Rev H. Ormonde McConnell
On Monday, January 5th 1998, Rev Ormonde McConnell died peacefully at Northwick House Residential Home for the Elderly Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh. One month from his 95th birthday, for his life of outstanding Christian service, Ormonde received an MBE at home, while the Haitian government created him an Officer del'Ordre National Honneur et Merite de la Republique d'Haiti.
In a tremendous story of Christian tenacity and purpose, his book Co-Workers with God, published in 1991, describes how he began life at Clonakilty, Co Cork and moved to Hollywood, Co Down, on his father's appointment as Methodist minister.
A proficient golfer and athlete at the age of 23, Ormonde attended the World Convention at Crystal Palace and was a member of the relay team which won for Ireland. In 1927, he was invited to Derry as a lay evangelist with a view to entering the Methodist ministry and overseas service. With his French studies at Queen's University Belfast and his theology studies at Edgehill Theological College, he took up his first appointment at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the Caribbean.
Ormonde married Primrose Beckett (cousin of the Irish Nobel Prizewinner, Samuel Beckett), in Coke Memorial Church, Kingston, Jamaica, on July 6th, 1934. Greatly taken with her exceptional musical talent and gracious disposition, Ormonde had often cycled from Belfast to Dublin to prove as much. Born at Foxrock, Primrose had a great deal in common with her cousin the writer. Both were born in 1906 and attended Trinity College Dublin at exactly the same time. Samuel died in 1989, exactly one week before his cousin Primrose.
For 36 years, through a succession of dictatorships, Primrose and Ormonde ministered to the Haitian people, earning trust and respect. The work of the church was conducted in French, yet the vast majority spoke only Creole. Both worked tirelessly, developing adult and child literacy programmes, converting Creole into French, the first foreign language to be taught.
It was President Magloire who gave Rev McConnell permission to build the first new church at Port-au-Prince in 1954, donating a treasury cheque for $15,000. Plans were drawn in Dublin by Primrose's father, George Beckett, FRIA. The most difficult years in Haiti were from 1957, when Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier became President of the Republic. His rule led to severe repression of the opposition and only by diplomacy did any Church survive. In the furtherance of the education of Haitian children, Ormonde visited Geneva and Zurich to study their respective systems. Today, Haiti's Nouveau College Bird takes 2,000 pupils to the equivalent of A Level, receives no grants, functions entirely from fees and has no debt.
When Hurricane Hazel struck in October 1954, Ormonde was chairman of the Red Cross Committee which dealt with such disasters. Church World Services appointed him Haiti's Administrator and provision was made to help the more than 40 mission stations established since his arrival. To alleviate disease and poverty, under his guidance, a vast rural rehabilitation project based at Jeremie was organised with an important central farm and an aquaduct affording irrigation from a river. Here training in plant and animal husbandry was carried out. Ormonde and Primrose had four children, Patrick, Marian, Alec and Hazel. Patrick, born in Dublin and an ordained minister of the Methodist church, served as chaplain to the University of Ulster whilst taking his MA in French literature and studies. Church interment, conducted by the Rev Leslie Griffith, to Hollywood Methodist Church, took place on Friday, 16th January. It is a comfort to the family that their father is deeply mourned in Haiti where his memory is one of worship, teaching, expansion and development. Ormonde and Primrose led outstandingly dedicated lives which will always be an important part of Ireland's 20th-century contribution abroad. Today both rest where no shadows fall.