John Francis Sheppard 1914

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John (Jack) Francis Sheppard was born in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary on 13 April 1914 to John and Brigid Sheppard.  The house on Main Street in the North Tipperary village was shared with older brother and sister, James (Jimmy) and Anne, as well as grandparents James and Mary.  They were a family steeped in the tailoring trade.  Grandfather James (my great-grandfather), the village tailor was somewhat immortalised as ‘the tailor’ squatting over his work in the Thomas MacDonagh poem ‘The Man Upright’,[1] and it had been expected that Jack would follow his father and grandfather into the trade.  

However, Jack’s life lay on a different path.  Schooled in the local National School, Cloughjordan he went on to study at Blackrock College, Dublin and at the Holy Ghost Mission College at Kimmage Manor.  He was ordained into the priesthood on 25 June 1939 and swiftly left for Nigeria, first in the city of Ahiara, then further posts in Nsu, Mbutu Okohia, finishing up his mission in the country in Okigwe City in 1956.  The almost seventeen years in Nigeria were said to have had the greatest impact upon his life than any other period. 

In November 1946 he gave an extensive interview to the Nenagh Guardian on his Nigerian experiences. His journey to Nigeria was perilous, as the world war was at its height.  Sailing on an Australian ship as part of a 23-strong convoy, he witnessed an attack by German bombers which sank one ship in the convoy and disabled another.  In his Guardian interview Jack laid out the dangers facing the missionary in Africa at that time, from wild animals to walking 35 miles in dense bush to make a sick call, his time in the country was anything but dull.  Those dangers paled in comparison, however to that which Jack called “the great enemy of the missionary”, malaria.[2]  A disease he would eventually be stricken with and which would blight his last years.

In his time in Nigeria, Jack mastered the Igbo language, making him fluent in three languages (Irish and English being his other tongues).  His mission was, of course to spread of the Catholic faith. In this regard he founded a Legion of Mary branch, which was said to have been very successful. Outside of purely religious matters he introduced Gaelic football to his parishioners, founding a team and competition in Okohia as well as a fife and drum band.

Moving on to Ontario, Canada, Jack taught History in Neil McNeil High School with late Hollywood star John Candy being one of his pupils.  Jack’s requiem mass notes show the impact he had on the Irish community in Canada, stating that “he was a central figure in the growth and development” of that community, founding many Irish cultural associations in his time in the country.[3]

Jack ended his career in Jacksonville, Florida at Christ the King Parish.  His final years were blighted by ill-health. The recurrence of complications brought on by contracting malaria in Nigeria were compounded by cancer which took his ability to speak.  Fr. Jack Sheppard died on 22 January 1987. In his last parish his name lives on in Sheppard Square which was named in his honour.  Jack Sheppard is buried in Saint Michael's and Saint John's Catholic Church, Cloughjordan.

 

[1] Thomas MacDonagh ‘The Man Upright’ http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000612889

[2] Nenagh Guardian, 9 Nov. 1946.

[3] Fr. Jack Sheppard Memorial Mass Pamphlet, St. Joseph’s Parish, West Hill Ontario, 25 Feb. 1987

Additional Information
Date of Birth 13th Apr 1914  
Date of Death 22nd Jan 1987  

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