Item 141 - ‘First Impressions of Zambia’

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‘First Impressions of Zambia’


  • 3 May 1966 (Creation)

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(31 March 1923-19 April 2018)

Biographical history

Born: 31 March 1923, Drumcondra, Dublin
Entered: 06 September 1941, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 28 July 1955, Milltown Park , Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1959, Mungret College SJ, Limerick
Died: 19 April 2018, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin

Part of the St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin community at the time of death.

Brother of Colm O’Holohan - RIP 1998

by 1958 at Gandia, Valencia, Spain (TARR) making Tertianship
by 1994 at Orlando FL, USA (NOR) working
by 2001 at Simpsonville SC, USA (NOR) working
by 2004 at Lancaster SC, USA (NOR) working

Early education at Loreto Convent Bray, CBS St. Canice's NCR; Belvedere College SJ

1943-1946 Rathfarnham - Studying Arts at UCD
1946-1949 Tullabeg - Studying Philosophy
1949-1952 Belvedere College SJ - Regency : Teacher; Studying H Dip in Education at UCD (49-50)
1952-1956 Milltown Park - Studying Theology
1956-1957 St Mary’s, Emo - Assistant Socius; Bursar; Teacher; Confessor;
1957-1958 Gandia, Valencia, Spain - Tertianship in Palacio del Santo Duque
1958-1960 Mungret College SJ - Teacher
1960-1965 Belvedere College SJ - Teacher; Directs Conf VdP; Editor of “Belvederian”
1965-1966 Chivuna Mission, Zambia - Studying CiTonga
1966-1978 Chisekesi, Zambia - Teacher ; Spiritual Father; St John Berchmans Sodality; Editor “Canisian” at Canisius College, Chikuni
1969 Transcribed to Zambia Province [ZAM] (03/12/1969)
1978-1981 Mazabuka, Zambia - Teacher and Spiritual Father at St Edmund’s Secondary School
1981-1982 Sabbatical
1982-1986 Zomba, Malawi - Acting Rector; Professor of Moral Theology; Directs Pastoral Ministry at St Peter’s Major Seminary
1986-1987 Luwisha House, Lusaka, Zambia - Teacher at Juniorate; Writer, Director National Apostleship of Prayer, Edits Newsletter
1987-1988 Spokane, WA, USA - Pastor at The Ministry Institute
1988-1992 DeLand, FL, USA - Assistant Pastor at St Peter's Catholic Church
1992-2000 Orlando, FL, USA - Assistant Pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church
1992 Transcribed to Irish Province [HIB] (24/11/1992)
2000-2003 Simpsonville, SC, USA - Associate Pastor at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church
2003-2009 Lancaster, SC, USA - Pastor at St Catherine Catholic Church
2007 Pastor at St Joseph Parish, Chester, SC; Pastor at St Michael’s, Great Falls, SC
2009-2018 Gardiner St - Writer; Chaplain St Monica’s; Locum in Mater Hospital; People’s Church in Clongowes
2014 Prays for the Church and the Society at Cherryfield Lodge

◆ Jesuits in Ireland :

Remembering John O’Holohan SJ
Fr John O’Holohan SJ died peacefully at Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin on 19 April 2018 aged 95 years. Prayers were said at Cherryfield Lodge on 22 April, and his funeral Mass took place at Milltown Park Chapel on 23 April, followed by burial at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Born in 1923, John grew up in Drumcondra, Dublin and was educated at Belvedere College SJ in Dublin City. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St Mary’s, Emo, County Laois in 1941. He studied arts at UCD and philosophy at Tullabeg, County Offaly. He did his regency as a teacher in Belvedere while also studying for the Higher Diploma in Education at UCD. He was ordained in 1955 after further studies in theology at Milltown Park, Dublin. John continued to teach in Jesuit schools in Ireland and did his tertianship in Spain.
In 1965, John went to the missions in Zambia. There, he learned the Chitonga language, taught in schools, and ministered as Spiritual Father among other roles. He was transcribed to the Zambia Province in 1969. He continued to mission in Zambia except for a period as a key formator in St Peter’s Major Seminary in Malawi from 1982-1986. He was the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer in Zambia from 1986- 1987.
In his later years, John worked in pastoral ministry in the United States from 1987-2009. First in Washington state as pastor, then in Florida as assistant pastor, and later as associate pastor and pastor in South Carolina. In the meantime, he was transcribed to the Irish Province again. He returned to Ireland as a member of the Gardiner Street Community in Dublin where he was a writer among other positions. Notably, John celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013, and he finished the day by watching reports of the election of Pope Francis.
He moved to Cherryfield Lodge nursing home in 2014 where his family visited him very often, and he was most appreciative of the care he received there. John died peacefully on the evening of 19 April in the loving care of the staff at Cherryfield. He is deeply regretted by his sisters Dympna Cunningham and Nesta Tuomey, his brother-in-law Larry, his nephews, nieces and extended family, his Jesuit Community and by many friends in the United States.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

