Clive Dillon Malone SJ looks back over his life

Clive Dillon-Mallone

Last in our series for the Mission Month of October “Irish Men behind the Missions”, Fr. Clive Dillon Malone SJ looks back over 76 years of his life which was he says, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. There are many more tales to tell of the numerous, dedicated Irish Jesuits working for social justice in developing or conflict torn countries: only a very few are recalled in this series. But their stories are examples of the lives lived by their Jesuit brethren all over the world.

In an interview with the Irish Jesuit Missions, Clive recounts his upbringing in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. He lived in a deeply Catholic environment and was the second eldest in a family of nine – five boys and four girls. His mother was a very religious woman and Clive recalls her leaving mission literature lying around the house in the hope they would inspire her children.


Clive feels that he was called to be a priest from an early age. However, he was not attracted to the diocesan clergy although he received his secondary education at St. Muredach’s College in Ballina which was a diocesan seminary. It was only when the same Jesuit returned for the second time to give the annual school retreat that Clive knew at the age of 17 that this was the religious Order he wanted to join. This was surprising in that he had little or no knowledge of Jesuit schools or of Jesuits in particular. Nevertheless, he never shifted from the conviction that he wanted to be a Jesuit.

Consequently, in 1955, he went to the Jesuit novitiate in Emo, Portarlington, where his cousin Eddie Murphy, was to join him the following year. The two years’ novitiate was a very prayerful and peaceful environment which included a 30 day retreat and the Director of Novices, Donal O’Sullivan, left a lasting impression on him. When Clive made his first religious vows, as far as he was concerned, these were his final vows. “Of course, at the time,” he says, “I had no idea of the adventure that lay before me!”

Mission to Zambia

Clive moved to Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin in 1957 where he began his studies in Classics (Greek and Latin) at the old University College Dublin (UCD) premises in Earlsfort Terrace. He cycled in and out to the university each day which was the custom at the time. It was during this period that he experienced his “second” vocation, namely, to go “on the missions”. It was normal at the time for some Irish Jesuits to be sent either to Africa (Zambia) or to China (Hong Kong) and Clive volunteered to go to Zambia. No doubt the literature on the African missions which he had seen in his home in his early years played a part in this decision. “I just felt this was the right decision for me,” he notes, “for no clearly calculated reason”.


On graduating from the university in 1960, Clive went to Tullabeg in Co. Offaly to study for a three year degree in philosophy. However, in his second year, the General of the Jesuits (top man) sent a special representative to Ireland with full powers to make changes in the Irish Province. Clive believes that one of the most important decisions that the representative made was to close the house of philosophy and send all of the young men abroad to complete their studies. In this way, Irish Jesuits became open to new ideas coming from the various countries in Europe to which they were sent. Clive himself, along with three others, was sent to Rome where he finished his philosophy degree at the Gregorian University. At this time in 1963, the Second Vatican Council was just beginning. The Church was undergoing a cataclysmic change! “It was a really exciting time to be in Rome”, Clive recalls.

Experience in Zambia

Following his desire to go on the missions, Clive went to Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) in 1963 where he spent three years. After one year studying the culture and language of one of the many indigenous peoples of Zambia (the BaTonga), he taught at a Jesuit Secondary School (Canisius College). During this period, he had developed an interest in cooperative unions after experiencing the need which people had in the rural areas for greater coordination of their activities. He had already made inquiries about such a course in Nova Scotia in Canada but his Superior recommended that he wait until he had finished his theological studies before pursuing the course. Consequently, he returned to Ireland in 1966 to begin his theology studies at Milltown Park in Dublin.

Studies in Theology and Sociology

Clive was ordained to the priesthood in 1969. While studying theology, he was greatly influenced by a Jesuit sociologist who convinced him that sociology would give him greater scope for development issues than credit unions. As a result, on completing his theology studies in 1970, he went to the Centre for West African Studies in Birmingham in England to study for a Master of Social Science degree where he studied the literature on indigenous African religious movements. With an MSc degree under his belt, he was encouraged to enrol for a doctoral programme in sociology at Fordham University in New York which he began in 1971.

Research work in Africa

On completion of PhD coursework, he returned to Zambia to conduct field work for over a year tracing the origin and development of an African indigenous religious movement identified as the Vapostori (Apostles) of Johane Masowe. Although he came in contact with this movement in Zambia, it turned out that the founder was from Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) and that he had begun the movement in 1920. Due to persecution from the colonial government at the time (it was perceived as a subversive movement) his followers had moved first to Botswana and then to South Africa where they finally settled in Port Elizabeth in an area called Korsten – hence becoming known popularly as the Korsten Basketmakers in view of their expertise at making wicker baskets. This was the name that Clive gave to his published doctoral thesis.

Although not a Christian movement, it made great use of the Old Testament which resulted in a very creative mixture of traditional Shona religion and the Bible. Whereas their followers regarded Christ as the messenger sent by God to the white people, their founder was considered to be the messenger sent especially to the black people. As a result of his close contact with followers of this movement and the knowledge he acquired of their history and development, Clive notes rather amusingly that he was regarded by them as a “prophet” and was given access to their more restricted healing and other activities. He also emphasizes how contact with this movement and its beliefs and practices had highlighted for him the importance of the enculturation of the Christian gospel in Africa.

