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Thomas Gregory Jobe
1906 to 1995
Roman Catholic Church
The Gambia

 

Thomas Gregory Jobe was a Gambian Roman Catholic priest who served the Gambian Roman Catholic Church for a period of ten years (1934-1944). In 1944, due to what oral tradition postulates was racist conduct by one of his missionary colleagues, Jobe left the Gambia. After a brief period as director of the junior seminary in the Casamance, Jobe retired from the active priesthood and pursued a secular career.

Thomas Gregory Jobe was born in Bathurst in 1906 into a Roman Catholic family. His father was a Wolof and his mother was of mixed Wolof Portuguese descent.[1] As early as June 1922 Jobe’s name appears in the Spiritan Journal  de la commuauté because he, as a devoted Catholic youngster, had become first in the country’s school exams, thus doing both the Catholic community and the Catholic education system proud. According to the Journal, Jobe won a price of £4 and a picture of the British royal family (sic !) for this achievement.[2] Shortly afterwards, Jobe was admitted into the Minor Seminary in Ngasobil (Senegal) where he befriended Leopold Senghore, who later became the architect of the Négritude movement and Senegal’s first president. After two years in Senegal, Jobe continued his theological training in France.

Jobe was ordained on October 11, 1933 in Paris by Bishop Le Hunsec, former Vicar Apostolic of the Senegambia.[3]. On October 14, 1934 he celebrated his first mass in the Gambia, called a red letter day in the Spiritan Journal  de la communauté. It seems he addressed the people in the vernacular.[4] One of his Irish colleagues, Fr. Whiteside, told the congregation: “Receive him with joy into your midst. He is of your soil, of your race, he understands your mentality, your language, your customs, better than any European priest can ever do.”[5]

The archives offer preciously little information about Jobe’s ministry in the Gambia. The Irish Spiritan missionary Fr. John Meehan, who served as superior of the mission, asked Jobe to be in charge of the Bathurst parish. He initially seems to have hoped that Jobe would become the administrative superior, which would give him (Meehan) time for mission work.]6] To familiarize Jobe to the mission extension work, Meehan took Jobe on a tour through the country, first to Combo, which was part of the Bathurst parish and later also up country to Basse.[7] In the late 1830s Jobe’s name is also mentioned in connection with evangelization work among Jola who lived in Bathurst and surroundings. In 1938 a group of adult Jola whom Jobe had nurtured into the Christian faith was baptized.[8]

Unexpectedly and without further explanation the Journal mentions on January 18, 1944 that Jobe had left the country for Senegal without saying goodbye.[9] Later sources suggest that there had been tensions between him and Meehan, which came to a head in January 1944 and caused Jobe to leave the country. Oral tradition intimates that racism played a prominent role in the strained relations between Jobe and Meehan.[10]

After he left the Gambia, Jobe worked for some years (1944-1946) as the Director of the Minor Seminary in Carabane, in the Casamance.[11] In 1946 he left the active priesthood. After a period as a private tutor in Senegal, he left for France. In 1960, when Senegal had become independent, President Senghore offered him Senegalese citizenship and invited him to work in Senegal, first as Senegal’s representative to UNESCO in Paris, later as the Ambassador for Senegal to Ghana and Italy. When Jobe retired, he settled in Ivory Coast.[12]

In 1975, Jobe – still highly esteemed and respected by people - was invited to return to the Gambia. After his homecoming he lived a quiet life until his death on January 30, 1995, occasionally helping out with the formation of catechists.[13]

The case of Jobe had a long-lasting impact on the indigenous vocations in the Gambia. Parents objected to their sons “being made slaves for the missionaries” and discouraged plans to offer for the priesthood.[14] Because of the impact on vocations and because Jobe was still highly esteemed by the Gambian Roman Catholic community, several attempts were made by clergy in the Gambia to resolve the situation with Jobe and to restore him to the priesthood. The first Bishop of Banjul, Bp. Michael Moloney wrote to the Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost:

Since my appointment I have been naturally preoccupied with trying to encourage African vocations, as was my predecessor. We both find ourselves against the same difficulty – the fact that our last man, Father Jobe, abandoned the obligations of the priesthood. There is no doubt but that he still holds a large place in the affections of the people here, and that there will be no keenness among them towards promoting vocations, if his position is not cleared up. I know how difficult it is, as Father Farrelly and others have already met him on a few occasions. May I respectfully suggest to you a further attempt from a different angle of approach. My suggestion may show more keenness than feasibility and you will be able to decide yourself. It is that you yourself or possibly the Archbishop LeHunsec (who was his former Vicar Apostolic) see him and explain to him that I personally and all the Fathers, and especially the people, would be delighted to see him restored to his former position and that I have written to you to that effect.

But it seems that the Superior General did not support these efforts and no official attempts at reconciliation were made.[15] Thus the incident of Jobe haunted Gambian vocations for the priesthood for nearly forty years.

