Born: 18 August 1929, Kilmainham, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1946, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 28 July 1960, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final vows: 02 February 1964, Canisius College, Chikuni, Zambia
Died 26 October 2017, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin
Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death.
HIB to ZAM : 03 December 1969; ZAM to HIB : 31 July 1982
by 1955 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, N Rhodesia (POL Mi) Regency
by 1963 at Campion Hall, Oxford (ANG) studying
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Liam Browne SJ – a dedicated missionary
Irish Jesuit Fr Liam Browne SJ died peacefully at Cherryfield Lodge nursing home, Dublin on 26 October 2017 aged 88 years. His funeral took place on 31 October at Milltown Park, Ranelagh followed by burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. The Dubliner spent much of his early priestly life on various missions in Zambia, before returning home to work at various places in Ireland in 1974. Below find the homily at his funeral mass given by Fr John K. Guiney SJ.
A dedicated missionary
We remember and celebrate a long and eventful life of Liam Browne.
He was born in the Rotunda on 18th August 1929 and brought up in Kilmainham Dublin, went to CBS James’s St... and entered the Jesuits at Emo Park on 7th September 1946, was ordained in Milltown Park on 28th July 1960, and took his final vows at Chikuni in Zambia on 2nd February 1964.
Four of the 12 companions who took first vows with him in Emo are with us still: John Guiney, John Dooley, and Jim Smyth... MJ Kelly who is living in Lusaka, Zambia.
To say Liam had a rich,varied and eventful life is an understatement. He worked in Zambia, Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard, was Chaplain in St Vincent’s Hospital and Marlay Nursing Home and all through was constant in his research on the Chitonga language and culture. He went to God peacefully in Cherryfield Lodge last Thursday at 4pm.
A common theme of Liam’s life was his desire and wish to be close to ordinary people and to understand their cultures and ways of life. In an interview with the Irish Jesuit Mission Office he expressed his desire to become a Jesuit and priest in this way: “to help people and to enable them to experience Christ’s forgiveness and he noted the great influence on his vocation of his grandmother Susan Waldron.
When Liam arrived in Zambia in 1954 he plunged himself into learning the local language Chitonga in the diocese of Monze. He was not only interested in learning a language but set about researching the culture of the people, looking at what makes them tick – trying to understand seeing how culture/religion/faith are interrelated.
His work in the study and preservation of Tonga culture was similar to the work of another renowned student of Tonga culture – Frank Wafer who founded the Mukanzubo Kalinda Cultural Centre in Chikuni. They did so much to record, store and document traditional proverbs, dance, songs, customs and rites of the community. Liam did what every effective missionary does; he fell in love with the people he was called to serve – the Tonga people and culture.
Liam was the go to person for scholastics/young volunteers, learning the language and entering a new culture. He was the person to induct them into Tongaland. Colm Brophy as a scholastic in Zambia in 1969 recounts: “I was anxious to acquire a knowledge of Chitonga. So I asked the Provincial, John Counihan, to send me to a place and to a person who could help me do that.
“In 1969 I was posted to Chilala-Ntaambo (‘the sleeping place of the lion’), a metropolis of remoteness... because I knew it was remote and that I would be living with a man who was very fluent in the language – Liam Browne.”
Liam, he remembers, would spend a lot of his time researching the Chitonga language and culture. He would go around various villages with his tape-recorder interviewing mainly elderly people.
Chilala-Ntaambo was frontier missionary land in the 1960s.
It wasn’t an easy life for Liam there as parish priest. There was no solid Catholic community. The place was new. For Sunday Mass only eight or ten people would turn up mainly from two families. He was ploughing a lone furrow.
Liam continued to work in missionary frontiers in the Fumbo and Chivuna parishes and in 1973 took a break to study cultural anthropology in Campion Hall, Oxford under the guidance of the renowned Professor Evans Pritchard.
