My mother, Eileen Hoare, nee Mahon, died in Ireland as a result of a stroke in June 1999. I was fi nishing a sabbatical course in Chicago, Illinois, when my sister phoned with news of the stroke. It came as a great shock, because just ten minutes before my mother had the stroke she and I had been speaking by telephone. She had reported feeling great, had been out swinging a golf club earlier that day and was actually playing cards with my younger brother and his son when I called. Then everything changed instantly. I rushed back to Ireland, and after a ten-day vigil we buried my mother.
On return to mission in Fiji, a few weeks later, I was approached by Mosese, in Natanuku village, for permission to name his recently born daughter after my mother. I readily agreed and baptized the child Eileen. At the end of the following year I returned to Ireland to be based there as a member of the Columban General Council.
Natanuku village in Ba Parish has about twelve Catholic families. While I was in Ba the people had begun to collect money for a new church to replace a small, cramped Ctesiphon church. A donation of $5,000 from abroad in the mid- 1990s motivated the villagers to begin fundraising. They then organized twice-yearly fundraising gatherings which were enlivened by competition among the four sub-groups within the community. However, a military coup and two severe currency devaluations with a resultant large increase in the cost of building materials prolonged the fundraising.
Back in Dublin in 2004, I was surprised to receive a letter from Mosese. He reported that, at a meeting of his sub-group, the members were disheartened to fi nd that they were lagging well behind other sub-groups in their fundraising. They felt they would be shamed on the day of the gathering which was fast approaching. Then fi ve-year-old Eileen stood up and said to them, “Tell my son in Ireland that we need his help. He will assist.” Mosese reported that all present were amazed at this. He didn’t want to put me under any pressure but felt that he should let me know. Naturally, a summons like that has to be responded to. I quickly arranged to send a contribution.
I returned to missionary work in Fiji a few years ago. When I occasionally visit Natanuku, I try to remember to bring a present for Eileen. Now 14 years old, she is a bright girl and was Head Prefect in her last year in primary school. This year she has begun attending secondary school and is happy there. She is a keen member of the Columban Companions in Mission group in the village and says that she hopes to be a primary teacher when she is older. But Eileen has no memory of referring to me as her son.
Many Africans have a traditional belief that the spirit of a dead person enters the body of a baby who is born at the time of their death and who is named after them. Fijians whom I have asked say that they don’t have this traditional belief. This incident however gives an unexpected twist to Jesus’ saying, “Anyone who has left houses, brother, sisters, father mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.” (Mt. 19:29)
The new church in Natanuku is now half-built but has stalled at present because the builder died a few months ago. I still feel a call, however, to see that it is completed.