Sr Imelda O’Brien RSC recalls her recent meeting with the President when he visited Malawi:
We had heard a rumour that the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins and his wife Mrs Sabina Higgins were coming on a visit to Malawi but we did not take much notice as we are far from the centre of activity, mainly Lilongwe, where such visits take place.
Then out of the blue one day I received a telephone call from Aine Hearn the new Irish Ambassador to Malawi, inviting me to a reception to be held on the 11th November in honour of the President and also to a dinner for missionaries on the 12th. I had many reasons not to attend but she was so insistent I agreed to go. That same day I had a call from Niamh Fitzpatrick, (her husband works for Irish Aid in Malawi) Sr. Monica Byrne’s niece, who was delighted to hear I was going to Lilongwe and she invited me to stay with her. There was nothing left to do but work out how to travel to Lilongwe. I decided to go by bus from Blantyre; this was after I phoned Fr. Frawley, the PP in the parish adjoining Konzalendo, to enquire whether he was travelling. He said he was not going as he had only returned a few days previously from a meeting in Lilongwe. Then the following morning he phoned to say that the Ambassador had contacted him the previous night and he had changed his mind! We arranged to go together and as he would be staying with Fr. Taylor, MSP in their guest house he also made a booking for me. I knew Fr. Taylor when I lived in Zambia many years ago. He ministered in Kabanana compound with the late Sr. Philomena Reid RSC.
We travelled by car on the 10thNovember a journey of about 7-8 hours. It was my first trip to Lilongwe and I was looking forward to meeting many Irish missionaries and personnel working with NGO’s. That night His Excellency Arthur Peter Mutharika, the President of Malawi hosted a State Banquet in honour of President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina. Special guests were invited including Fr. Taylor who is well known having lived for many years in Lilongwe.
To my surprise there are not many Irish missionaries presently in Malawi. Two other MSP’s who live in the Northern Region arrived, this made four MSP’s one Missionary for Africa and I, the only sister. An MMM sister and two MSP’s were away on holidays. The reception on the 11th was very pleasant with about one hundred Irish citizens. There I met the representative for Trocaire, Eithne Brennan, who was educated by our sisters in Tramore. She informed me that Trocaire has a small fund specifically for missionaries and this will be extended over the coming years.
The following night we went to the Ambassador’s residence for a dinner where we met quite a few of the President’s entourage; the lady in charge of protocol, the head of Irish Aid, the deputy minister for Agriculture, Patsy McGarry correspondent for Irish Times, quite a few of the Gardi together with Embassy staff. Eleven of us sat down for dinner; a very relaxed, pleasant meal with conversation centring on the visits made that day by President Higgins to some of the Irish Aid funded projects within easy reach of Lilongwe and an agricultural research station at Chitedze. The overflow enjoyed dinner on the veranda! Before we departed all had photos taken with the President including a group photo of the six missionaries!
The following day Fr. Frawley and I set off on the return journey. We left Lilongwe at 7 am and drove to Molere where our driver, Chilungamo was waiting to take me to Konzalendo. Sr Rosemary who had been on her own as, Sr Maria was at home in Zambia, was happy to see us arrive before darkness had fallen. Even though initially I hesitated about a trip to Lilongwe I was glad to have had the experience thanks to the Ambassador who was so persuasive.