Questions and Answers with Brother Francis Agoah
How did you hear about the Presentation Brothers? Why did you want to know more?
I attended Notre Dame secondary School in Navrongo (Upper East Region of Ghana) where the Brothers were teaching. The Presentation Brothers exhibited a high professional sense of duty and love for the students. So, it was this dedication and keen sense of duty and deep sincere love for the students that inspired me and gave me the initial attraction to begin to think about joining them.
What convinced you that joining the Brothers was your vocation? Was it easy to decide?
The dedication of the Brothers was a big factor in convincing me that I was being called to this life of brotherhood by the Lord. Before I entered secondary school I already had some ‘movement’ in my being towards a life of service but it did not become clear until I met the Brothers. When I met them in Notre Dame, it was ‘love’ at first sight.
However, the discernment towards making a definitive decision to join was quite difficult and painful. Even though I had this unexplainable attraction towards this life of brotherhood, I had other interests too that were equally strong. My father and mother were none too pleased that I was contemplating doing this! I myself also tried several times to dismiss this pull towards religious life as a passing thing that would soon fade. As a result, I continued to make other plans for my future. I hoped to pursue my childhood dream to become a freelance journalist. I applied to what was then, and maybe still is, London School of Journalism and to my delight and surprise, I got a letter of admission. My joy was complete when my uncle offered to sponsor me. I was also given admission to do Comparative Literature in one of the universities in Ghana.
I am not able to explain how I came to turn down both offers in favour of religious life. On October 4th 1982 I joined the Brothers to begin my initial formation. I remember how I broke down and wept bitterly the day I arrived in the Brothers’ residence in Navrongo. I can’t remember if they were tears of joy, sorrow, confusion or a mixture of all these emotions.
What was your formation programme with the Brothers like?
I had quite a traditional formation. Br. Joe Gilleece, a missionary from Ireland, was my Novice Director and his assistant was the late Br. James Prud’homme, a missionary from Canada.
However, my novice director helped us to think independently; to reflect deeply on our call to this life and to make choices that would enhance our future lives as pioneer African Presentation Brothers. We were also encouraged by our assistant novice director to be faithful to our prayers, to do good and to allow ourselves, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.
My formation programme included daily conferences, prayer time, retreats and days of recollection, visits to the hospital and prison, meetings with youth groups in the parish, manual work, games and sports.
I was 21 years of age when I arrived in Navrongo and quite a handful! So the formators had quite a challenging time trying to cope with my ‘independent’ ideas and opinions. But they were very kind and gentle and patient with me. I professed vows on September 29th 1985.
What was your first assignment? Did you enjoy it?
My first assignment was a teaching position in a Catholic primary school called Monsignor Abatey Memorial Primary. The pupils were a delight to teach and I thoroughly enjoyed my one year teaching there.
Take us through the places you’ve been and the people you’ve served.
I spent the early years of my religious life as a teacher:
Abatey Memorial Primary School, Navrongo (1987-1988)
St. Clement’s Primary School, Bolgatanga (1988-1992)
St. John Bosco’s College of Education, Navrongo (1996-1999 & 2002-2005)
I also worked in Vocation Promotion (1996-1999) and was Director of Postulants from 1996 to 1999.
In more recent years I’ve been involved in leadership. From 2002 to 2005 I was the Region Leader for Ghana and from 2005 to 2011 I was the Deputy Congregation Leader. Since 2011, I have been the Province Leader of the West Africa Province of the Presentation Brothers which covers Ghana and Nigeria.
What advice would you give to someone considering a vocation to the Brothers?
The call to Religious Brotherhood is a call from God, the source of all being. When you hear this call, please embrace it as a personal message from God with its demands addressed to you as an individual. God’s call is not something distant but something near and it comes to elicit a positive response. There is much inner joy and peace in this journey of faith. It is an exciting adventure. What else do you expect when one sincerely offers himself/herself to serve in God’s vineyard?
I would say:
– Listen to God’s call to religious brotherhood and especially to the Presentation Brothers.
– Discern this call through prayer and through spiritual guidance and direction
– Respond generously to this call and you will be glad you did just as I am over 25 years later!
You lived for several years in Ireland. What was that like?
When I was elected as a member of our Congregation Leadership Team in July 2005, the fact that I had to leave Ghana and come to live in Ireland for 6 years did not sink in until I finally moved into Mount St Joseph in November 2005. The first few months were very difficult as the weather was quite appalling: dark, grey, foggy, cold and damp. I used to look out my office window and longed for the bright sunshine and the blue skies. Even though I had lived in England for 3 years, I was there as a student and had made a lot of friends with whom I socialised. The nature of my assignment in Mount St Joseph did not afford me that chance.
However, after a few months, with personal prayer and reflection, I decided that this is where God wanted me to be for the next six years and so I must make it my home. Ireland became my home after that. Subsequently, despite occasional feelings of homesickness, I enjoyed my 6 years in Ireland. Each member of the team gave me all the support I needed to adjust to life in Ireland. The warm presence of each community member and of the support staff in Mount St Joseph made my time in Ireland memorable. In addition to this, I also met a number of wonderfully kind people, some of whom I am still in contact with.