Liam then published some of his research on the initiation rites of the Tonga people but fell foul of at least one influential Tonga political leader who felt that secrets of their culture was not for public reading. He was not allowed to renter the country.
Two years ago while visiting Monze I met his mentor and friend in Zambia – the great cultural anthropologist of the Tonga people Barbara Colson who worked with Liam.
She was full of admiration for the work and research of Liam and admitted that Liam’s kind of research is now prescribed reading for students of the Tonga culture in every African library. A real joy for Liam in latter years was The Tonga-English Dictionary that Liam had started in the 60s and was finally completed and published by Frank Wafer just 3 years ago.
Liam returned to Ireland in 1974 and from then to 1989 he went to work in Ballyfermot and began to build firstly a temporary and then a permanent Church with the people and with the able assistance of the Daughters of Charity and especially Sr Cabrini.
His friends in Cherry Orchard still remember him as a man of great kindness and compassion. They remember his outreach to the most needy, his wisdom in counselling people and also his ability to plan, budget and look ahead even when the share budget of the diocese was small. Amongst Liam’s talents was wood work and he loved making things; much of the design and wooden fixtures and paintings were done by Liam in the Churches he built.
Those who knew Liam in Zambia and Ireland remember him as good-humoured, generous and who loved music especially jazz.
His friends also remember Liam as a man who shot from the hip, spoke his mind with a bluntness that could put people off. He had a certain distrust of superiors and people in authority, sometimes with well founded reasons. However, once he had got it out of his system, he got on with things and remained on good terms with all whom he encountered.
Perhaps the phrase ‘he got on with things’ sums up the greatest characteristic of Liam’s life. Liam was a man always available for mission and when the mission he really loved, Zambia was suddenly interrupted – it must have been a heartbreak for him, but he moved on without complaining to the new missions on the home front.
At the end of his life Liam shared with his friends. I am glad I did what I did when I could. He had few regrets. Once he decided that Cherryfield Lodge nursing home was the best, he moved and had the highest regard to all who cared for him there.
He was indeed always ready for a change and recognised in the wisdom of the ancestors that there is a time and a season for all things under the sun. On Thursday last a final time had come; he surrendered in peace to his maker in the presence of his sister Monica.
Finally, a word of thanks to two great missionary families: the Browne’s and the Cassidy’s. Liam’s niece Susan shared with me that as a child she saved up her pocket money for the missions. Monica helped out Tommy Martin for years with cake sales and raffles for the missions and coincidentally two weeks ago we got a letter from a Zambian PP, from that very parish that Liam founded 50 years ago with the help of his family and friends saying hello to Liam.
My name is Fr. Kenan Chibawe, parish priest of St. Francis Xavier parish in Chilalantambo, Monze in Zambia. Our parish was officially opened in 1967 by Fr Liam Browne. This year on 28th October, we are celebrating 50 years or Golden Jubilee of the growth of the Catholic faith that was planted by the Jesuit missionaries in particular Fr Brown and the Late Fr Norman McDonald SJ. We would have loved to see Liam here but maybe his age may not allow him to travel. People still remember these priests in our parish.
We too remember and celebrate Liam’s life with the people of Zambia, Cherry Orchard, his former colleagues alive and dead in the Vincent’s and Marlay chaplaincies. We pray for and with Liam in his adopted language Chitonga:
Mwami leza kotambula muzimo wakwe kubuzumi butamani, which means in our own language, Ar dheis dei go raibh an anam dilis.
◆ Irish Jesuit Missions :
As in “Jesuits in Ireland” : https://www.jesuitmissions.ie/news/571-liam-browne-sj-a-dedicated-missionary and
Fr. Liam Browne, born in 1929 in Rotunda, Dublin, can easily sum up why he wanted to be a priest: ‘to help other people’, particularly by allowing them to ‘experience Christ’s forgiveness’. Fr Browne had been encouraged in his calling by his grandmother, Susan Waldron, who raised his brother, his sister, and himself after the death of his mother. He had first become interested in the Jesuits after attending a retreat with his school, James’ Street Christian Brothers, and was attracted to missionary work because of the possibilities it offered for helping others abroad.
