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The Bishop and the Dancing Girls: Cornelius Lucey in Kenya

Added to on August 17, 2008

This is an extract from an article in The Irish Catholic on 7 August 2008 - "Setting the Record Straight" by Fr James Good.

SUMMARY: Fr James Good details events surrounding his 1968 suspension [by Bishop Lucey] in the wake of Humanae Vitae. "I could not accept the central teaching of the encyclical and stated my views publicly as Professor of Theology and Lecturer in General Philosophy at UCC" ... "In a published article [Bishop Lucey] mentioned as his chief reason for coming to Turkana, to do penance for his sins. I think we both understood our position and accepted it."

I am the only person familiar with the last two years of Bishop Cornelius Lucey's life, so I feel some record should be written about my relationship with him which affected both our lives. .... The basic facts and dates are clear. I could not accept the central teaching of the encyclical [Humanae Vitae} and stated my views publicly as Professor of Theology and Lecturer in General Philosophy at UCC. Bishop Lucey was abroad at the time, but on his return summoned me to Bishop's House and suspended my priestly faculties in the Diocese of Cork. The process took less than an hour and I was given no opportunity to defend myself.

Removal of diocesan facilities did not affect my position at UCC and I continued to lecture in both my departments which included at this stage the subject of Medical Ethics and Professor of Education. However it became increasingly embarrassing for me to be saying parish Masses on Sundays and not being allowed to preach. Being banned from the Confessional was also distressing.  .............

In 1974 I visited Kenya and decided to move there as I had always been anxious to work on the foreign missions. The story became common that I was "booted" out of Cork and exiled to Africa. There is no basis whatever for this story. I did not go to Africa until 1975, seven years after the suspension in Cork, and I continued to lecture on Medical Ethics up to the day before I left for Africa.

I was very happy in Africa, working first in a desert parish about 60km distant from Lodwar, capital of Turkana. While I was there Bishop Mahon (whom I knew from my Maynooth days) joined me and I helped him with the building of the first girls' secondary school in Turkana. Irish Ursaline Sisters (some from Cork) soon arrived  to teach in the school.

It came as a great surprise when a message came from Bishop Lucey that he was coming to Kenya on a holiday with some companions. He duly arrived and insisted on visiting  every mission in the desert. I refused to take him to Kahuma which would have involved over three hours of driving over corrugated roads, and he was quite frail at the time. It was only later I discovered why he wanted to see Kahuma - our diocesan hospital was there.

After the trips around the desert I took Bishop Lucey south to Kitale, Eldoret and Nakuru where he was entertained by Bishop Raphael Ndingi of Najuru, later Archbishop of Nairobi. On several occasions I protested that my presence was required in Kitale. Eventually I insisted that I had to go and while Bishop Ndingi was sitting in his car waiting to take Bishop Lucey on a tour, Lucey said to me, "I want to talk to you".

The ensuing talk was detailed and lengthy. In brief, it came under three headings:
i) Bishop Lucey wished to come to Turkana as a curate and and I was to arrange this for him with Bishop Mahon.
ii) He wished to come to a Mission Station where there would be Sisters to take care of his health.
iii) His first choice was Lorogumu - the mission station where I had been working.

Point number one was of course a major shock. Number two made sense and explained the Bishop's desire to visit Kakuma. But it was number three that felt like an earthquake.; the parish priest of Lorogumu was an advanced liturgist and (among other things) had introduced general Absolution along with an entrance rite to Sunday Mass in which six ladies clad (or unclad) a la Turkana custom danced to the altar before the priest.

I panicked but Bishop Lucey got his way and was duly installed as curate in Lorogumu, under Fr Tony Barrett, a Kiltegan priest who was expert in Turkana langauge and custom. It was a perfect combination: one might describe it as a perfect marriage of minds and of mutual adniration. At a later date I asked Bishop Lucey how he liked the Lorogumu liturgy and he replied "very beautiful".

Meanwhile I had been asked to set up a new diocesan guest house over two hundred miles away. I stayed around in Lorogumu for a little while and I have vivid memories of Bishop Lucey saying Mass under a tree in one of the out-stations, struggling with the very difficult Turkana language, surrounded by a congregation of Turkana people sitting in the sand, most of them women feeding their babies.

It was not known that Bishop Lucey was already suffering from leukemia when he arrived in Turkana. On two occasions I heard he as ill and travelled to Lorogumu. I hired a private aircraft and flew him to Kitale to hospital. Fr Barrett had been replaced and his successor was apparently not aware of the Bishop's health; he was suffering malnutrition. Yet he struggled on for almost two years.

Eventually it became obvious that he could not continue. We flew him to the Mater Hospital in Nairobi, and he was so ill no airline would take him except as a stretcher traveller. I had to provide stg£2,000 for five seats, one each for himself and a nurse, Sr Augustine (Cork Mercy) and three seats for a stretcher. At first he refused to travel as a patient, but after long argument he agreed to go. He refused to go to the airport in the ambulance provided - he accepted my car as transport. He died soon afterwards in the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork and one of his last consious acts was to sign a cheque for stg£2,000 to recompense me for paying his fare.

I mention these minor details to illustrate the closeness of our relationship during the two years Bishop Lucey spent in Turkana. I can say that he depended totally on me - I handled all his financial affairs, and presented him with a four wheel drive truck with money given to me by the Cork Council of Trade Unions. In spite of our close relationship he never once referred to my suspension, though he did once say to me that I should go back to my own diocese. I believe that he deeply regretted the suspension but believed that he could not do anything about it. In a published article he mentioned as his chief reason for coming to Turkana, "to do penance for my sins". I think we both understood our position and accepted it.  ..............