“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:7-9).
The life and times of Very Rev. Fr. Raymond Hickey, (OSA) who answered the home call in the early hours of July 9th 2021 at the ripe age of 85 testifies to the scripture which says: “The span of our life is seventy years, or if we are strong, eighty; yet at best it is toil and sorrow, over in a moment, and then we are gone” (Psalm 90:10). Following his demise, eulogies have been pouring from people from all walks of life. Typical among them are those of the Prior Provincial, Order of St. Augustine, Province of Nigeria, Very Rev. Fr. Prof. Anthony Okechukwu Kanu, OSA. The chief mourner who revealed that the deceased priest touched the lives of his fellow conferrers in different ways said, “Personally, his commitment to duty and prayerfulness are two important factors that will remain with me.”
Speaking further, he said, the gallant missionary was a quiet but industrious historian. The Provincial further described him as “an Augustinian, whose inner peace, honesty, self-effacing demeanor, yet joyous sense of humor has fascinated friars. If I were to go beyond his impact on my life and talk about his influence on the Order of Saint Augustine in Nigeria, I would say that he gave us a positive collective identity through his hard work.”
On his part, the Secretary, Order of St. Augustine, Province of Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel James Voviyere, OSA disclosed that the Irish Augustinian comes across as someone who is “down to earth, simple and ready to teach.” He maintained that “Even when he was sick, he was ready to assist.” Fr. Voviyere noted that Hickey “hardly criticizes people destructively” but “always looks for their positive aspect and talks about them.” Speaking further, the provincial scribe remarked that “he was meticulous about keeping details.”
One of those who have interacted closely with Fr. Hickey for the past 60 years is the Archbishop Abuja, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Kaigama. In his condolence message to the deceased’s congregation and family in Nigeria and Dublin, he wrote: “Please pray for the repose of the soul of our longest-serving missionary in Africa who passed away peacefully in Nigeria…” Kaigama disclosed that the cleric “loves Nigeria and her people and has served with very great merit at various times as a parish priest, a historian, a researcher, an archivist, an author, but above all, as a humble and dedicated Irish Augustinian priest.” He prayed God to “preserve a special room for him in His Kingdom.”
During his condolence visit to the Augustinian Community at St. Monica’s Parish Rantya, Jos, where he is also a parishioner, Plateau State Governor, Rt. Hon. Simon Bako Lalong described the late Augustinian Priest as a man whose love and passion for Nigeria and its people transcended the barriers of religion, ethnicity or socio-political attributes. Lalong who described the cleric “as a huge reservoir of knowledge on the history of the country” marveled at his love for Nigeria where he easily connected with people at all levels. He added that this is what earned the missionary tremendous respect “as a historian, researcher, conservator, an author, but above all, as a humble and dedicated Irish Augustinian Priest.”
Parishioners whom the late Hickey ministered to were not left out of those who bared their minds on how impactful his life was. Gloria Thomas, a parishioner of St. Monica’s Rantya and a veteran journalist on the Plateau narrated that for the over 10 years she came in contact with the priest, he taught her humility, simplicity, consideration for others and serving God no matter the circumstances. She revealed that “Parishioners see him as a very dedicated, kind and loving priest.” The broadcaster who described Fr. Hickey as “quintessential” lauded his efforts in the Church in North-Eastern Nigeria where in her words: “He raised parishioners, helped catechists, supported priests and bishops and contributed to the physical and spiritual growth of the Church.”
Another parishioner and lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Sir John Edeh, KSM insisted that he “should be immortalized given that he left his country even as a young priest and made huge impact in the life of the Church in Nigeria.” Commenting further, he said: “I was part of a proposal to name one of the edifices in the Church after him during the celebration of his 80th birthday.” Sir Edeh who stated that he always wanted parishioners “to follow the Catholic Doctrine with precision” praised “his demonstration of love for Mass in Hausa language.” The Knight added that the cleric’s “vast knowledge of history of the places he had evangelized added to his strong sense of intimacy with them.”
For Very Rev. Dr. Sylvester Dagin, a fellow Church Historian and former Rector of St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos “There is no Catholic Church historian in the North that can have access to the past without reference to Hickey.” He surmised that the Irish missionary “remains one of the historical footnotes of the Church in the North” who “should be immortalized as a missionary and a Church historian.”
In like manner, the Diocesan Secretary of Maiduguri Diocese, where Fr. Hickey lived most of his life, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. John Bakeni said, the cleric “stood as the symbol of a committed missionary, a beacon of hope, an encyclopedia of knowledge and history.” According to him, we should emulate his “selfless service, commitment and dedication to work, pastoral disposition, genuine love for the people whom we pastor, hard work and loyalty to the Church.” He emphasized that we can immortalize him by “continuing his works and keeping his writings alive.”
The Bishop’s Secretary of Bauchi Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Benjamin Garba who was fond of the religious said that he knew Fr. Hickey as a child because he was their Parish Priest at St. Paul’s Potiskum, Yobe State. He also disclosed that Hickey attended his ordination at St. John’s Cathedral Bauchi in 2013. Fr. Garba who narrated that the missionary built Churches and developed people noted that “He loved Catechists so much that he doesn’t speak without mentioning them.” On his legacies, he said, although he documented events in the Church “many people think he is a Church historian but he told me that he did not read history. He just had interest in historical events of the Church in Northern Nigeria.”
On his part, Rev. Fr. Moses Maji, a Priest of Yola Diocese who confessed that he worked closely with the Irish Priest in 2019 on the second part of the history of Yola Diocese said, Fr. Hickey “is the fulfillment of the divine injunction ‘that you may tell your children and grandchildren…’” (Ex. 10:2). Situating the life and times of the Augustinian with what Pope Francis teaches namely seeing stories as effective tools for communicating with people where they are and how they are, Fr. Maji stressed that “what the missionary stood for all his life has made our own story to become part of every great story.”
In the light of archiving, the late Fr. Hickey should not be left to become a victim of his specialty. This is why immortalizing his legacies is key. Gloria Thomas suggests that all his writings should be published and made available. She also recommends that a block should be named after him at the Augustinian Monastery, St. Monica’s Church or St. Augustine’s College, Du. For Very Rev. Fr. Alexander Longs, a fellow Augustinian Friar based in Rome, “His writing and that of Malachy Cullen will remain as the foundation and platform on which many doctrinal literature of Northern Nigeria will be resolved.”
Fr. Longs adds that: “He should be immortalised as a beacon of priestly service and an example of total oblation and humble servant to God.” The Prior Provincial, Fr. Kanu thinks that Fr. Hickey’s name and values are already “engraved in the chambers of our hearts and will never be forgotten by us and by those yet to come.” He, however, maintains that “the Order of Saint Augustine, Province of Nigeria will ensure that it keeps the fascination of Fr. Hickey alive and attractive even for generations to come.”
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1936, Fr. Hickey was ordained a Catholic Priest in February 1960. He arrived Nigeria in October 1960 as a missionary and served in Borno and Yobe States for 28 years. Fr. Hickey who was fond of saying he is both Irish and Nigerian speaks Hausa fluently. Apart from working in Lagos, Mararabar Ngurku, outside Abuja and Jos towards the end of his missionary sojourn, he lived among the people of Zaladava of Pulka, the Karekare, Ngezim and Ngamo of Fika division, the Kanakuru and Bura of Shani and Bekaji, Jimeta/Yola. The veteran missionary watched how Nigeria metamorphosed from independence through military coups and civil war, to the years of military dictatorship leading to the democratic dispensation.
For this writer, Fr. Raymond Hickey, OSA (1936-2021 was simply the “Living Memory of the Church in Northern Nigeria.” As he is being buried on Thursday 14th July, 2021 at the Augustinian Novitiate, Tudun Wada Jos, after a Requiem Mass at St. Monica’s Rantya, Jos, Plateau State, we commiserate with his sister Gladys and brother Desmond, the Augustinian communities in Ireland and Nigeria and the Catholic Archbishop of Jos Archdiocese, Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Ishaya Audu on this irreparable loss. We pray that this “significant footnote of the Church” that has seemingly disappeared would remain with us for a long time. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.