Fr. Browne left Dublin as a young scholastic bound for Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) to work with the Tonga. Although direct flights now link London and Lusaka, in the 1950s it took three days to reach the Zambian capital by air. Despite the distance and the difficulty, Fr. Browne recalls his first year in Africa as the happiest of his life: ‘it was the happiest time because I was doing exactly what I wanted.’ He spent this first year acclimatising, learning the language, and immersing himself in Tongan culture. His greatest consolation, or most rewarding experience, was learning the language and speaking to the Tongan people about religion. He spent his time with the Tonga working in the mission station and at Canisius College, the Jesuit-run boys’ school, and served in Zambia for a total of thirteen years (three years as a student, and ten as an ordained priest). It is clear that Fr. Browne immensely enjoyed his time in Africa: his only desolation in mission was the frustration of waiting for the rains to come, with October standing out as ‘the most dreadful time of the year’!
Fr. Browne became fascinated with Tongan culture, and with the broader field of social anthropology. He had been able to study Zambezi culture thanks to work by Elizabeth Colson, an American anthropologist who had begun studying the Tonga through the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute. In between postings, he had the benefit of spending a year at Campion Hall, Oxford, studying under Professor Evans-Pritchard at the Institute of Social Anthropology. He states that this training was ‘invaluable’ to his work in Zambia, and recalls Evans-Pritchard (a legend in anthropological circles) as an ‘outstanding’ scholar. Fr. Browne went on to write a detailed study of the Tongan way of life; studies such as these were useful not only in providing a record of Tongan custom, but also for instructing new missionaries about their host culture.
Although life in Zambia was very different to life in Ireland, Fr. Browne never experienced a ‘culture shock’. His entire philosophy was based around being open and receptive to Tongan culture, and he didn’t ‘allow himself the luxury of being shocked’ by unfamiliar practices. ‘I felt you should be open. I was convinced you needed to know the people’s language and customs- if you didn’t know that then you were really clueless! The prevailing view was that you had everything to give and nothing to receive, but I didn’t believe a word of it.’ He argues that this openness is the secret to success in both missionary work and in anthropology: ‘there is a Jesuit saying that one must go in another’s door in order for that other to come out of your door...You need to be receptive.’
Because missionaries had been working in Zambia since 1896, the Tonga were not tabula rasa when it came to the Christian message. However, Christianity still needed to be culturally located: ‘What I believe is that you have to make an effort to understand the people; that will determine your approach to preaching Christianity. To preach in a way which people will understand, you must preach in terms with which they are familiar.’ When asked if African Christianity differs from European Christianity, Fr Browne replies that it does so ‘as much as Africa differs from Europe’. Some interpretations of Christianity were more Pentecostalist than Catholic, but the Tonga were generally a receptive people who took the Christian message to heart. Indeed, Fr. Browne argues that the Zambian mission housed some of the holiest people one could ever hope to meet. In his own words, it takes ‘a hell of a long time to build a Christian culture’: given this, the fact that Christianity has become rooted in African culture in only a few generations is astounding.
However, there were areas in which the acceptance of Catholic doctrine was somewhat superficial. Although the Irish tendency is to assume that we can separate the ‘religious’ from the social or the economic, life among the Tonga shows that this is not the case. For example, polygamy was common amongst Tongan men, even those who were Christian. Converts knew that this went against Biblical teachings on marriage, but because polygamy was seen as an economic rather than a moral practice, they did not view it in the same way that their Irish missionaries did. There were also some issues of cultural ‘translation’: because the Tonga are a matrilineal people, it was somewhat difficult to promote a patrilineal religion such as Christianity, with its emphasis on Father and Son. Fr. Browne argues that new converts always tried to live the Christian life; like all Catholics, however, this was a work in progress.