The Early Years – in appreciation of my brother John Terry O’Holohan SJ by Nesta Tuomey
As I often told you your influence on me when I was growing up gave me my strong faith in Jesus Christ and your loving chats about God and the saints so interesting and inspiring, they led me to know and want to love Him from an early age. When you took my sister and myself on walks in the Botanic Garden I particularly remember your stories about Wopsy, the little angel, who was always getting into trouble but when he saw the error of his ways he was penitent and tried to do better. He was the role model for me when I was as young as five or six and I loved hearing about him and all the adventures he had. When you were appointed to Belvedere College you would often bring the boys’ essays home with you and allow us to read them, even, at times, to allot marks in order of excellence. All very exciting and heady stuff for ones as young as we were then. Of course, you would put your own marks on the actual copies but it taught us literary appreciation and perception. I remember being intrigued by the letters A.M.D.G. written at the top of each copybook page. When I asked, you explained what the letters stood for – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam which was the Latin motto for the Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola and meant ‘To the greater glory of God’. We enthusiastically imitated the Belvedere boys and put A.M.D.G. at the top of our exercise copies until the Sacred Heart nuns at our school in Leeson Street gently bid us to desist.
Undoubtedly, you passed on to us your own fervour and love of St. Ignatius and when you were ordained you chose to spend your Tertianship at Valencia in Spain, despite the rigorous regime this would entail. When you returned to Ireland after a year away, you could speak Spanish and loved to tell us of St. Ignatius and how he came from a very wealthy family and what a proud aristocratic man he was. How when his leg was severely injured by a cannon ball at the Battle of Pamplona he courageously endured the agony of having it broken again and set without benefit of anaesthetic, rather than endure the mortification of walking for the rest of his life with a limp. During his long convalescence, as his leg slowly healed, he underwent a religious conversion. The only books available to him were the lives of the saints but, before long, he found them very much to his taste, and was inspired by the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who showed their burning love in their unconditional service of God. Giving up his great wealth, he resolved to live a life of poverty and sacrifice, doing everything to the greater glory of God, later founding the Society of Jesus. I read the books you gave me including the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and learned discernment and how to make the right decisions but that was not until I had reached a more mature age.
Back in my childhood I very much liked hearing of St. Ignatius’s life and generosity and how when St. Francis Xavier was very strict on new novices and inclined to send them away from the seminary St. Ignatius always gave them a second chance and took them in again by the back door. That was the saint for me, I decided, he was just like Jesus Christ compassionate and ready to forgive and I found myself very much drawn to the order you had chosen to join. From what you told me I was aware that at the age of seven you knew that you wanted to become a priest and it was through your influence on your pupils at Belvedere that a great many joined the Jesuits and were ordained priests. I was no saint myself and in those early years when I used to complain about having to set the Sunday lunch table while my older sister sat listening to you, you told us the story of Mary and Martha, pointing out that in listening to Jesus and letting her sister cook and set tables ‘Mary had chosen the better part’, as indeed she had. But I could never really like Mary or Martha and would have much preferred to be sitting comfortably listening to your stories myself, particularly, when you had such a wonderful way of engaging our interest. You often told us the Bible was the most exciting book ever written, certainly it was the most blood thirsty too. The stories of David and Jonathan’s great friendship and Saul’s jealousy came alive when you told them, making me long to read them for myself.
You were always very generous with your time and I particularly loved the way you would keep front seats for us at the Belvedere College operas. How we loved Gilbert and Sullivan and came to know all the songs. I can still see you young and vigorous, your soutane flying out behind you, as you came smiling towards us. There were our ‘Lemmo’ parties when you financed a bottle of fizzy lemonade and the luxury of Mikado biscuits with jam and marshmallow topping. You would play cards with us, simple games of ‘Snap’ or ‘Beggar My Neighbour’ and there would be a sweet as the winner’s prize. My mother used to laugh and say you could see no wrong in us, I suspect she would have liked us to be more like model children but was forced to put up with the reality.
On looking back, it was on our walks as children and later when you came to spend your leave from Africa with myself, my husband and children, becoming their friend as you had become mine, that our friendship blossomed and grew. I am so thankful you entered into our lives from the beginning enriching them by your affectionate presence, always stirring us gently to an awareness of Jesus and telling us how important it was to put him first in our lives. Somehow you always saw the best in us no matter what and by your unstinting friendship and wise counselling helped us to become more worthy, less selfish, less self- orientated. Undoubtedly, you helped and guided so many others while abroad on the missions in Africa and during your time spent in America as a Jesuit priest. By your ministry you have touched so many lives. At 86 you returned home to Ireland, having been pastor to three parishes in South Carolina, where you had a driver who brought you to the distant towns to say the weekend masses. You took on so much having always expressed the desire to ‘work while there was work to be done’, always of the mind that you would go anywhere a priest was needed; in your eighties even offering your services on an American troop ship. When the officer with a smile in his voice asked, ‘Do you mind my asking, Father, how old you are?’ you told him your age, adding ‘Well, even if I can’t go on board I can set up a confessional on the dock,’ adding the sobering observation, ‘Many of those young soldiers will never come back from Afghanistan and it may be the only time they will have an opportunity to confess before death.’
With your passing, I feel as though I have lost my best friend but believe and take consolation from the fact you have gone to a better place and you are now with Jesus whom you served so faithfully and for so long. With all my love and thanks until we meet again.

◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1966

First Impressions of Zambia : Father John O’Holohan SJ (OB 1941)

Lusaka - The Capital
The darkness was falling as we landed at Lusaka airport. I was surprised at the modern and efficient aspect of the streets and traffic arrangements. The people were the main interest. There was great variety of colours, black, brown, and white. The bulk of business seemed to be run by Europeans and Indians. Lusaka has a population of 118,800 of whom 13,800 are non-Africans. It seemed to me like a large country town in Ireland, but it, is growing steadily in population and popularity. I stayed at the parish church of St Ignatius which was built by Father Dermot Murphy (OB 1933), now Father Minister in Canisius College. The PP is Father Denis O'Connell SJ, who taught as a scholastic in Belvedere from 1950 to 1953. On Sunday I said the 10.00 am Mass and preached at four Masses.

I left Lusaka next day with Father Arthur Clarke SJ, the Rector of Canisius College, to drive south to the Chikuni Mission Headquarters. As we drove on in the brilliant sunshine between acres and acres of bush country which covers so much of central Africa, and glimpsed the round huts of the Africans between the trees, I realised that I was now really in the heart of Africa. From the moment I stepped onto African soil I noticed a change of atmosphere, the tempo of life seemed slower, outside the city the clock went back hundreds of years. The heart-throb of Africa beat slowly and steadily like drums at evening.

Chivuna Mission Station
The main road south is a very good one most of the way. Sometimes it degenerates into a narrow strip of tarmac so that it is necessary to shift onto the clay surface when passing cars. This can be quite dangerous, clouds of dust rendering visibility almost nil. About 27 miles on we passed over the great Kafue river where I saw my first hippos, ten of them were wallowing in the warm water near the bridge. After 50 miles more we stopped at Mazabuka to call to see to ever cheerful Father Tom O'Meara, SJ from Mallow. Our next brief stop was at the bishop's house in Monze, 120 miles from Lusaka. There we turned off the main road to drive west over the dirt road to Chivuna 27 miles in the bush. As the swift Africa twilight merged into darkness we reached the mission station situated on a slight elvation. The Superior, Father Bernard Collins SJ, gave us a hearty welcome. He knows Belvedere well; he taught there both as scholastic and a priest. In fact he taught me Greek for the Intermediate Cert in 1939 . Now I was coming back to sit in a desk before him in Central Africa and study Citonga, one of the thirty different Bantu dialects in use in Zambia. Of all the languages I have studied there is only one which bore any resemblance to Tonga, and that Hebrew. Fortunately the letters used are the same as in English, but the whole structure and syntax of the language is different. Most languages vary their tenses and cases, modulating their terminations; Tonga do the reverse, it changes its prefixes and makes the noun, adjective and verb undergo complicated changes to preserve this kind of agreement. Some words evoke memories of English, either by chance or because they are from the English. Some examples interesting words are: mutwe - head, bong - brains, impongo - goat, taata - father; baama - mother, muntu - man, bantu - me The Ave Maria begins: “Wabonwa Mari ozwide luse, Mwami nkwali kuli nduwe ..

