Fr Sean McFerran


Fr Sean McFerran was born in Belfast, Co Antrim, on January 13th, 1918, to John and Catherine McFerran (nee Dowling), the third of six children. His oldest and deceased brother, Seamus, was a former President of the GAA.

Sean entered the Salesian novitiate at Cowley, Oxford, in 1935. Following in the tradition of the Salesian founder, St Don Bosco, Sean dedicated his life to working with young people, especially those living on the margins of society. He was small in stature but, as one associate described him, "he was a giant of the spirit".

In 1936 he was dispatched to India where, on January 30th, 1946, he was ordained priest. There he remained until 1972. Throughout his mission he served as headmaster, rector, parish priest and fund-raiser for many important education and health projects. The affection and esteem in which Fr McFerran was held in India can be gauged by the fact that his passing in Ireland, on November 11th, 1998, was reported in three national newspapers on the Indian sub-continent, including the Times of India.

Having returned to Ireland in 1972, Fr Sean served as a chaplain to Shanganagh Castle, Dublin and St. Lawrence's, Finglas, working with young offenders. Between 1978-82, he was rector at Don Bosco House, Gardiner Street, Dublin, where he helped pioneer work with homeless boys.

He was also the founder of AFrI (Action From Ireland), an organisation which has a distinguished record in working on justice, peace and human rights issues in Ireland and abroad. In recent months, Archbishop Desmond Tutu paid tribute to the work of AFrI in supporting the struggle of black South Africa during the darkest days of the apartheid era. In keeping with his passion to ease the suffering of the poor, Fr Sean also founded the Belfast-based organisation, We Care. "The world has lost a champion for the downtrodden, especially in the Third World", was how West Belfast MP, Gerry Adams, described the passing of Fr McFerran.

At the age of 66, when many would be thinking of retirement, Sean accepted an invitation to work in Kenya. At Karen, Nairobi, he built a large technical facility for young people, with extension centres in economically deprived townships in the Nairobi hinterland. The word "retire" did not exist in his lexicon. Indeed, in the long twilight years of his life, he returned to Ireland in 1988 where he served, until his death, as a priest in the Diocese of Down and Connor and as Chaplain to St. Columbanus House for Senior Citizens, Bangor, Co Down.

A former chairperson of AFrI, Mr Brendan Malone, perhaps captured the essence of Sean McFerran when he said, "His life was not his own". He was a deeply spiritual man and his work was powered by hours of daily prayer and meditation.

Addressing the congregation before his interment at the Salesian College, Warrenstown, Co Meath, Fr Jim O'Halloran, SDB, said: ". . . the Lord has now called this restless missionary home. He goes there with his hands laden with the fruit of his good works . . . The faith passed on by John and Catherine all those years ago grew and grew in the course of his life and at the end had blossomed into something truly wonderful. And, aptly enough, it is the Indian poet Tagore who reminds us that: For those with faith death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp, because the dawn has come. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam." D.M.