Another “Iroko”, a Veteran Irish Missionary is gone: SR. FINBARR, FMDM

Another “Iroko”, a Veteran Irish Missionary is gone:


In a space of five weeks we have lost three missionaries who served with distinction in Nigeria. Fr. Colin Fives, an Irish Augustinian, died one month ago, having spent 48 years of dedicated service in Nigeria, followed by Sr. Breda Foley, FMDM, who spent 33 years in Nigeria and died on Palm Sunday at 87. Kathleen Julia Clancy (her Religious name is Sr. Finbarr), is the latest addition to the company of the “Irish-Nigerian Veteran Missionary Association” in heaven. Born 24th May, 1927, at Attyslaney, Tubber, Co Clare, Ireland, she breathed her last at 2.15pm on Thursday, 21st of April, 2022, surrounded by the tender loving care and the prayerful presence of her FMDM sisters. An “iroko” has fallen!

On Wednesday night, the 20th of April, Sr. Helena McEvilly, FMDM, called to inform me that it looked like Sr. Finbarr who since retirement had been living in La Verna, Ladywell, Surrey, England, was on the last lap of her earthly journey. I assured her of praying the rosary right away, and the following morning, I celebrated Mass for Sr. Finbarr. A call came later in the afternoon to inform me that she had gone home!

Sr. Finbarr, served as a unique and charming missionary in Nigeria, specifically, in Yola and Jalingo dioceses. For 57 years she gave all she had to the people of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, when we say an iroko tree has fallen, we refer to the death of a personality that resembles the iroko tree that is precious, tall and solid. Sr. Finbarr was all these. She was all things to all people. She was perfectly at home with the Chamba and Mumuye (where she worked mostly), joining them at their festivals and gladly partaking of their local drink.

She taught at Madonna Teachers’ Training College, Sugu, Adamawa State, from 1960–1980 where she was the purchasing manager and was also involved in parish life. The story of Sr. Finbarr and Sr. Berard leading the Ibo student girls safely from Sugu to Cameroun through the dangerous bushes at the beginning of the Nigeria civil war in 1966 is an amazing one.

Sr. Finbarr spent 30 years (1st August 1980 – 28th February 2010) in Yakoko, Taraba State. While I was an assistant parish priest in Yakoko parish, I saw her going from house to house to gather people who had neither any interest nor desire of becoming Christians. She rode on her little motor cycle (a remarkable improvement on when sisters rode on horses in earlier years) to neighborhoods to convince people, prepare them and bring them to the parish for baptism. The parish priest, Fr. Nick O’Brien, OSA, another dedicated Irish missionary of blessed memory, trusted her pastoral judgment. We baptized those she prepared and presented, and it did the magic, as many more came. The people trusted her; they believed she was one of them. They shared their simple lives joyfully with her.

With the polio children and people living with disability, the blind and the deaf, Sr. Finbarr brought dignity and healing, and so was a shining star for them. She started a parish pastoral centre in Yakoko and established the polio rehabilitation centre and would gather from everywhere those with polio, took them to Mkar hospital, Benue State, and subsequently to Jos, Plateau State and Kano, seeking orthopaedic and other treatments for them. She put up classrooms and hostels at the polio centre where polio victims received basic literacy, and learnt tailoring, typing, handcrafts, etc.

She introduced the Focolare Movement in what was then Yola Diocese and travelled from Yakoko to Yola, Jos to Cameroun, and elsewhere, with people she mentored in the movement. She also led a committed Legion of Mary group, and encouraged the formation of Young Catholic Students (YCS) in schools.

The Boys Scout and Catholic Cadets, now very strong movements in Yola and Jalingo dioceses, owe their existence to Sr. Finbarr’s initiative. She was genuinely interested in the teenagers and the youths; sewed uniforms for them; bought balls for them; got musical instruments for them and got them trained for parades, etc. That greatly attracted many youths to the Church. Sr. Finbarr organized for every newly ordained priest, in the newly established Diocese of Jalingo, to be given a Mass Kit, Holy Oil kit and vestments to help them in their priestly ministry.

Whether in the school, in the homes, in the parish, in the hospital, in the market on the farm, Sr. Finbarr was at ease with the people. She lived simply, happily and touched people in many ways. She left Nigeria reluctantly, having to spend her last years away from where her heart and soul remained planted and cemented. No wonder, anytime Sr. Helena arranged for her to have a telephone or video conversation with me, Sr. Finbarr would ask enthusiastically about everything and everyone in Nigeria. She retired to La Verna, Ladywell, Surrey, England, but remained keenly interested in the Nigeria Church developments and national politics and had an active interest in the lives of many of those she encountered and she frequently wrote to them.

I am told that even in her sick moments the only subject matter that could excite her and jolt her to cheerfulness is anything about Nigeria. In 1992 she received a Beni Merenti Medal from Pope John Paul II. May her labour of love in Nigeria and for Nigeria be abundantly rewarded in heaven, and may our Blessed Mother whose devotion she promoted so well receive her with open arms. May her gentle soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.

Our most heart-felt condolences to the FMDM Congregational leader, Sr. Jane Bertelsen, the entire FMDM family, the biological family and indeed, all who knew Sr. Finbarr and worked so closely with her. Rest on “Goggo” Finbarr, the “Sokpanti Yah” (queen of Yakoko).

Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama,

Archbishop of Abuja.

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