Yes, I’d do it again, by Rev. Ted Colleton, C.S. Sp., Interim Publishing Co., 1990, Toronto.
Following the success of his earlier book, Yes I’m a Radical, Father Ted here gives us an autobiographical account of his experiences, especially in a country very remote from our own. His Irish home, he tells us, was a haven of happiness and security, the emotion he felt on revisiting it after years away, was overwhelming. “I was sent to the best schools,” he writes, “and got the worst results.” So, naturally, he entered the priesthood and soon found himself in exile. “We are sending you to Kenya,” said the Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers. Since that was in the long-distant time when priests gave unquestioned obedience to their superiors, he simply said, “Thank you Father” and went.
He sailed for Africa in November 1971; since there was a war on and submarines to be dodged, the journey took three months. He was to spend nearly thirty years in Kenya, and to develop a great affection for the Kikuyu, to whom this book is dedicated. As a friend says of him, he was a real missionary. Father Austin Lynch, superior of the mission to which he was first assigned, told him, “Learn Swahili, you’re useless until you do.” He had a great deal of admiration for the British administrators of the country, but the their great fault was that they looked down on the natives, did not learn their language, and did not understand their culture.
He did not make these mistakes. He learned both Swahili and Kikuyu, and he liked nothing better than to ride out on his horse Lochinvar on an afternoon to visit five or six native compounds. “All the book learning in the world,” he maintains, “could not teach me what I learned in those afternoon rides among a strange and fascinating people, a people who were as strange to me as I was to them, a people with noble ideals and a very strong sense of the power of God.”
He had extensive experience teaching in the mission schools, very far from the comforts of home: “The nearest thing we had to running water was a trotting donkey which brought two buckets of water from the river every morning.” There are now two native African bishops who speak English with an Irish accent, since they were his pupils. With one major setback, which he describes frankly, he rose to positions of greater and greater responsibility, especially after the Mau Mau troubles began. He was education officer in a Mau Mau detention camp with 2,000 inmates; General Chaplain for the Mau Mau camps; containing 18,000 detainees; and liaison officer for the Catholic Missions between the bishops and the government. Then suddenly he was deported as an undesirable alien, by a dictator who did not like opposition; Father Ted objected to offensive remarks made about the missionaries in a speech by Jomo Kenyatta, and so quickly found himself on a place back to Europe.
He gives the impression that Kikuyu tribesmen were more civilized than the guards at the Toronto jails, where he was privileged (following the example of such holy men as St. Paul and St. Thomas More) to be a prisoner of conscience. The latter part of his book describes his humiliating, degrading experiences in the Don Jail and the Mimico Correctional Centre, but he was simply acting according to principles: we cannot set limits, he says, to our love for and fidelity to the unborn child.
Now this former Chaplain General and Liaison Officer is deputy assistant pastor of St. Rita’s Church in Woodstock, Ontario, and happy to be there. Last June 23, he celebrated 50 years in the priesthood. “I have no desire to retire” he writes, “if the Good Lord spares my health. If it is His will that I take refuge in a wheel chair, I shall still be able to pray. And I have a lot of praying to make up!” His book is a fascinating account of a busy and dedicated life – of which I have sketched only some of the highlights. Let us hope that he is spared to make many more amusing speeches, and to offer many more prayers – not so much for himself but the for cause to which he has dedicated himself so wholeheartedly.