Nigerian priest Father Kilima elected head of Irish church

Father Kilima, left with other members of his team

Father Kilima, left with other members of his team

A Nigerian priest Father Richard Kilima has been elected as the head St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Ireland.

It was the first time in the church’s 90 year history that an African was elected as leader.

Filima was appointed 20 May at the society’s 13th General Chapter, delayed by two years due to the pandemic.

As the new Central Team Leader, Kilima will work with a team consisting Sean Cremin, Patrick Esekon and Raphael Mwenda.

Filima joined the society, popularly known as the Kiltegan Fathers, in 1997. He succeeds Fr Victor Dunne SPS.

Fr Joseph McCullough SPS, district leader in Britain, told The Tablet that Fr Filima comes from the very first mission the Kiltegan Fathers went to in Southern Nigeria 90 years ago.

“From here our society expanded to many countries in Africa, to Brazil, and to Grenada in the West Indies.”

In the early 1990s the Society became international, recruiting vocations from the countries where it ministered.

“Our recruitment has been very successful. We have ordained 40 African brothers since 2007, with 90 students in formation in South, Central, and East Africa,” Fr McCullough said.

He added: “Sadly the vocations in Ireland and Britain seem to have dried up. Most of our members on this side of the world are in retirement or semi-retirement, with some working in parishes or in society appointments for promotion, and in care for our elderly brothers in Kiltegan.”

Fr McCullough, who has worked alongside Fr Filima in East Molesey, where the society in Britain is based, said the members were “very excited” about the election of their first African leader.

“A new and historic day has dawned for us and we are very hopeful for the future under the guidance of Richard and his new intercultural leadership team.”

He paid tribute to his confrere’s concern and care for people on the margins, and for reaching out to those in need.

Fr Filima studied philosophy in South Africa and theology in Kenya. The 43-year-old was ordained in 2008 and his first appointment was in Mato Grosso in Brazil.

He later did postgraduate study for formation in Dublin and Cork and was director of formation for the Kiltegan Fathers in South Africa.

He was appointed director of promotion work in Britain in 2020.

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