirituality Programme in St Beunos, Wales, which included the 30 Day Retreat.
In 1995 Martin was appointed to South Africa. He worked in Maryvale Parish in Johannesburg and also spent some time in the diocese of Tzaneen. In 2003 he was appointed as Spiritual Director to the Formation House in KwaPatrick, Kwa Zulu-Natal, a post he held until 2010. He was then assigned a special ministry in Johannesburg and lived in the Society house in Benoni on the outskirts of the city. In 2017 he was once again called on to be the Spiritual Director in KwaPatrick for three years. He moved back to the Society House in Johannesburg in December 2020.
At the beginning of 2022 Martin began to feel unwell and had some treatment and diagnosis in South Africa. He was advised to come home and arrived in Ireland on April 6. He was admitted to the Care Unit in Kiltegan and his health gradually deteriorated. The time spent in Kiltegan gave him an opportunity to spend time with his family after many years on the missions. On Sunday, October 30, some of his siblings and other family members spent much of the day with him. Later that evening Martin died peacefully with Fr Jimmy McDonnell by his bedside.
Martin was a very sincere, committed and dedicated missionary priest. He spent all his priestly life in Africa, serving the people with great generosity and compassion. He was a gracious host and made hospitality his special charisma. In his mid-twenties he felt the call to be a missionary priest and he never deviated from that call over the following forty-four years. His zeal and commitment never waned.
Martin remained very close to his family even when he was in Africa. This closeness was very evident during Martin’s final months when he had a visit almost every day from a member of his family. This closeness was a source of great consolation and comfort to him as he faced the end of his life.
Martin’s funeral mass was held in St Patrick’s Chapel, Kiltegan, on Thursday, followed by his burial in the Society Cemetery.
Martin is survived by his sisters Mary, Brid, Kathleen and Anne, his brothers Pat, Jimmy, John, Michael and Tom, his sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews and their families.