Visiting St. Mary's priest earns national honors for his missionary work
By JOHN COLEMAN
Published: Monday, July 27, 2009
GLENS FALLS - Each summer, members of St. Mary's Parish delight at the return of Father Joseph Gough. The quick-witted pastor, educator, missionary and noted sportsman - complete with his thick Irish accent - keeps Mass light-hearted yet meaningful.
Many honors have been bestowed on Gough in recent years; however, not for his work done here in Glens Falls, nor in his homeland of Ireland; but rather in The Republic of Gambia, West Africa -- the fourth smallest country in the world.
Gough's missionary work in The Gambia began in 1972, where he was director of St. Michael's Junior Seminary in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. As a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, his job was to promote vocations to the priesthood in a country predominantly Muslim. Gough said that three of the country's seven tribes lean toward Christianity, yet only 3 percent of The Gambia's population of 1.7 million is Catholic.
"There are very good relations between Christians and Muslims in The Gambia. The last president and current president were educated at Catholic schools - it is proof that Christians and Muslims can coexist," Gough said.
Irish missionaries have a close relationship with Gambia as they are the only Catholic missionaries in the country.
"We are also known as The Spiritans; The Spiritans are the only ones in The Gambia - we are responsible for that country," Gough said.
While teaching at the seminary, Gough also taught English and religious studies at St. Augustine's High School, a Catholic mission school in Banjul.
As time passed, Gough earned the love and respect of the local population and, in 1978, Gough assumed the position of principal of St. Augustine's High School. During his six years as principal, Gough said St. Augustine's became the dominant high school in Gambia, both academically and athletically.
"It was regarded as the best school academically and in various sports. I was instrumental in bringing it to that level - I worked very hard there," Gough said.
A sports fan -- soccer in particular -- Gough reached out to his parish in Ireland, calling for donations of lightly used equipment and eventually formed a number of sports teams at St. Augustine's High School, including soccer, volleyball and basketball teams. He also helped develop the country's elite soccer teams by taking students under his wing and developing them into soccer players. He managed three of the country's top eight teams.
Much to his dismay, Gough was called away from The Gambia in 1983 after suffering a loss in his family. He returned to Ireland and a year later resumed his education at Fordham University, in New York, where he earned his masters degree in religious education.
Since 1985, Gough has been splitting time between Ireland, where he teaches English and religious studies at Blackrock College in Dublin; Glens Falls, where he is a visiting priest in June, July and August; and The Gambia, where he continues to play a major role in organizing the country's top division soccer teams.
Many of Gough's former students have assumed prominent positions in government both in Gambia and in the U.S., and have ensured that Gough be properly recognized for his influence on their home country.
In 2004, Gough was awarded the National Order of The Gambia by the country's president, Jammeh. In January, he was made an honorary citizen of the Republic of The Gambia by President Jammeh and, at the same ceremony, he was given the title of "Goodwill Ambassador of The Gambia" and given a diplomatic passport.
During the same visit, he was named honorary citizen of Banjul by its major.
"I am somewhat of a folk hero there," Gough joked.
Seven of Gough's former students of St. Michael's Junior Seminary have gone on to become priests and many of the student's lives he touched at St. Augustine's High School won't forget his name.
In August, at a ceremony to be held in Atlanta, a group of about 150 of Gough's former students from St. Augustine's living in the U.S. along with the governing body of The Gambia National Christian Council will honor Gough with a Lifetime Achievement award for his far-reaching impact on faith, education and sports in Gambia.
Gough remains household name in Africa and his imprint on The Gambia everlasting. His name presides on a brand new sports complex just outside of Banjul, in Manjai, Gamiba. The creation of the complex was spearheaded by his former students, who also formed the Gough Foundation in his name.
Each year, Gough donates $5,000 to the Catholic Bishop in Gambia, which helps educate priests there. A portion of the donation also goes to the Gough Foundation. Gough said the donation is made possible thanks to the people of St. Mary's parish, who donate to Gough's work in The Gambia.
"I want the people of Glens Falls to know that my honors were made possible by their donations, and I am very appreciative of the people of Glens Falls and St. Mary's parish and school," Gough said, noting that a fundraiser organized by SMSA principal Kate Fowler and teacher Mary Gregorio raised $1,000 that was used to educate 21 children from The Gambia that couldn't otherwise afford an education.
At the end of August, after his annual going away party organized by Barbara Nichols, Gough will return to Ireland and resume his teaching at Blackrock College, only to return to Glens Falls next June. Anyone who wishes to donate to the Gough Foundation should visit www.goughfoundation.gm.