Missionary Zeal

A feature of the guided tour industry in the main cities of South Africa is the half-day Township Tour, which provides the visitor with an insight into the demanding environment, the hopes and achievements of the inhabitants of what are commonly referred to as “shanty towns”. This is the real Africa! Here, the traditional healers, street traders, markets, shebeens and The Church play an important role in the community.

population of Port Elizabeth comprises one and half million persons and slightly less than half of the population lives in dwellings constructed from pallets, corrugated iron and whatever material can be procured that is capable of being nailed together to provide shelter. Occasionally, he stopped the car and greeted groups of children in Xhosa, one of the many popular native African languages. They were delighted to be able to respond in their own language.

We travelled from New Brighton to neighbouring Motherwell, another suburb of Port Elizabeth, where Fr. Teddy was the driving force in raising funds to build a new church, school, crèche and ancillary facilities. He is justifiably proud of the major financial contribution towards the building costs, which he received from the parishioners of his native Listowel. It was a very moving experience to be greeted by a group of enthusiastic children in the three to five age bracket as we entered the school grounds.
During the tour of New Brighton and Motherwell, Fr. Teddy traced the vagaries of his life from his attendance at Derrindaffe National School and playing football for Duagh before being compelled by the parish rule to switch his allegiance to Listowel Emmets. He talked of the pleasure he got from winning a North Kerry championship medal as a corner forward with Listowel Emmets in 1957. He confirmed that he had enjoyed his brief period in Darrara Agricultrual College in Clonakilty before finally deciding to become a clerical student in All Hallows College. He opted to serve as a missionary priest in South Africa and he was ordained in 1962. In October of that year, at the height of the Cuban Missile crisis, he sailed from Southampton to Port Elizabeth, via Cape Town to begin his ministry among the poor and dispossessed in a remote area of South Africa. His personal experiences over the intervening period of forty years are material for a best seller and I am certain that he has turned down a number of offers to publish his life story.

We returned to his house in Swartkops for lunch and he produced a photograph of the members of the Feale Ranger team that won the Kerryman Shield in l962. He asked me to name the players and I had no difficulty in recognising him and naming the individual players, with the exception of Patsy Larkin of Duagh and Brendan Sheehy of Moyvane. The photograph contained all of the players who were household names in footballing circles in North Kerry during the early l960’s. I watched that game while sitting on top of the graveyard wall and I vividly remember corner forward, John Martin Heaphy of Duagh scoring a peach of a goal for Feale Rangers. Before parting company with Fr. Teddy, I invited him to join us for a meal that night in Port Elizabeth and after some hesitation, he agreed to do so, “to keep us company” as he put it. We met that evening in the reception area of The Holiday Inn. During the meal, Fr. Teddy entertained us with a variety of humorous stories from his vast repertoire of experiences over a period of forty years among the destitute people in the townships of South Africa. At one stage, Angela asked him how he felt while on holiday in his native Woodford and he replied that waking up in the morning with no responsibility was an incredible experience. He confirmed that it is impossible to describe the extraordinary feeling of peace and calm while standing on the bank of the river Smearla with dusk falling, casting a fishing line into the dark water. He has retained an extraordinary interest in the affairs of North Kerry and in particular in the trials and tribulations of the individual members of the Kerry football team.

We bade farewell to Fr. Teddy in the car park of the hotel and we promised to keep in touch. Angela and I have endeavoured on many occasions to rationalise the personal human traits that have enabled Fr. Teddy Molyneaux to retain his incredible enthusiasm, tenacity, devotion and dedication as a missionary priest in the townships of South Africa over the past forty years. No doubt, his experiences in St. Michael’s College and his survival instinct as a tenacious corner forward played a major part in preparing him for his labours in the vineyard. He is due a well-earned retirement among his own people when he finally decides to return to his native Woodford.

Article written by James J. Bunyan.