The news of Archbishop Francis’s death really hit home hard. I had the privilege of growing up around Bishop Francis as a child in Cathedral School. I was an altar boy at the Sacred Heart Cathedral for more than seven years.
I served on the altar when he was consecrated bishop of the then Diocese of Monrovia and later at his consecration as the first archbishop of the newly established Archdiocese of Monrovia. I also served with him on the altar as he ordained young Liberian priests including Monsignor Gabriel Jubwe. Those days, I was one of the altar boys who were required to leave class early to prepare the sanctuary for mass, or leave at the last period on school days to prepare for a funeral mass.
Archbishop Francis would use the pulpit to speak out on behalf of his flocks. And there were times when he was very jovial about the military regime of Sergeant Doe. When Sergeant Doe who had not obtained a high school diploma, received an honorary doctorate degree in South Korea, bishop made a joke of it. The next day bishop spoke to me and said, “Hello Doctor” ! I said, “Bishop you called me Doctor?”
He said, “Yes, because everybody is a doctor in Liberia”. And then he laughed about it.I remember once I convinced bishop to hire Weade Kobbah-Wreh as manager of radio ELCM. And for some reasons, as young as I was, bishop would be willing to sit down and not only listen to me but take my recommendations.Another time, he was contemplating making ELCM a commercial Catholic radio, and I arranged a meeting between Wilmot Stubblefield and bishop. I took Stubblefield to meet the Archbishop at his Ashman Street office where we discussed bishop’s plan for a commercial Catholic station, because donor help was not regular.
Also in the mid 1990s after learning about the destruction of ELCM, I confronted His Grace about the station and wanted to know what had happened. He told me that John T. Richardson had brought some rebels to Sacred Heart Parish on Ashman Street, and ordered them to set the Catholic radio station ablaze. Apparently, Archbishop Francis was unhappy over the way things had turned out with Taylor’s war in Liberia; though earlier he was displeased with Sergeant Doe.
After completing broadcast journalism training at ELCM FM 97 (Catholic radio), we (the interns) were assigned to different departments within the station. And during my internship, I was occasionally assigned to travel locally with Archbishop Francis to cover events he attended. One day, we attended a
program in Brewersville and he showed me some acres of land and told me that the church had plans to build a larger station which he intended to call “Voice of Africa”. He said the station broadcast would reach listeners throughout Africa. The plans would also include an FM station, shortwave and a television
Now, some Catholics were dissatisfied over the way Bishop Francis made some decisions: like once the Archbishop was not please with the Irish missionaries who operated Carol High in Nimba County when he was a parish priest at St. Mary in Sanniquellie. So, when he became bishop, he shut it down.
When Taylor rebels burned down Radio ELCM, he re-opened the station, kept the same frequency and changed the name to Radio Veritas. Another situation was the closing down of Saint Patrick’s High School, because some people believe that bishop was also dissatisfied with some of the graduates becoming war lords and rebels, like: Alhaji Kromah and Morris Dukuly. And others don’t know why the bishop changed Arthur Barclay Technical Institute to Don Bosco Polytechnic.
Well, maybe bishop had a vision for the Catholic Church in Liberia but never had the finances to build new infrastructures, so he decided to take structures like Saint Patrick’s High School and Arthur Barclay and changed them to something else; he got help from abroad and aligned some of his institutions to international Catholic foundations in order to receive assistance. But be it as it may, we cannot speculate his intentions at this time, especially when he’s unable to clarify ones’ conceptions or misconceptions. He’s gone… His time has expired… Nevertheless, he created some vibrant Catholic Institutions in Liberia and we need to be grateful for his contributions.
But some say the big question is: “Had Archbishop Francis being able to speak during these seven years of Ellen’s rule, would he have expressed his dissatisfaction with her administration regarding corruption”? Others say the Archbishop had close tie to Madame Sirleaf, but regardless of the so-called closeness, His Grace would have hammered down on the present administration. He would have had no choice but to do the right thing. You think?
Archbishop Francis may have been controversial, but had no presidential ambitions; unlike the Haitian Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For the most part, he relished his role as a spiritual leader. He was mostly concern about expanding educational institutions in Liberia.
I will deeply miss him for his laughs, tease, and jokes-authentically Liberian jokes. He was a simple man of God who most times wore flip flaps in his office. Now, on many occasions at ELCM Rufina Darpoh and I would make jokes of his name “Kpakala”. She would say, “Bishop’s name sounds like something fell down and it went like, Kpakala”. We would both laugh so hard, and upon seeing bishop approaching the station, I would say, “Here he comes.” Then Rufina would say, “Who”? And I would say, “Kpakala.” And then we would laugh again… We enjoyed being around bishop those day, and we’re going to miss him. You will be missed Bishop, you will be missed.
Rest in peace Your Grace, rest in peace; you have done well for Liberia, and may the light perpetual shines on you. God be with you until we meet again.
Rest in peace my Archbishop.
Rest in peace…
D. Garkpe Gedepoh is the publisher and CEO of Africa