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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. 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. 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.. 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. 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.”
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. 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.
After he left the Gambia, Jobe worked for some years (1944-1946) as the Director of the Minor Seminary in Carabane, in the Casamance. 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.
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.
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. 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. Thus the incident of Jobe haunted Gambian vocations for the priesthood for nearly forty years.
1. “RIP L’Abbé Thomas Gregory Jobe (1906-1995),” Gambia Pastoral Institute (GPI) Newsletter, 19/3 (March 1995), 9.
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.
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.
W. Cleary, Reaping a rich harvest. A history of the Catholic Church in The Gambia, Kanifing The Gambia., 1990.
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.
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