On 28 September 1930 the recently ordained James Moynagh left the North Wall, Dublin beginning his sea journey to Calabar, Southern Nigeria. He joined a group of Irish diocesan priests coming on temporary mission under the leadership of the legendary bishop Joseph Shanahan, CSSp. In November 1934 his appointment as Prefect of Calabar was announced. A temporary mission began in 1930 would continue until 1969, when he became a casualty of the Nigerian Civil Was and was refused re-entry to his diocese.
His four decades of missionary presence concentrated on putting down solid foundations to meet the insatiable demand of Efik-Ibibio peoples for education. The school became the entry to the Church: from the school would come it’s future leaders, clerical, religious and lay. Medical work among women and children was introduced and developed to a high standard by the newly-founded Medical Missionaries of Mary. Moynagh was most influential in the creation of St Patrick’s Missionary society, especially in relation to the Irish diocesan clergy and Maynooth College.
From an initial concentration on his own diocese, from the 1950s onwards he expanded his vision and activity to the Eastern Region, concerning, in particular, the future of Catholic schools. This grew to a concern for the entire church in independent Nigeria. He ordained the first west African bishop, D. I. Ekandem. Later cardinal, developed a local diocesan clergy and, with the help of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, he was involved in the formation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus.
The biography which Father Colman has written is a vindication of sincere and simple tributes paid to Bishop Moynagh, a man of whom the Irish Church can be truly proud. Here was, a man of total commitment to the missionary cause to which he devoted his life. That shines through in every phase of his life.
– Taken from the Preface by Colm O'Reilly, Bishop Emeritus of Ardagh and Clonmacnois,
Colman M. Cooke was ordained in 1965 at St Patrick’s college, Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow. He received a BA and MA at University College Cork and his PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London. He taught in Kenya at St Patrick’s, Kiltegan and St Vincent de Paul regional Seminary. Florida. Msgr Cooke retired in 2009 and now lives in Gort, Co. Galway, where he was born. His research interest is in Catholic Missions from the early 1800s. He has contributed to Christianity in Independent Africa (London, 1978), The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, 1997). His previous biography, Mary Charles Walker: The Nun of Calabar, a pioneering education in Nigeria, was published in 1980.