Fr. Leo Brolly
Founder of the TransCanada Province
(Spiritan Missionary News, June 1993)
Fr. Leo Brolly, founder of the TransCanada Province, was born in 1903 in County Derry, Ireland. In 1922, he joined the Spiritans and after his ordination on June 21, 1931 was posted to Nigeria, West Africa. He worked there for 21 years.
Fr Leo, in those early years, was mostly associated with Nigerian-Catholic education. He laid the foundation of Christ the King College, Onitsha, still one of the finest high schools in Nigeria. He was principal there until 1939 when he became pastor at Ahiara.
When World War II broke out and many of his parishioners and past students joined the West African Armed Forces, Fr. Leo too enlisted as an army chaplain (1943) and served with the Allied Troops in all the Middle East and North African campaigns.
After the war, Fr. Leo returned to Nigeria and was appointed Director of the Junior Seminary in Onitsha, a post he held until 1953. Those who know the extraordinary vigour of the present Nigerian Church and the prolific number of vocations to local dioceses and religious congregations, including the Spiritans, can best appreciate the calibre of Nigeria's early seminary directors, men like Father Brolly of County Derry, Ireland.
In 1953, Father Leo's whole life changed. Instead of living out his golden years among his beloved people of Nigeria or returning to Ireland to rest on his missionary laurels, he accepted an appointment to the New World to head up a proposed new Spiritan foundation in English-speaking Canada. Fr Brolly was 50 years old when he landed at Montreal and thanks to Bishop Coady of London, Ontario (a past-student of the Holy Ghost Fathers' St Alexander's College, Quebec) made St Rita's parish, Woodstock, Ontario his headquarters. He planned wisely and well. From Woodstock, Fr Brolly organized a mission-animation team which criss-crossed the country from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to introduce the Holy Ghost Fathers and their mission work to English-speaking Canadians. ( It is interesting to note that one of the most prominent members of this mission-animation team is still active in TransCanada today - Fr Robert Hudson, pastor of St Joseph's Parish, Port Elgin, Ontario.)
Then in 1958, Father Brolly laid the foundations of the Spiritan's first venture into education in English-speaking Canada - Neil McNeil High School, Toronto. In 1969, Father Brolly returned to Ireland not to retire but to take up a new assignment as superior of the then flourishing Spiritan Novitiate, Kilshane, County Tipperary. At the age of 72, Father Leo finally retired to Kimmage Manor, Dublin, where his last years were faced with the same prayerful courage and good humour as his war years in Africa and his pioneer days in Canada. Fr Brolly died peacefully on Sunday, April 8, 1984 and was buried in the Kimmage community graveyard. A simple cross marks the spot where the Founder and First District Superior of TransCanada is laid to rest.
The present flourishing Province of TransCanada is perhaps the best monument to the Derry boy from Ireland who left all for the Kingdom of God and became, even in his own life time, a legend on three continents for his trailblazing courage and his kindly good humour.
"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time."