FR THOMAS Browne of the 1954 St Patrick’s Missionary class passed away on Thursday evening in Naas Hospital following a short illness.
Fr Thomas Joachim Jude (Tom) Browne was born on January 18, 1929, to Patrick Browne and his wife Margaret (née Collins) of 4 Cathedral Villas, Limerick.
He was the youngest of a family of four girls and five boys. He received his primary education and the first two years of his secondary education in the Christian Brothers’ School on Sexton Street in Limerick.
For the final three years of his secondary education, he attended St Munchin’s College, Limerick, where he sat the Leaving Certificate in June 1946.
He joined St Patrick’s Missionary Society in September 1946 and spent the Spiritual Year in Humewood Castle beside Kiltegan Village. In September 1947, he was sent to Cork as part of the first group of students to study for degrees at University College Cork (UCC). He graduated with a BA degree in June 1950 and returned to Kiltegan for a four-year course in theology.
Tom was ordained on Easter Sunday 1954 together with ten classmates. The ordaining prelate was Bishop J W Heffernan CSSp, Vicar Apostolic Emeritus of Zanzibar, Kenya.
After ordination, Tom was appointed to the Diocese of Calabar, Nigeria, and he ministered there until 1968. He served at Ikot Aananga, Ikot Nseyen, Ikot Itaku and Afaha Obong. His main ministry was as a teacher in Teacher Training Colleges. He was displaced by the Biafaran War in 1968 and was appointed to St Patrick’s College, Buchlyvie, for two years.
He returned to Nigeria in 1970 and was appointed to the Diocese of Ogoja. He taught in Maryknoll College, Okuku.
He was then appointed to the Diocese of Port Harcourt and ministered there until 1984. He spent a number of years in St John’s Catholic Church, Rumuokwurusi. After the 1984 Chapter he was appointed Vice Regional Superior for West Africa and lived in the Regional House in Lagos with Tommy Gillooly until 1990.
After a short sabbatical he returned to Nigeria and this time he was appointed to the newly established Prefecture of Bomadi where fellow Society priest and great friend Tommy Greenan had been chosen as the Prefect Apostolic. He served in Amarata and Patani. He left Nigeria in 1999 at the age of 70.
Tom went to work in the Diocese of San Diego (USA) in 1999 following an invitation from a friend from his childhood. He was encouraged by his friend to go to Mexico to learn Spanish as the majority of churchgoers in San Diego Diocese were Spanish speaking. He was sent to a parish in Cuernavaca for language studies.
It was a great challenge to begin learning a new language at the age of 70. However, Tom was up for it. After three months he was able to converse and say Mass in Spanish. It was now time to return to the Diocese of San Diego. Then came a Damascus moment!
The priest who was his host saw how well Tom had settled into the culture and the life of the parish and having learned about his 45 years as a missionary in Nigeria began to sow a seed: would he consider staying on in Cuernavaca as a missionary? The seed fell on fertile ground. Tom made a life-changing decision: he decided that the needs of the Church and the needs of the people of Cuernavaca were far greater than the needs in San Diego and he decided to stay with the people whom he had grown to love and admire.
For the next 20 years he served the people of Capilla San Juan Evangelista and of Parróquia La Natividad de Maria in the city of Cuernavaca. After celebrating his 90th birthday in January 2019 he decided it was time to return to Ireland. He retired in Kiltegan in July 2019 after 65 years of active ministry as a missionary priest.
Tom settled into life in Kiltegan very easily. He was in very good health and many found it hard to believe that he was 90 years of age. He took a very active part in the life of the community and was always attentive and helpful to all who lived with him.
At the beginning of the Covid pandemic in March 2020 he decided to move to the Care Unit. His main reason for going there was in order to be able to keep a watchful and kindly eye on his many friends who might need his help.
He enjoyed excellent health until early September 2021 when he began to feel weak. He was admitted to Naas General Hospital on October 1.
His condition slowly deteriorated and he died peacefully at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 14. His family kept vigil at his bedside during his last days and three grandnieces were present with him when he died.
Tom was a man of boundless energy and optimism. His life was totally dedicated to the spread of the Gospel. He was willing to serve happily wherever the need was greatest.
He made a deep impression on all who met him because of his sincerity and his genuine interest in people.
The students whom he taught during his time at St Patrick’s College, Buchlyvie, and who are now members of the Society remember a very warm, kind, encouraging and engaging teacher.
He was very devoted to his family and remained close to them.
His funeral Mass was held in St Patrick’s Chapel, Kiltegan on Monday, followed by his burial in the Society Cemetery.