A Tribute: To Archbishop Michael K. Francis
Twenty-five years ago, Father Michael Kpakala Francis was ordained a Bishop. He took as his motto: The Peace and Charity of Christ! A motto that tells us in few words his whole life-love for God and his neighbor in the Peace of Christ. When he was ordained a Priest he had a wish: God give me souls-take away the rest! And that is what God has done for him. God has been good to him and blessed him in many ways thus enabling him to reach twenty-five years of dedicated service in his vineyard.
He was born on February 12, 1936 in Kpakala Town, Bomi County, Liberia thirty miles north of Monrovia. Reverend Peter Rogers SMA baptized him in Saint Christopher’s Church, Kakata in 1938.
His early education began at the St. Theresa’s Convent where he was a boarder from 1938-1944. After kindergarten, he attended for a year the St. Patrick’s Elementary School on Snapper Hill. He continued his primary schooling at St. Martin’s in Gbarnga and St. Mary’s in Sanniquellie from 1944-1950.
In 1951, Father Francis entered the St. Patrick’s High School in Monrovia and in 1953, left for Ghana, the then Gold Coast and entered the St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary at Amisano near Elmina. He sat the Senior Cambridge School Leaving Certificate exams in 1956 and passed with flying colors.
In March 1957, he matriculated to the St. Peter’s Major Regional Seminary in Pedu, Cape Coast where he did his Philosophical and Theological studies. He did graduate studies in the field of Moral Theology with emphasis on Bio-Ethics, Medical Ethics and Formation Psychology at the Catholic University of America.
He did his studies in Bio-Ethics and Medical Ethics at the Georgetown University, Ecumenical Theology at the Howard University School of Religion by cross registering in these Universities all in the Washington area.
Michael Kpakala Francis was ordained a Deacon on August 15, 1962 by Bishop Joseph Bowers, SVD, then Bishop of Accra, in the St. Peter’s Seminary Chapel. He was ordained Priest on August 4, 1963 by Bishop Nicholas Grimely, SMA – the late Bishop of Cape Palmas- with Archbishop Dermot Carroll, Vicar Apostolic of Monrovia in attendance at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Monrovia.
Concerning his Priesthood, Father Francis was assigned as Assistant Pastor to the St. Mary’s Parish, Sanniquellie and teacher at the St. Mary’s Elementary School on 18, August 1963. In 1965, he became the Pastor of the St. Mary’s Parish and the Principal of the St. Mary’s Elementary School. In 1965, he built the St. Mary’s Junior High School, which took in its first students in February 1966 and in the same year built the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sanniquellie. Earlier in 1966, he expanded the boy’s boarding school and took in thirty boys who attended the St. Mary’s School. In 1967, he invited the Franciscan Missionaries to Sanniquellie to take care of the girls and run a clinic. Three Sisters came and the clinic was opened in the late 1967 and the new dormitory for girls was opened in 1969 with twenty girls.
In 1968, Father Michael Francis completed the construction of the St. Mary’s High School and became its first Principal. He built the Sister’s Convent in 1969.Father Francis was also manager of the Catholic School in Yekepa and was the founder of the Yeke Memorial High School- an adult high school in Yekepa, Nimba County. In 1972, he was instrumental in inviting the Brothers of St. Louis to take over the St. Mary’s School.
In March 1973, the Catholic Bishops of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Gambia established the St. Paul’s College and Seminary and in August 1973 appointed Father Francis Rector of the new Major Seminary located in Gbarnga for the training of Priests for the three countries mentioned above. He was given the mandate to build the Seminary.
Along with Brother Cassian as construction engineer, five buildings were constructed at the Seminary and classes began in February 1974.
Father Francis was called to Rome to take courses in Priestly formation and Psychology in the late 1973 to prepare him for formation in the Seminary. The Seminary began with three professors-Father Francis as Rector, Bursar and professor of Liturgy, Latin and Philosophical Ethics and general service man.
Father James Peter, C.S.Sp. and Brother Doherty, CFC, later Fathers Patrick Harrington, SMA, now Bishop of Lodwar in Kenya- and Father Robert Tikpor joined the staff.
During his tenure as Rector, he constructed other facilities on the campus and acquired 200 acres of land for the Seminary. He was also Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Religion and Medical ethics at Cuttington College, now Cuttington University College, Suakoko. Father Francis was President of the Senate of Priests of the Vicariate of Monrovia and Treasurer of the Association of Theological Institutions of West Africa.
On October 24 ,1976, His Holiness Pope Paul VI appointed Father Michael Francis Vicar Apostolic of Monrovia and Bishop of Monrovia. He was ordained Bishop in the Sacred Heart Cathedral on December 19, 1976. The late Most Rev. Archbishop Dermot Carroll, SMA former Bishop of Monrovia and Nuncio Apostolic was the Principal Ordaining Prelate; Others were; The late Most Rev. Thomas Brosnahan, C.S.Sp. Archbishop of Freetown and Bo, Sierra Leone, the late Most Rev. Michael Maloney, C.S.Sp., Bishop of Banjul, the Gambia, the late Most Rev. Augustus Azzolini, SX, Bishop of Mekeni, Sierra Leone; the Most Rev. Peter Sarpong, Bishop of Kumasi, who preached the sermon. Others were Most Rev. Francis Lodonou, Bishop of Keta-Ho, Ghana, the Most Rev. Bernard Agre, then Bishop of Man, the Ivory Coast-now Cardinal Archbishop of Abidjan, the Most Rev. Joseph Ganda, Bishop of Kenema- now Bishop of Freetown and Bo and finally the Most Rev. Boniface Dalieh, then Vicar Apostolic of Cape Palmas and Bishop of Cape Palmas.
Archbishop Francis has given lectures in many countries on a variety of subjects in Europe, USA and Africa. He wrote over a hundred pastoral letters on a variety of subjects. The Archbishop has made a great impact on Liberia in the fields of Human Rights, education and health. He has articulated over and over again the social teachings of the Church on the dignity of the human person and the relationships that should exist among equals.