A young man from Cuffesgrange who followed his vocation and spent 55 years on the missions in Kenya, has passed away.
Fr Michael Dillon, was 83 when he passed away earlier this month, at the St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan.
Michael Dillon was the middle child of seven siblings. He was born on September 12, 1937, to Patrick Dillon and his wife Mary (née Power) of Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny.
He went to Cuffesgrange Primary National School from 1942 to 1949. He then boarded in St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, for his secondary education, completing his Leaving Certificate in June 1954.
Michael went to St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan in September 1954 for the Spiritual Year. He then studied philosophy in St Patrick’s College, Douglas, Cork, from 1955 to 1957.
He returned to Kiltegan in September 1957 for a four-year course in theology and was ordained priest at St Mary’s Church, Killamoat, on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1961. The ordaining prelate was Most Rev Patrick Cleary SSC, Exiled Bishop of Nancheng, China.
After Fr Michael’s ordination, he was appointed to the Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya. This would be his home for 55 years.
He began in Holy Rosary Parish, Nakuru, and then spent a short time in Lodwar, which was a reserved area at the time: one needed special permission to enter the territory.
From there, Fr Michael returned to Holy Rosary Parish, Nakuru.
In 1968, he was appointed to West Pokot, where he would spend the next 48 years of his life.
On many of his journeys, Fr Michael made it into the mountains of West Pokot, often by foot, to speak to the native people in their native language, Pökoot.
There was unconditional love felt between the people and Fr Michael. Both had a special place in each of their hearts.
When history of education, health and spirituality was nonexistent, Fr Michael ranked highest along with his Irish brethren Fr Leo and Fr Tom, lifting the standards of education. Many primary and secondary schools, and structures of God, were sponsored by Fr Michael, with the guidance of the Mercy Sisters.
Michael sponsored an uncountable number of students to pursue courses of their dreams, of which, all of them excelled successfully.
Fr Michael began in Ortum and then moved to Chepareria. He remained true and supported the people of the parishes in Chepareria, Chepnyal, Batei and Sigor.
He opened a new mission in Chepnyal in the early 1990s – it involved a two-hour journey by foot up a steep escarpment to reach his mission. He ministered there for 15 years.
Fr Michael was a spiritual priest, very passionate about his work at Chepnyal Parish and particularly at Tompul community with the assistance of the Daughters of Charity.
He built St Joseph Tompul primary school, Tompul Catholic Church, St Lucy Chepnyal Girls’ Primary, St Catherine’s Chepnyal Girls’ Secondary. In his honour of being a great priest, Fr Dillon Boys’ Tompul was built.
Fr Michael was highly respected in all the parishes. Where there were no roads, like Krich, he used a helicopter to deliver building materials. Fr Michael was skillful and a road designer, he came up with up-to-date road networks connecting all surrounding villages, Kotit, Tamugh, Kaplelach, just to name a few. The steep famous Chemloy hills of Cheptram became accessible by road.
In 1998 the Diocese of Kitale was carved from the Diocese of Eldoret and encompassed the vast territory where Fr Michael worked. In 2007, after a short time at home, he returned to Kenya; he was appointed to the Society parish in Kibomet, on the outskirts of Kitale.
Michael remained there until 2016, giving 55 years of unbroken service to the people of Kenya. Fr Michael then returned to St Patrick’s Society, Kiltegan, where his religious life had begun, due to ill health and blindness. He participated in prayer, holy hour, weekly divine mercy meetings, led the rosary, with great enthusiasm.
He remained very close to his Kilkenny family throughout his life and he loved his regular visits to Cuffesgrange, where his faith and his vocation had been nourished.
During all his years in Kenya, Michael enjoyed receiving updates on the exploits of the Kilkenny hurlers!
Fr Michael was a very warm, sincere, prayerful, gentle, and committed missionary priest. He devoted himself completely to the people he was sent to serve.
He learnt their languages, including Swahili, and studied their culture and customs. He was committed and was happy to be a part of their lives. He used many talents for the benefit of the local people and took a special interest in catechetics, education and healthcare.
Fr Michael touched the hearts of all the people he served during his time in Kenya, also his brother priests of the Kiltegan Missionary Society. Fr Michael’s legacy has undoubtedly reaped a rich harvest with the people he served and loved.
On the morning of February 7, Fr Michael Dillon passed away. His Requiem Mass was celebrated at St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan. He was buried in the adjoining Society Cemetery.
Michael was predeceased by his parents, Patrick and Mary, his sister Marguerite and recently by his brother Andy. He is survived by his sisters Mary and Kate (Halligan), by his brothers Joe and Anthony, by his sisters-in-law Brigid, Mary, and Jacqui, by his brother-in-law Michael Halligan, by his nieces, nephews, and their families.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Raha Ya Milele Umpe ee Bwana Mwanga Wa Milele Umwangazie Apumzike Kwa, Amani Amina - Swahili (Translation: Give him eternal joy Oh Lord, let eternal light shine on him, so that he may Rest in Peace).