Irish Jesuit willing to go anywhere a priest is needed



SIMPSONVILLE  What could be a better day than St. Patrick’s to interview Father John O’Holohan? Father O’Holohan, a Jesuit from Dublin with a lilt in his voice and a twinkle in his eye, has been serving St. Mary Magdalene as parochial vicar since September of last year.

“I go anywhere they need a priest,” says Father O’Holohan. Indeed, this engaging priest has been to a lot of places where they need priests.

Father O’Holohan, a classical scholar, spent 22 years in Zambia and Malawi. He taught Latin and Greek to African seminarians and Catholicism and the sacraments to converts.

After 40 years of mission and seminary work, Father O’Holohan returned to Ireland and decided there were plenty of priests there. He came to America, saying, “A priest who is active can go anywhere in America, more than in other countries.” With the priest shortage in America, many Jesuits have volunteered for parish work.

He taught at a Jesuit seminary in Spokane, Wash., for a year and then served at Holy Family Church in Orlando for 12 years. He decided to come to South Carolina because “there were plenty of priests in Florida.”

Father O’Holohan loves being a priest and says, “A priest is a priest forever. You don’t have to be physically strong to say Mass or hear confessions . I would say 20 Masses a day if I could.”

Father O’Holohan is an energetic man who comes from strong stock. “My mother had 11 children, and she lived to be 92.” His father likewise lived to a ripe old age and remained active his entire life. One of his seven brothers, recently deceased, was also a Jesuit priest.

Father O’Holohan describes the Irish as great talkers and readers and says his childhood home was always full of books. Not surprisingly, Father O’Holohan is himself a prolific reader and writer. The Miscellany publishes some of his “Nourishing Your Faith” columns from Holy Family Church in Orlando.

He did a lot of writing in his years in Africa. He taught Baptism classes in an area where there wasn’t much else to do. “I was more or less in the jungle . It was very austere . Most of the people were animists; they came to me themselves.” As an aid to the converts, he wrote a set of compact books on Catholicism that could be tucked into a shirt pocket.

Father O’Holohan wrote a book on the Bible, Enjoy Your Bible, which was published in 1987 in Ndola, Zambia. He says of the Bible, “the secret of interest is imagination. A story is what gets people’s interest . A Bible is a storybook . If you want to enjoy the Bible, read it as a storybook  then you get a taste for it.”

He also wrote an advice column, “Soul Father,” for a Zambian newspaper. He extracted the 50 best questions and published them in a book, Tell Me, Soul Father.

Most of Father O’Holohan’s books are sold to schools, parishes, and Catholic bookstores. St. Anthony’s Catholic Bookstore in Greenville carries one of his books, Shalom 2000. This particular book is the 11th edition of My Pocket Prayer Book, which was first published 30 years ago in Zambia. In this book, Father O’Holohan intertwined prayers with instructions on the sacraments and Catholic doctrine.

Father O’Holohan never wants to retire. He says, “I just ask the Lord for one thing: Give me 10 years of active work.”