Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A young priest disappears and is never seen again

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column

Michael Commane
From time to time we all spot notices in shop windows or on lampposts of people who have gone missing. People, in desperation, circulate flyers looking for their loved ones and family members.

This time 41 years ago I was living in the Irish Dominican Priory on Rome's Via Labicana, a stone's throw from the Colosseum, a few minutes' walk from the centre of one of the world's greatest cities.

I was there doing two years post grad work. It was a charmed life - swimming in the sea in the good weather and skiing in winter in Terminillo. In between a little bit of study but nothing too serious.

And to add to the location, the community at the time was made up of lovely people, some of them with interesting backgrounds. I had the good fortune to live with Fr Michael Heuston, a brother of Seán, who was executed in 1916. In 1966 they renamed Kingsbridge Station after Seán. 

He had worked with the railway before the events of 1916.

The Irish Dominicans established a foundation in India in the 1960s and a practice grew up that on occasion young Indian Dominicans came to Rome to study. They lived with us in San Clemente.

When I went to Rome in 1974 there were already two young men from India living in the priory. And then at the beginning of the 1975/'76 academic year another Dominican came from India. I remember him as an enthusiastic young man. Indeed, the two of us did some repair work in the priory, including painting a number of rooms.

Out-of-the-blue and without a word of warning he went missing one day and has never been seen since. It was Christmas 1975.

It has left a deep mark on my psyche. At the time I was told that the police had been informed, so too I was told, authorities in India were made aware of his disappearance.

He was a fastidious young man, always well groomed. Yet he left the priory at some time of the day or night leaving everything in his room, his toothbrush, his passport, it seems everything but the clothes he was wearing.

He simply vanished. And I can well remember talking to Fr Michael Heuston about it at the time. Michael was a meticulous man for detail and was also greatly puzzled by it all, as we all were in the community.

Did he disappear of his own accord, was he kidnaped, was he murdered? We never found out. I was always told too that the police never came up with any leads.

Relatively quickly he was forgotten about within the Irish Province of the Dominican Order. His name simply slipped away. I have never been happy with how that happened.

But some years ago a fellow Dominican and a friend of mine began to look into the case. He too made no headway but at least he has planted a tree to the man's honour and he makes sure that his name is remembered. It was he who suggested I write this column.

Every year approximately 4,000 people are reported missing in Ireland and every day on average 16 people are reported missing.

Missing in Ireland Support Service (MISS), who are based at 6 - 7 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2, work in co-operation with the Garda. Their website is www.missingpersons.ie; email address, info@missingpersons.ie, telephone number is 1890 - 442 552.

When someone goes missing and is never found, there is something about it that never rests. Families never give up looking for their loved-ones. It's a never-ending nightmare.

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