Martha Frederiks


References:

1. “RIP L’Abbé Thomas Gregory Jobe (1906-1995),” Gambia Pastoral Institute (GPI) Newsletter, 19/3 (March 1995), 9.
2. Entry June 1, 1922, Journal de Ste. Marie de Bathurst III, 1894-1923, Box 4i2.3. Note: archival material (journals, diaries, reports, letters) from the start of the mission in 1821 until 1965 can be found in the Archives of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Chevilly-Larue, Paris. The Archives in Chevilly-Larue also have the complete series of the Bulletin Général de la Congrégation du St. Esprit et du Sacré Coeur de Marie (1857- ). According to later sources, Jobe was offered a scholarship at the Methodist Boys High School, but he or his family declined the offer to study at a non-Roman Catholic School.
3. Le Hunsec to Meehan, Paris, March 1, 1933, Boite 4I1.1B File II, Gambie/Bathurst, Correspondence 1932-1935, folder 1 Correspondence Meehan and Whiteside 1932/33; Entry October 14, 1934, Journal de St. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4. Jobe returned to the Gambia, after a short stay in Ireland to perfect his English. Meehan to Le Hunsec, Bathurst February 12, 1934, Box 4I1.1B.
4. Meehan to LeHunsec, November 4, 1935, Boite 4I1.1B File II, Gambie/Bathurst, Correspondence 1932-1935.
5. P. F. Lopez, “Receive him with joy. The priestly and diplomatic career of Fr. Thomas Jobe,” Diocese of Banjul Newsletter, 38,4 (August/September, 2014), 5.
6. Entry February 3, 1934 (to Combo) and May 9, 1940 (to Basse), Journal de St. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4.
7. Entry December 26, 1938, Journal de St. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4.
8. Entry January 18, 1944, Journal de St. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4.
9. Moloney to Father General, Bathurst April 7, 1958, Box 4I1.1B, File IV letters 1951-1955; interview with Mr. Thomas Senghore, Banjul March 10, 1999; interview with Fr. Tony Gabisi, Kanifing February 9 1999. Note: Mr. Thomas Senghore is a nephew of Fr. Jobe.
10. One of his students was Pierre Sanyang, the present bishop of St. Louis in Senegal. Interview with Mr. Thomas Senghore, Banjul March 10, 1999.
11. Oral tradition relates that Jobe did not go back to the Gambia because the Vatican, when releasing him of his duties in 1944, told him not to return to the Gambia in order not to disturb the relations. Interview Mr. Thomas Senghore, Banjul March 10, 1999.
12. GPI Newsletter, 19/2 (Febr. 1995), 4; “RIP L’Abbé Thomas Gregory Jobe (1906-1995),” GPI Newsletter 19/3 (March 1995), 9. It is mentioned that on his return to the Gambia Jobe occasionally helped out with the formation of catechists.
13. Interview with Thomas Senghore, Banjul, March 10, 1999.
14. Bishop Moloney of the Gambia wrote the following letter to the Superior General:

Since my appointment I have been naturally preoccupied with trying to encourage African vocations, as was my predecessor. We both find ourselves against the same difficulty – the fact that our last man, Father Jobe, abandoned the obligations of the priesthood. There is no doubt but that he still holds a large place in the affections of the people here, and that there will be no keenness among them towards promoting vocations, if his position is not cleared up. I know how difficult it is, as Father Farrelly and others have already met him on a few occasions. May I respectfully suggest to you a further attempt from a different angle of approach.

My suggestion may show more keenness than feasibility and you will be able to decide yourself. It is that you yourself or possibly the Archbishop LeHunsec (who was his former Vicar Apostolic) see him and explain to him that I personally and all the Fathers, and especially the people, would be delighted to see him restored to his former position and that I have written to you to that effect. That Rome has informed us that no form of reconciliation (public) will be insisted on, unless he has entered on any civil matrimonial contract, which would have legal complications. I am assured, on reliable authority, that nothing like this has taken place, and that his conduct has been in the circumstances, excellent. I foresee one big difficulty in the way of his return. It is the presence of Father Meehan.

I do not at all consider that Fr. Meehan had any major responsibility for Fr. Jobe’s action, but the fact remains that in Father Jobe’s mind and in the people’s unfounded opinion, it was the clash between him and Father Meehan which prepared the way for the final bolt. If this proved to be the only obstacle, I would be prepared to ask Meehan to remain in Ireland. This would be a hard step but the return of Fr. Jobe would be so important for the future of the mission here, that I am sure Fr. Meehan would be prepared to make this additional sacrifice for the Gambia.

Moloney to Superior General, Bathurst April 7 1952, Box 4I11B, File IV letters 1951-1955. On the letter a comment is written: Fa. Jobe must shed some of his terrible pride first. Signed: F.G. 16-5-1952. Thus no further action was taken.

Bibliography:

W. Cleary,  Reaping a rich harvest. A history of the Catholic Church in The Gambia, Kanifing The Gambia., 1990.
M. Frederiks, We have toiled all night. Christianity in the Gambia between 1456-2000, Zoetermeer, 2003.
D. Perfect, Historical dictionary of the Gambia, Lanham 2016 (5th edition), 245.
“Receive him with joy. The priestly and diplomatic career of Fr. Thomas Jobe,” Diocese of Banjul Newsletter, 38,4 (August/September, 2014), 5.


This article, received in 2016, was researched and written by Martha Frederiks, Professor for the Study of World Christianity at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Research foci include West African Christianity, Christian Muslim relations and religion and migration. Frederiks worked in the Gambia between 1993 and 1999 as adviser of the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa.