Missionary who mastered eight languages and gave his life to Africa

After ordination in 1954 two taxing stints of missionary work awaited Cothraí Gogan

The full story of the impact of Irish missionaries on the lives of people in modern Nigeria has yet to be told. In the recent death of Cothraí Gogan CSSp, an important link with the role of the Holy Ghost missionaries has been broken, but the legacy of making the Catholic faith relevant to a noble people continues to bear fruit.

Today Nigeria provides more Spiritans, as they are known today, than any other country, many educated by teachers and missionaries from Ireland like Fr Cothraí Gogan.

The second son of a family of six, his father was Liam S Gogan, a curator in the National Museum, and a liberal Catholic whose devotion was almost matched by his disdain for the conservatives in Maynooth then ruling the Catholic Church in Ireland. He was a nationalist and though lame, and thus precluded from active service, was recording secretary of the Irish Volunteers.

Cothraí, the second son, his name a variation on Patrick, attended St Mary’s College in nearby Rathmines, run by the Holy Ghost fathers. After school he entered the order’s novitiate at Kilshane in Co Tipperary in 1944.

Local realities
Subsequently he took a BA in English and Irish followed by an MA in Irish literature. He studied theology,

through Latin, in Fribourg, Switzerland, where he was ordained in 1954. Ahead of him lay two taxing stints of missionary work.

Gogan was posted to Nigeria in 1955. In Isienu he opened the Spiritan house of theology, where he was director of first cycle studies, mainly philosophy.

For the Holy Ghost Fathers, the mission in Nigeria was evangelisation, but that had to take account of local realities. Evangelisation involved recognising the strength of local traditional faith, with its highly developed sense of an almighty deity, and channelling it into a Christian context. In economic terms, the Igbo (or Ibo) tribe, were experiencing circumstances which an Irishman could recognise – a growing population, reliant on one crop, palm oil, and eventually a civil war following the end of colonisation. Vast oil resources were also being exploited by multinationals BP and Shell.

When the Biafran war moved southwards the theology students went with Gogan to Awomamma, where they lived out the war beside Uli parish, where a roadway doubled as an airstrip for the importation of food and other essentials. Almost nightly, Nigerian planes tried to bomb the incoming relief planes. Fluent in Igbo, he later served as a chaplain in refugee camps in Ivory Coast.

At the end of the Biafran war, Gogan spent several weeks in prison and was eventually repatriated to Ireland.

After leaving West Africa, he taught in Tanzania and Mauritius before being appointed to Kenya in 1972. Gogan served as a missionary pastor in parishes for most of the 40 years he spent in Kenya. In all he mastered eight languages.

He returned to Ireland in June 2011 and spent his last days with the Kimmage Spiritan community.

He is survived by his sister, Blánaid Slattery, and his brother Brian, a Spiritan priest.