Tribute to Columban Father Aodh O’Halpin

by Cyril Lovett

Columban Father Aodh O’Halpin died on 2nd April at the age of 88 years. Aodh worked on mission in Britain for four decades, based in London. At the Columban gathering this week in Birmingham they remembered him for the warmth with which he greeted everyone, the depth of his compassion for poor and vulnerable people, support for justice and peace work, and his irreverent interruptions when he wanted to lighten up a heavy session.

Fr. Cyril Lovett and Ellen Teague together, provide a fitting tribute to him and his missionary contribution to the society.

Aodh was born on 31st January 1934. Raised in Donegal, he was educated in Letterkenny with the Presentation Brothers, St Columban’s NS, and St Eunan’s College. He entered St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan in September 1952 and was ordained priest on 21st December 1958.

The following year he was appointed to the Philippines and to the southern island of Mindanao. Over the next two decades, after language studies in Ozamis, he served in Oroquieta, Misamis Occidental, Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental, and Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur. In all three parishes he was remembered for his cheerfulness, his love for the poor, and his willingness to take whatever measures were necessary to advocate on behalf of those who were oppressed.

By the late 1970s, Aodh was back in Ireland, in Dublin, working on behalf of the indigenous Filipinos whose whole way of life was threatened by a projected Chico River Dam on the island of Luzon, Philippines. The Irish ESB Group successfully bid for the projected dam and Aodh organised trade unions and other concerned citizens in protest. Due to the efforts of his group and similar groups in the Philippines, the project was eventually shelved.

In the early 1980s Aodh moved to London. He would spend the next 40 years working with Filipinos and other minority groups advocating on their behalf for housing, just working conditions, providing safe haven for refugees, persons being held in slave-like conditions by wealthy plutocrats, and persons unjustly accused of crimes.

During those years he worked from the Columban house in Redington Road, from East London where he served as pastor in St Anne’s Parish (1997-2006), and finally from the Ealing house. He was a generous and welcoming host to all visitors. Even in a Society like ours with its fair share of ‘characters’ Aodh was unique.

Charming, fearless, unconventional, he never lost his sense of humour but his commitment to justice for the poor and oppressed of any and all nationalities and to ecology was dedicated. He never missed a chance to speak on behalf of equality for women and resisted clericalism of any kind.

Columbans and many others in Britain will miss his regular presence at Justice and Peace events in and around London: the annual Migrants Mass, Ash Wednesday witness against nuclear weapons at the Ministry of Defence, alongside Bruce Kent and Valerie Flessati at the ‘No Faith in War’ vigil at the DSEI Arms exhibition, initiatives to highlight the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.

Then there was his quiet work at parish soup kitchens, visiting the sick and supporting events – including many social events, which he really enjoyed – of his beloved domestic worker groups.

His commitment here, alongside Sr Margaret Healy of the Saint Louis Sisters, was highly valued over the years, especially by Filipino migrants. The Domestic Workers Group Waling Waling cancelled a meeting at the weekend to mourn the death “of our dear father”. They are organising a memorial Mass for him and said on their facebook page: “We will never forget the kind soul who helped us through our journey in life, especially our fight for justice”.

Both Aodh and Margaret supported the struggles of domestic workers in Britain to secure rights, independent of their employers. Overseas workers too were supported, such as a vigil in London in 2017 to help a Filipina worker facing execution in the United Arab Emirates. Partly due to the international attention drawn to the case, the woman was released the following year and repatriated to the Philippines.

Aodh moved into the Columban Retirement Home in Ireland a few months ago as his health failed, and he died peacefully on 2 April 2022. The thousands of persons who were helped by him over his lifetime have joined his family and the Columbans in grieving his loss.

May he rest in peace.

Visit our YouTube channel

Fr. Aodh speaks at the end of the Migrants Mass in Westminster in May 2016.

View it here