The University of Zambia

By 1975, Clive had secured his doctorate in sociology. The following year, he completed his final year of spiritual training as a Jesuit in Ireland and returned to Zambia where he became a lecturer in sociology at the University of Zambia in Lusaka. At the time, there wasn’t any department of Philosophy or Religious Studies there but soon afterwards, a small Department of Philosophy was established in 1980. Finding itself with no one to take over the headship of the department in 1985, Clive was requested by the Vice-Chancellor to shift areas and take over this position.

Jesuits have had a presence in lecturing at the University of Zambia for shorter or longer periods in different schools since its establishment in 1966 and they had become recognized for their commitment to higher education. In particular, before Clive joined the university, Fr. Michael J. Kelly had been Deputy Vice-Chancellor for a period. Consequently, after careful discernment and prayer, Clive agreed to accept the request. “Little did I know then,” he says, “that this decision would mean remaining in that position for the next 23 years!” During this period, he extended the name of the department to the Department of Philosophy and Applied Ethics as philosophy itself was not attracting students who were naturally very concerned about not getting a job after graduating.

Life at the University of Zambia took on a regular routine: weekdays were for academic work with weekends for involvement in pastoral activities at St. Ignatius Parish where he resided. Right from the establishment of the university, Jesuits had acted as chaplains to the Christian Centre there and he assisted with a Mass once a week for Catholic students.

Clive is now the only Jesuit lecturing at the University of Zambia in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and has renewed his four year contract there until 2018.

Other activities

Writing for the popular press and engaging in written debate is an occupation Clive devotes time to in the effort to reach as many as possible with challenging and thought provoking discussion on topics related to the world we live in today. An example is a debate held with a columnist under the pen name of “Mercutio” in the Zambian newspaper The Post with whom Clive debated the existence of God over a long period of time. He has also entered into debates on topics such as atheism, abortion and the death penalty in addition to a regular column in a Christian newspaper, The National Mirror (now defunct) which in 2008 resulted in a book entitled, With Christ in Scripture.

A very significant lack in Zambia had been the absence of any religious magazine for an educated Christian readership. So in 1998, Clive, along with another Jesuit and a Franciscan who runs a printing press called Mission Press, decided to start publishing a quarterly religious magazine, The Challenge, to fill this gap. Clive is text editor for this magazine which is now in its sixteenth issue and has a circulation of around 4,500 copies.

The political scene in Zambia

The year 1964 was a turning point for Zambia with a declaration of independence under its first Zambian President, Kenneth Kaunda. At the same time, there was a concerted move towards the Zambianisation of the Church away from the European stereotype. Kaunda had developed his own Philosophy of Humanism which contained a specifically religious thrust and his dream for Zambia was his slogan, “One Zambia: One Nation.” In later years, many in his circle however, who had been educated in Eastern Europe, were attempting to move Zambian Humanism in an atheistic Marxist-Leninist direction (known as Scientific Socialism). Indeed, when Clive joined the university, it was a hotbed of Marxist-Leninist antireligious thinking because of the perceived association of religion with colonial rule. It was a situation that required careful handling on his part.

In view of the growing threat to religion in Zambia at the time, Clive wrote a book entitled Zambian Humanism, Religion and Social Morality drawing attention to the specifically religious dimension of Zambian Humanism. The book achieved wide circulation in the country and Clive was invited to give talks on Marxist-Leninism in many places. The net result was that Catholics and others became sensitized to the pending threat to religious belief and practice. Although Kaunda had begun as a benevolent socialist leader and was not anti-religious, in later years he had become more of a dictator resulting in popular discontent. Consequently, when the time came for the national election for the President of the country, to his great surprise, Kenneth Kaunda was not re-elected. Among other factors, the anti-religious threat had played a significant role in his downfall.

Looking back

Although Clive had been offered the position of Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences on two occasions, he says with a smile that he has reached his level of competence where he is and that he is happy to remain within his current “comfort zone”!

What does he consider to be the most important factors in his life? He identifies three in particular: prayer; work; relaxation. Firstly, he considers daily personal prayer with the Lord to be of central importance as a Companion of Jesus (Jesuit); secondly, he has found work – in his case in the form of research, lecturing and being in contact with students to bring great personal fulfilment; and thirdly, relaxation in playing a variety of sports in his earlier years and pounding the treadmill in his aging years have contributed significantly to his physical health. Watching films at night, especially thrillers, he confesses, is a practice that he has enjoyed every since his earliest years.

Looking back on his life, Clive admits to a certain loneliness in his life’s work in that he has not been working with other Jesuits in more clearly defined apostolates such as teaching in a Jesuit school, giving retreats or working full-time in a parish. When he first made the decision to go “on the missions” in Zambia, he acknowledges that his life has moved in quite a different direction from that which he was expecting.

However, with gratitude for his life as a Jesuit and a firm awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every stage of his life, he is convinced that he has been led, stage by stage, to where he is now.

October 2014