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St. Patrick’s Missionary Society

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The Kiltegan Fathers

The Beginnings


The Ordination of Fr. Damian Martell


The Kiltegan Fathers

The St. Patrick’s Missionary Society are more often called The Kiltegan Fathers because their headquarters are near the small village of Kiltegan in Co. Wicklow, Ireland.  They are a Society with hands on experience at the centre of life in twelve different developing countries in Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

Their basic task is to reveal Jesus Christ and his Gospel to those who do not know him, involving themselves in any aspiration that aims to advance people’s lives, both spiritually and materially.  Their concern is for everyone, but especially for those whose lives are emptied by poverty, disease, famine or displacement.  For this reason they not only prepare people for baptism and look after their various spiritual needs, but also engage in a wide variety of projects for the betterment of their material lives.

Their belief is that people everywhere have the right to know about Jesus Christ, in whom we can find the answer to the deepest questions of the human heart… about God, human destiny, life, death, truth.  They take Christ and his mission seriously and do so in response to his call “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).  As Christians they wish to share with others the goods they possess, starting with the most precious gift of all… their faith.


The Beginnings

St. Patrick’s Missionary Society had its origins in Nigeria, before 1920 where Bishop Joseph Shanahan, a member of the Holy Ghost Order, was running a huge diocese of 8 million people, with only 23 priests to help him.  He appealed to students about to be ordained in Maynooth to give the first five years of their priesthood to Nigeria.  The first student to volunteer was Fr. PJ. Whitney from Ardagh Diocese. He was ordained in June 1920, and later that year accompanied Bishop Shanahan to Nigeria.  Dublin priest, Fr. Thomas Ronayne, who was ordained in Maynooth seven years earlier, also volunteered and went to Nigeria on the same boat.  In the 1920’s, ten more Irish diocesan priests joined them.

As the years went by, the diocesan priests came to believe that what was needed in the Nigerian Mission was a permanent commitment, and in due course they decided to set up a society of secular priests who would be full-time missionaries. Fr. PJ Whitney was chosen to lead the Society.

In March 1930, St. Patrick’s Missionary Society was set up on a trial basis with Fr. PJ Whitney as Superior.  A headquarters was established at Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow where a tea-merchant named John Hughes had given an old house and 20 acres of land for that purpose.  Kiltegan became a place in which the diocesan priests working in Nigeria could spend their holidays and also a base from which the emerging Society could be organised.  Fr. Whitney appealed in Maynooth, as Bishop Shanahan had done, and by the end of 1930 seven more diocesan priests had gone to Nigeria. He also travelled Ireland, speaking of the needs of Southern Nigeria and seeking the support he needed to establish the Society as a permanent missionary body within the Church. He was very successful at this and, in 1932, the time was ripe for the official establishment of the Society.

The first three members were Fr. PJ Whitney, who was appointed Superior General, his cousin Fr. Patrick Francis Whitney, who had worked in Nigeria and Fr. Francis Hickey, a priest who had spent some time in Australia. They took the oath of membership on St. Patrick’s Day, 1932, the day that Ireland was celebrating the 1,500th Anniversary of the coming of St. Patrick to Ireland.  Six months after the foundation of St. Patrick’s Society, 10 young men arrived in Kiltegan. They came to offer themselves as candidates for full-time missionary work in Southern Nigeria. And every year since then, young men have come to Kiltegan to begin their training for the missionary priesthood.


Africa – Nigeria

The Society’s first priests arrived in Africa in 1939, followed in the next decade by a further 60 Kiltegan missionaries, working in Calabar or Ogoja.  In some areas of Southern Nigeria the Good News of Jesus Christ was preached for the first time by these Kiltegan missionaries.  Their religious and lay missionary partners carried out pioneering work in education and in medicine (notably in the treatment of leprosy).  The new Christians themselves played leading roles in Church life as catechists, local committee members or members of Catholic associations such as the Legion of Mary. By the end of the 1940’s they were so firmly rooted in the Faith that they were producing priests of their own; the young Church had come of age.


Africa – Kenya

Following 19 years working only in Nigeria, in 1951 at Rome’s request, a new mission was undertaken in Kenya, working with the Mill Hill Fathers in the Great Rift Valley among both nomadic and settled peoples.  1956 Kiltegan accepted responsibility for Kitui, another Kenya mission, taking over from the Holy Ghost Fathers.

The number of vocations in Ireland was so great in the 1950’s, that it was decided to build a new college in Kiltegan and to expand the Society’s House of Studies in Cork and by the end of the 1950’s there were nearly 200 Kiltegan priests in Africa.


