Nigerian royalty visits Irish sisters to thank them

Nigerian royalty visits Irish sisters to thank them Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the 14th Emir of Kano, Nigeria with Mary Crowley OLA District Leader.
Khalifa Muhammad Sanusi II

The OLA (Our Lady of the Apostles) sisters in Cork, Ireland, established my alma mater – St Anne’s Primary School, Kakuri, Kaduna. They also founded the Queen of Apostles College – now Queen Amina College – and St Gerard’s hospital among others all in Kaduna.

I have been planning to visit their Ardfoyle convent in Cork, since late 2021, when my headmistress Sr Katherine Devane, passed away at the ripe age of 95. I just needed to go and pay my respects to this wonderful woman who made such a profound impact on my life, to thank the OLA sisters and the SMA fathers and the Catholic Church for the education I received.

The SMA fathers are a brother association of priests to the OLA sisters and the first Catholic missionaries to Kaduna and Kano. From my St Anne’s days I remember Fr Bell who used to give the communion to Catholic children during service assemblies.

There was no attempt to convert Muslim pupils to Christianity. In fact our matrons made sure we prayed, and during Ramadan food was prepared at the right time for Muslims. (Of course we all said the Hail Marys and Our Fathers during assembly but not because we were required to!).

And by way the food in Catholic schools was horrible at least then. We had cold baths in Ramadan and lived a spartan life. But we had excellent academic education. It prepared one for a life where material possessions mean nothing and values are everything.


I went to St Anne’s at the age of 8 and joined class 4. In 1971, my final year, Sr Katherine took over as Headmistress so I was her pupil for only one year. It is amazing how as children even the smallest things remain with us throughout our lives. All of us remember Sr Katherine ( who we nicknamed “Sr Shiru” in Hausa meaning quiet sister- to distinguish her from her colleague Sr Ann. who we nicknamed “Sr mhmm mhmm” because she was a disciplinarian who kept interspersing her speeches and words of reprimand with mhmm mhmm!).

Sr Katherine was quiet, tender, caring, gentle. All my classmates continue to go have fond memories of her, each in a special way.

I have a memory of her that has remained with me forever. I had malaria at one time and was extremely ill with a high temperature. I was weak and unable to do anything. I thought I was about to die.

Sr Katherine came round to the dormitory to see me. She wrapped me up and took me in her arms. With another sister, they drove me to St Gerard’s hospital where I had my injections and returned me to school. She kept checking on me until I fully recovered.

It may sound like a small thing but for a young boy the love and care at that point was so touching, and the care continued until I left. She did not have to do that herself.

“No one could teach me hatred or enmity for someone simply because they were of a different faith”

Now why is all this important? Sr Katherine was a Catholic sister who showed so much love to a Muslim boy. She showed me the kind of care and concern I would expect from a mother.

I learned from an early age that there are wonderful people in every religion. After Sr Katherine no one could ever tell me all Christians were bad people and only Muslims were good. No one could teach me hatred or enmity for someone simply because they were of a different faith, or stop me from loving those who love me and being kind to those who are kind to me simply because they are not Muslims.

As I learned more about my religion and more of the Qur’an I saw that the Qur’an teaches us to be kind and good and caring and just to all those non-Muslims who did not fight us for our faith or persecute us (Q60:8-9 for instance). The only people we have problems with should be those who decide to fight us or stop us from being Muslims by force, without provocation.

The verses are all there in the Qur’an. The fact that Muslim men can marry Christian women is sufficient evidence. Would one marry a woman one did not truly love?

Yet we see people preaching hate and anger. Non-Muslims think this is Islam but in fact it is the ignorance of the people and their misfortune in not knowing the power of love. Just as Islamophobic Christians and misguided militia do not live by the teaching of Christ.


Sr Katherine taught – and gave – me love at an early age. And in this she influenced my life, my world view, even before I went to King’s College. She gave me an open mind to other faiths, and I have had the fortune since then of having many friends – brothers and sisters – who are Christian. They have in some cases shown me more love and loyalty than many of my blood-relatives.

Of course I also have many Muslim friends, brothers and sisters, who have done the same. It only proves that there are good people and bad people everywhere. A bad Muslim or bad Christian is just a bad person. A good Muslim or good Christian is a good human being. Period.

It is for this that I will always remember her with love. I needed to come to her grave. I have not seen her since 1972. I telephoned the convent in 2019 but could not speak to her because she was hard of hearing. When she died I was in France. But I could not go to Ireland as I needed a different Visa. It took me so long because the Irish embassy insists on holding on to a passport for six weeks before the Visa is issued. Very difficult if you travel a lot.

“I pray for my country Nigeria that God bring us peace and that we learn that love and mercy are what we need, not hatred and bloodshed”

I just had to come to Sr Katherine to tell her how much I love her. And to thank her for what she did in my life. And thank God for meeting her at the right time in my life- that is to say, at the beginning. I pray for my country Nigeria that God bring us peace and that we learn that love and mercy are what we need, not hatred and bloodshed.

Rest in peace dear Sister.

 This is a speech delivered by Khalifa Muhammad Sanusi II, the 14th Emir of Kano, Nigeria, in Ardfoyle Convent, Co. Cork last week during a visit to Ireland to thank the OLA and SMA religious who helped so many in the country.