On the face of it, meeting a priest might not seem to have too many hurling connotations, or relevances, but you could not be more wrong, particularly when I am talking about a young South African teenager from a South African township.
But for hurling, he would quite possibly never have been one of God’s Holy anointed.
The story of Fr Thoulani has been well documented in this publication, ever since John Crowley, Joe Malone, Jim Freeman, Mary and the late Eamonn Hennessy, Barry Hickey and particularly, Fr Tom Murphy returned from South Africa at the end of an eventful holiday with the victorious Kilkenny hurlers in 2003.
You may recall that the entire party was involved with the construction and development of the Kilkenny Hall in Khayelitsha, in one of the townships on the outskirts of Cape Town.
From such affluent times for our country came the many building projects like the Niall Mellon Trust and others in Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. On returning we became aware that a building project in a South African township, the name of which was difficult to pronounce, but which became familiar subsequently, had been mentored by the Kilkenny party.
A strong fund-raising programme was undertaken, and in 2005, Kilkenny Hall was opened by Minister Tom Kitt. The hall is used to train young women in Home Management skills, and it doubles over the weekend as a church in which mass is celebrated by such as Fr Thoulani.
The entire project, sponsored by Kilkenny people, cost just under €65,000.
Fr Thoulani was ordained to the priesthood last year, and he felt that it was incumbent upon him to personally say ‘Thank You’ to as many of the people in Kilkenny as possible for making his dream such a glorious reality.
“Fr Tom celebrated a mass in Khayelitsha back in 2003, and having engaged him in conversation afterwards, we established a kind of bond.,” Fr Thoulani explained.
“That bond spilled over to the attending Kilkenny congregation. From such contact, my life changed. Fr Tom remained as my contact with the group, and at my ordination mass, John Crowley, Joe Malone and John’s son, Jonathan were part of the congregation,” he added.
Through the seven and a half years of Fr Thulani’s studies, Fr Tom and some of the rest of the group stayed in touch with the young South African.
He works in the Diocese of Queenstown in South Africa in a place called Cathcart. The young priest has met many of the people who were in South Africa on that hurling trip.
“I have met many, on different days, in different locations,” he explained with enthusiasm. “The warmth of the Irish people is phenomenal, and my welcome has been truly mind-blowing.
“You are so friendly, courteous and generous. This trip is truly a marquee moment in my life. But where is all of this green I have been hearing about? Much of your land is brown,” he smiled.
Don’t go home yet Father. Give it a little time, and we will show you green.
Fr Thoulani was in Westcourt, the birthplace of Edmund Rice, a man whose influence has been very prominent in the South African townships.
Fr Thoulani, who was escorted by County Board treasurer, Barry Hickey, was thrilled to be conducted around the beautiful Westcourt complex by Bro. Malachy.
He still has much to see, many to meet, and plenty to celebrate. And talking about celebration. Barry Hickey said there is a tremendous feel good factor about this story.
“I remember where I was sitting at the time in Khayelitsha after mass, and saying to John Crowley and Joe Malone how great it would be if in 10 years time we would be welcoming Fr Thulani to Ireland,” Barry recalled. “Dreams do come true.”
A great story; a dream made possible by a lot of generous Kilkenny people.