Irish friar posthumously awarded country’s highest honour
An Irish Franciscan friar has been posthumously awarded the highest honour the Zimbabwean government can bestow on a foreigner, The Royal Order of Munhumutapa. Only six others have received the Order of Munhumutapa, five of them native statesmen who led their African nations to independence.Fr Paschal Slevin, who died in May aged 83, is being honoured by President Robert Mugabe’s government for his work for the people of Zimbabwe.
A citation penned by vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa praises Fr Slevin for his anti-racist initiatives in local Catholic schools in 1966-1971. These include the building of primary and secondary schools at Mt St Mary’s Mission in Wedza. Many students were subsidised by a special sponsorship fund established by the Franciscans under Fr Slevin’s leadership. This enabled many to further their education at third level, qualifying them to take up key positions of influence in the new nation.
During the Liberation Struggle, Fr Slevin’s found himself caught between the laws laid down by the Rhodesian Regime and the demands of the liberation struggle. He is remembered for his compassion for the students in the schools he taught in. Knowing that many of the students from his schools were absconding to join the combatants, he often delayed reporting them until they were safely on their way. He also facilitated staff from the hospital in Wedza to bring medical supplies to injured combatants after curfew.
In 1977 Fr Slevin and fellow-Franciscans were expelled from Rhodesia and the Smith regime closed their schools. However, Fr Slevin returned three years later when Zimbabwe won independence. During the next decade, leading the local branch of the Franciscans, he educated former guerrilla fighters. He also helped develop the local rural economy in Wedza by building a dam and grain storage silos and establishing a farmers’ co-op.
A spokesperson for the Franciscans said “While recognising Paschal’s sympathy for the cause of liberation, it must be added that the award bestowed on him by the Government surely includes recognition of the efforts of many priests and religious, native and foreign, during this time of nation building.
“The bestowal of this great honour by the Government of Zimbabwe is a fitting one in many ways and a wonderful sign that Paschal Slevin’s dedication to the cause of peace and justice for that country will not soon be forgotten.”
Fr Slevin’s family were delighted with the award bestowed upon their relative for his life’s work. Carmel Slavin said “It’s a great honour for Paschal and it’s a pity he’s not still with us to share in the delight. It’s a fantastic honour for a man who spent his whole life doing the most incredible work. He was a man who worked tirelessly for others.”
Two of Fr Slevin’s nieces and representatives of the Franciscan order from both Zimbabwe and Ireland will attend the ceremony.