Political agendas have always been a part of the mission process, and this was equally true for Jesuit missionaries in Zambia. Although race relations in Zambia were significantly less strained than those in South Africa or Zimbabwe, there were still tensions between white and black populations. However, Fr. Browne believes that a distinction was made between white government officials and white missionaries. Missionaries, unlike government officials, made an effort to assimilate into the local culture: they had to, after all, if they were to have any success. Because they were not familiar with Zambezi culture, white government officials misunderstood local power relations. For example, they would treat one man as local headman despite the fact that he was not seen as such by his would-be subjects. This was a mistake which was avoided by missionaries, who had learnt (through living with them) that the Tonga valued democracy and the ability to compromise or broker peace far more than an abstract colonial understanding of power; as the Tongan saying goes, ‘anyone can call himself a chief, but it doesn’t mean we have to obey him’! Headmen tended to be European appointees. Further, Christian missionaries were respected because they had opened schools. Although the British government had claimed that education was important, they had only introduced primary schools, and it was left to religious organisations to open schools for secondary education.
The mission station also benefited the community by distributing basic medical supplies. The Sisters of Charity ran a small bush hospital, and the mission distributed pills, tonics, supplies for cuts, etc. With the nearest hospital 35 miles away, and high rates of infant mortality, this proved a very useful service. The parents of sick children would go to great lengths to prevent their premature deaths. Fr. Browne recalls a woman who decided to begin the 35 mile walk to the hospital in the middle of the night so that her sick baby could get access to medical treatment; although she was eventually persuaded to wait until morning, when she could be driven there, this incident demonstrates the very real danger of having a sick child in the bush.
The mission station is now run by local recruits rather than Europeans. Fr. Browne is ‘delighted’ to see local people running the mission, and has high hopes for Zambia’s future. He believes that the Catholic Church can act as a unifying force in Africa today, because this is the message of the liturgy. Although the mission station is now largely run by African priests and nuns, there is still a role for Irish Catholics to play. Fr. Browne speaks highly of volunteers who give up their time to work in Zambia. He gives a particularly glowing report of a couple from Derry, who taught at the Catholic girls’ school for six years. The children grew up with their parents’ students, and Fr. Browne laughs as he recalls their daughter being taught to dance by the African girls.
If there is an overarching theme around which to organise Fr. Browne’s narrative, then surely it is that of being open and receptive: ‘Be ready to learn. If you go in with a full head, thinking you know everything, you’ll learn nothing.’
1948-1951 Rathfarnham - Studying Arts at UCD
1951-1954 Tullabeg - Studying Philosophy
1954-1957 Chikuni, Zambia - Regency at Canisius College, learning Chitonga
1957-1961 Milltown Park - Studying Theology
1961-1962 Rathfarnham - Tertianship
1962-1963 Oxford, UK - Diploma in Social Anthropology at Campion Hall
1963-1964 Monze, Zambia - Parish Priest at Sacred Heart
1964-1965 Chikuni, Zambia - Teacher at Canisius College
1965-1972 Chivuna, Zambia - Parish Work at Chivuna Mission
1968 Parish Priest at Chilala-Ntambo, Pemba
1969 Transcribed to Zambian Province [ZAM] (03/12/1969)
1971 Working in Parish at Fumbo
1972-1973 Chisekesi, Zambia - Studying Language and Social Anthropology at Charles Lwanga Teacher Training
1973 -1974 St Ignatius, London, UK - Studying Social Anthropology at London University
1974-1989 Gardiner St - Parish work in Dublin Diocese at Ballyfermot
1982 Transcribed to Irish Province [HIB] (26/03/1982)
1986 Parish Ministry at Blessed Sacrament, Cherry Orchard, Dublin
1989-2017 Milltown Park - Historical Research and Writing
1993 Chaplain at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Dublin
2000 Chaplain at Marlay Nursing Home, Rathfarnham, Dublin
2009 Research in African Studies
2014 Praying for the Church and Society at Cherryfield Lodge