Father Patrick O’Malley

He was a great gentle giant at that place I called home for five years – Chancellor College. I learned much about the Irish tradition from his passionate personal experience of the closely-knit Irish culture. Although his subject was English, his soft-spoken voice often gave the class nuggets of insight into the subject of his love – the rich Irish tradition and culture.

I was a new student at Chancellor College in January, some years ago, and feeling that I am blending in quietly and without much aplomb; it was Fr. O’Malley who gently nudged me from that false premise: not only did he know me, it appears he was in close contact with my Uncle Ronald Mbekeani (a social development expert); and Fr. O’Malley was a good scholar of civic education – and so, yes he would know the new student with a deep American accent, though she was purporting to be a Ngoni, a claim that was belied by all un-ngoniship.

Jack Mapanje
Jack Mapanje is a Malawian writer and poet. He was the head of English at the Chancellor College, the main campus of the University of Malawi before being imprisoned in 1987 for his collection Of Chameleons and Gods, which indirectly criticized the administration of President Hastings Banda. He was released in 1991

In his class, he unmasked this pretense that I tried to exhibit. We became friends….but he spooked me. That is how alarming that someone could know so much about so many things about you…..

Only two days ago (thanks to Wilma Roscoe reaching out to me) I wrote to Professor Roscoe to get more information on his health. Wilma had informed me he was in hospital; and on the phone frequently with her Dad, my Professor Roscoe.

Today I’m told he is gone.

“I hear Father Patrick O’Malley has passed on in Ireland. Earth, receive an honoured guest. For decades, Fr. O’Malley did whatever he could to help his fellow lecturers at Chancellor College who were detained without trial by the government of Dr Hastings Banda. When icons of Malawian poetry, such as Prof. Felix Mnthali and Dr. Jack Mapanje (and others) were locked up at Mikuyu Prison, it was Fr. O’Malley who looked out for his detained colleagues’ families, and, in the case of Mapanje, the Irish priest went so far as to mastermind a formidable international campaign for his release. Rest in peace, Fr. O’Malley.”

Just like that. A whatsapp message from someone who obviously knew that I once sat under Fr. O’Malley’s tutorage, absorbing through osmosis/infusion, the rich wisdom from this grand but not-so-intrusive elucidator.

Endless meaningless wasteful inconsequential woebegone tears and anguish abound at every passing as this! O that I could turn back the hands of time, I may have made better effort to enquirer of him more about his research, to understand more what he knew more than I about the Irish literature, that is so close to my newfound love.

What is it about death that keeps us close, that keeps us away, and sometimes that keep us so blind and unknowing? Today proud death has claimed the life of someone I have not seen for over 30 years, but whose memory of, is as fresh as if they are events of yesterday?

There’s no getting underneath all the meanings of James Joyce or Joseph Conrad, if you haven’t got an Irishman to give you all the innings of hidden meanings. Many years later, reading a Maeve Binchy much easier and more loving for the so-different-from-the-mainland-Brits of the U.K. Mannerisms are always bound to be different, but the Irish dialect was in a category of its own. And none could cut into it better than O’Malley.

His soft-spoken and slow way of talking made him not a first-choice among many students, especially when pitted against the boisterous, booming voices of Professor Stewart or Golden Hunnings (Vice Chancellor); but give O’Malley the chance, the opportunity, and many of us found ourselves jiggling time-tables to at least fit in one of his courses. He was that good.

This has not been an attempt to sell to anyone Fr. O’Malley; that is not possible. It was not an attempt to justify appreciating the good of the man; he’s no longer here. It is rendering another “Ah! moment.” And perchance also give a personal snapshot the Maravi people’s everybody’s man: Father Patrick O’Malley.

May his soul rest in God’s eternal loving peace.


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