Each day we rose at 5.00 am - 5.30 to 7.00 was spent in prayers and celebrating Mass. Classes began at 8.00 and ended at 10.00 am The rest of the day was spent most in private study varied by sessions with a African tutor. The usual course is one year - I was trying to do it in three months - was very painful, and I felt a new sympathy for my pupils in Latin and Greek in Belvedere.

Life in the Bush
When I was told I was going to spend three months in the bush I was prepared for very primitive conditions. At Chivuna I found a well-built house with running water, gauze over the windows and electricity from 6.00 to 9.30 p.m. nightly. The last convenience was due to the presence of a large educational settlement beside us. The Irish Sisters of Charity run very efficiently a large secondary and primary school for girls. They had a machine generating electricity and we shared its light. Beside the convent there is a clinic run by the Sisters which rivals seriously the reputation of any local medicine-men. Zambia is ful of strange contrasts; it is straddling two worlds. In the cities you are in the twentieth century; in the bush you seem to be almost in the stone age. Only a hundred yards from my room there were people living in a manner that was ancient when Caesar invaded Britain. They live in round huts made of bricks, mud or straw. Their staple food is maize seasoned with meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, according as fortune favours them.

One day at the building site near us I saw a devoted wife bringing dinner to her husband at midday: she had two dishes perched on her head and when she presented them to him she did so on her bended knees. There is no doubt who is the official master in the home. In the African tradition the woman is held to be inferior to the man, and virtually his slave. All this is changing now with the rapid improvement of living conditions and education in Zambia. When a girl is through a secondary school she is able to secure personal independence. Boy or girl finishing secondary school has great opportunities for good positions in the country. Even if a boy fails his exams he can still get a job.

Many European teachers have come out to Zambia on a contract to teach for two years. They are doing great work. Many more are needed. Zambia is about nine times the size of Ireland, but its population is less than four million. It is a wealthy country and is spending great sums on education. For five years all education, books, etc, are free. The great need is for teachers, The Government is pouring twenty million pounds into new schools, hospitals and administration centres, and building contractors are so overloaded that they cannot begin to meet the demand for private housing. The new buildings in Chivuna are being built by the Irish firm of Sisk. Signs of progress are everywhere. Africans driving ox carts are passed in a cloud of dust by Africans speeding by in Chevrolets. Near prirnitive huts you see fine modern bungalows springing up. At night I heard the drums beating in the darkness and distance; near the parish church I saw workmen sitting around a fire with a transistor blaring out the top ten. People come to the clinic for treatment for all sorts of ailments; some still consult local quacks and are much influenced by them. Sometimes the sick person comes to the doctor to try to have the medicine-man's failure remedied. One day a youth of 19 came in to the clinic, “I am bewitched”, he said. The Sister laughed at his fears, took his temperature; he seemed in perfect health. He insisted he was going to die. His friends came in and added helpfully “Yes, he is going to die, he is bewitched”. True enough later the healthy young man died. His friends came and took the body away. It is very hard to explain such things.

I have made many forays into the bush in a Landrover to bring people to hospital, sometimes it has been at night alone with a rather formidable looking African complete with club, as a guide. Always I have found them gentle and courteous. Up to very recent times the Tonga people were shamefully neglected. They are fast becoming the complete controllers of their own destinies. They are fortunate in having such a remarkable man as President Kaunda as their leader. He is a man of Christian principles, moderate and idealistic. He welcomes help from Europeans; the white missionary is welcome and respected. There is a great chance for the Catholic Church here.

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Irish Jesuit Mission Office, 2013.

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‘First Impressions of Zambia’ by Fr John T. O'Holohan SJ, Chikuni College, Chikuni Mission, Zambia.

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