Fr. Ted's excellent adventure
In the conclusion of my last article, I said that I entered the novitiate in September 1930. But before entering, I obviously had to inform my parents about my plans. I was really worried that my father would be very disappointed that I was not going to join him in business, so I asked our local pastor to break the news to them and he kindly did so. Then, one evening after the family meal, my father said that he and my mother would like to see me alone in the sitting room. I followed them, feeling a little nervous. But that did not last long. They told me that they could not find words to express how delighted they were to get the news. For years, they had prayed together that I would become a priest. But they had never told me, as they did not wish to unduly influence my decision. So I entered the novitiate, which was only a few miles from where we lived.
Something unexpected happened shortly before the novitiate year was completed. My mother became very ill with pneumonia. The day before I was to take my vows, my father and the pastor came to say that she was dying. I was given permission to go home to see her. When I got home, the nurse said she was unconscious. I went into her room alone and knelt down to pray beside her bed. To my surprise, she opened her eyes and looked at me. She whispered, "Edward, be a good priest." She closed her eyes and those were her last words.
I had to return to the novitiate that evening, as we were to take our vows the next morning, which would make me a member of the Holy Ghost congregation. When I came out of the chapel after the ceremonies, a priest, a friend of the family, was standing outside. He called me over and said, "You have got to be strong. We have just received a phone call that your mother has just died." She had died while I was actually taking my vows. After the funeral, I entered the seminary for eight years and was ordained a priest on June 23, 1940. We still had one year to complete our training before being sent on the missions.
In October 1941, two other young priests and myself left for Kenya, East Africa. The Second World War was at its height and that made a big difference in our journey. Hitler had his submarines in the Mediterranean and so we had to sail the whole way around Africa down the West Coast to Cape Town, around the coast and up the East Coast to Mombassa (Kenya). With various stops at Sierra Leone, Cape Town and a few weeks in Durban, it took us a little more than three months to get to Kenya. Travelling for three months on a ship with a very worldly atmosphere after eight years in a seminary was quite an experience for three young priests. But, we held on to our vocations.
My first appointment was to a mission called Lioki, in Kikuyu Country. There were 52 tribes in Kenya and the Kikuyu tribe was one of the largest and most powerful. My first superior was Father Austin Lynch, who had been in Kenya for some 15 years. He was a very fine priest. but also a "no-nonsense" type of man. The day after I arrived, he said, "Ted, you're not worth a damn here until you can speak to the people in their own language. So, here is a grammar book and a dictionary. You will go for a walk for an hour every evening with a Kikuyu teacher who knows English and he will explain the grammar to you." I took a quick look through the books and thought I would never learn it. But, to my amazement, within three months, I was speaking the language quite fluently, preaching and hearing confessions. The mission was in African territory, which the whiteman called "the bush." There were no roads - just bush paths. Only Africans lived there, as the white men had taken over all the rich arable land for their coffee farms and cattle ranches. The Africans lived in mud huts with grass roofs. We had a motorbike and a horse. The horse was a lovely Arab-Somali, named Lochinvar, a spirited and beautiful animal. Fortunately, as a teenager, I had learned to ride horses on an uncle's farm in Ireland, so I loved riding the horse and visiting the people in their huts. The Africans had no horses, only donkeys, and so the horse was a real treat for them. I was always surrounded and followed by crowds of kids, which was a great way of getting to know the language better and by visiting the families in their huts, I got to know their native customs and ways of life.
I spent 30 years in Kenya, working in different missions and some other positions, which it would take too much space to describe. But, things had changed considerably since 1941, particularly in the political arena. The British had been ruling Kenya since the middle of the 19th century and had taken over most of the arable lands for their coffee farms and cattle ranches. The African people were confined to what were called "African reserves." They were locally ruled by African chiefs who were ruled by the British. But, as they became more educated, the Africans began to wonder why they could not govern their own country. It would be impossible to give all the political details in a brief article, so I shall try to sum it up. A very powerful Kikuyu man, named Jomo Kenyatta, who had gotten a degree from London University, returned to Kenya and started a movement called "the Mau Mau," the object of which was to take over the country from the British. It took several years of warfare until the British realized they could not hold the country any longer and decided to hand it back to the Africans, The Duke of Edinborough came to Kenya and took down the British flag as president Kenyatta hoisted a new Kenyan flag. Kenyatta was a powerful leader and a born politician. He had a very strong personality and his word was law. While he did not interfere directly with the missions, the government took over the schools, which deprived us of the influence which we needed as missionaries. I met President Kenyatta on a few occasions and we seemed to enjoy each other's company. We never discussed politics.
But this could not continue forever and some months after the "takeover," something occurred that was to change my life forever. I have told the story in my book, Yes, I'd Do It Again, so I shall repeat it in a brief summary. A number of new government schools were being opened around the country and the president always presided and made a speech. On the Sunday before Easter 1971, a new school was being opened in the vicinity of my mission, so I thought I should attend. There were about 3,000 Africans present and I was the only white face. I was hidden in the crowd. The president arose to make a speech in which he made some very disparaging remarks about the white people and the missionaries. He referred to us as "Wababero," which meant "he-goats," and was the most insulting term he could use. This was greeted with tremendous cheers, as were all his remarks. I was at the edge of the crowd and there was nothing I could do. When I returned home, I felt I must take some action. So I wrote a letter to the president expressing my offence at his disparaging remarks. It was a polite letter, but left no doubt as to my disagreement. The following day, a local government officer arrived at the mission and told me that the president demanded an apology and retraction of my statements. I made a silent prayer and then said, "Do you remember what Pontius Pilate said when he was asked to remove the TNRJ (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) which he had written over the Cross of Christ?" He said, "No, I don't." I said, "Quod scripisi, scripsi," which means, "What I have written, I have written." I said, "My answer is the same. Neither you nor the president nor the Pope will get me to change a word of it."
He got up and left. An hour later, the police arrived. I was arrested and put on a plane for Dublin at midnight. A few months later, I was appointed to Canada and have been here for over 30 years.
I have not yet been deported!