Beyond Africa

In the 1960’s the Kiltegan Missionaries took their first assignment outside Africa, working in Brazil.  In Nigeria they accepted responsibility for Minna, a large Muslim area.  During this decade, the vocations at Kiltegan dropped considerably, however there was an ever increasing number of vocations in Nigeria and Kenya resulting in priests being spared to serve in places where needs were greater.

In 1970 the Fathers went to Grenada in the West Indies, Malawi in Central Africa, and 3 years later to neighbouring Zambia.  In 1983 as the number of priests in Sudan continued to decline, Kiltegan undertook a new mission in the country’s southern region.  They continued to receive requests from various diocese throughout the world where priests were in short supply.  In 1989 they began work in 3 more countries: Cameroon, Zimbabwe and South Africa, bringing to 10 the number of countries St. Patrick’s Priests and students work.

Following the decision to become International, in 1997 St Patrick’s opened two Formation Houses – one in Ijebu-Ode Diocese in Nigeria and the other in Nakuru Diocese in Kenya, with an initial intake of 11 students.  In January 2000 these students began their Philosophy studies at St Joseph’s Institute in Cedara in South Africa. In January 2002 another Formation House was opened in the Archdiocese of Lusaka, Zambia and in August 2002, 8 students began their Theology studies at Nairobi, Kenya. The first ordinations of their African members took place in 2007. African priests, diocesan and missionary, help in the formation programmes.  Vocation promotion is also taking place in Brazil.  St Patrick’s Missionary Society is being renewed by the new members coming from the different countries in Africa where they have worked.


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There are two centres in Irelnd which cater for the spiritual need in all of us for peace, rest and reflection. 


Tearmann Spirituality Centre (Glendalough)

At the beginning of the 21st century in the midst of the communications revolution, many people are experiencing feelings of disconnection and alienation. One result of this is a growing desire to rediscover roots and live in a more soulful way. In Ireland this search for soul is often expressed in what has come to be known as Celtic spirituality.

The Centre offers Weekend and six day retreats, one to three month stay (by arrangement), Walkabouts for groups.


Slí an Chroí

“the Way of the Heart”, is set in the beautiful Wicklow mountains, popularly known as ‘the garden of Ireland’. St. Patrick’s Missionaries welcome you to come and rest in this special sacred space.

Facilities include 16 Self Catering rooms.  Individuals or groups welcome.

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Reproduced by kind permission of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society

For further information please visit their Website: 



The Ordination of Fr. Damian Martell

099-070707 Fr. DamianOn Saturday July 7th 2007 at 12.00 o’clock, St Mary’s Church was the venue for the historic ordina­tion to the priesthood of the Rev Deacon Damian Martell by the Rt. Rev Peter Moran, Bishop of Aberdeen. It is believed to be the first time that an ordination has taken place in St Mary’s, which was built in 1864.

Fr. Martell (38) gave up teaching in 1997 to begin his studies for the priest­hood. He grew up in Forres, however The Nairn church had been chosen to host the ordination because it is larger than St Margaret’s in Forres and was able to accommodate the size­able number of family guests and parishioners from Nairn and Forres who attended the service.

Bishop Moran told the congregation he was delighted to be officiating at the ordination of Rev Martell, who has been accepted as a missionary in the St Patrick’s Missionary Society and would be working thou­sands of miles from his family home in Forres. Before his ordination, Fr. Martell had spent the past five years based in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Missionary Society, com­monly known as the Kiltegan Fathers. He was to return to Kenya at the end of September.

069-070707 Altar       031-070707 Bishop Peter laying on hands

Among the 13 priests and two deacons who took part in the solemn service, which lasted about an hour and three-quarters, were the Superior General of the St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Seamus O’Neil; Fr. Gary Howley, the Irish Regional Superior of the Society; Fr. Colin Stewart, of St Sylvester in Elgin, who is the Dean of Moray and Huntly. St Mary’s and St. Margaret’s parish priest Fr. Francis Barnett also officiated at the service. His predecessor at St Mary’s, Fr. Gerard Hassay, now based in London, was unable to attend due to illness.

At the end of the serv­ice, the procession was piped out of the church by 18-year-old Michael MacKenzie, of Nairn and District Pipe Band.

080-070707 Priests + Altar Servers

Fr. Martell celebrated his first Mass the follow­ing day when he officiat­ed at St Mary’s 11 o’clock service, which was followed by an infor­mal tea in the hall. The celebrations to mark his ordination continued on July 20 when a barbecue for the parishioners of Nairn and Forres took place at St Mary’s. A plaque commemorating the occasion has been erected in St Mary’s Church.


Excerpt from the Nairnshire Telegraph with photos by Inverness Photography


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