RIP | 

Tributes pour in for ‘remarkable’ Catholic priest found dead in Kenya

Fr Tom Leyden was found unresponsive by a caregiver on Sunday morning.

Fr Tom Leyden

Neasa Cumiskey

Tributes are pouring in for an Irish Catholic priest who was found dead at his house in Nairobi on Sunday morning.

Fr Thomas ‘Tom’ Leyden (88), from Ballinrobe in Co Mayo, was found unresponsive in the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) Community House in the Gigiri area by a caregiver who had entered his room to wake him up at around 4.45am.

Predeceased by his parents, John Joseph and Ellen, and sister Maura, Fr Tom will be “fondly remembered” by his nieces Sharon and Helena, nephew Tom, their spouses and children.

A notice on adds: “Tom will be gratefully remembered by his confreres in the Irish-British and Kenyan-Tanzanian Provinces of the Divine Word Missionaries and especially by his many friends and neighbours of the Donamon Community.”

A funeral mass will take place at 10am Kenyan time on Friday, December 1, at the Divine Word Parish Church of Kayole, Nairobi, followed by a burial at the SVD Community Cemetery.

A Memorial mass will be concelebrated at 11am next Saturday, December 9 at the Divine Word Chapel, Donamon Castle, Co Roscommon, which will be streamed online.

The “once-in-a-lifetime" priest was remembered online by friends and fellow members of the clergy.

Fr Michael Donovan, who is based in Papua New Guinea, wrote: “My deepest sympathy to the Leyden and O Connelly family, and also to the Divine Word Community both at home and overseas.

“I have fond memories of Fr Tom. He was my spiritual director in Donamon and a great man to keep in touch through his letter writing over the years.

“Fr Tom had a great love for the Scripture, and he encourage his students to develop a deep desire to read the Bible. May his gentle Soul rest in Peace many miles from his childhood home. No doubt Fr Tom will be in good company with the people he served in Kenya for many years.”

Fr Mick Reddan said: “Tom was a friend to all. Kind, gentle and courteous. Tom was my novice master and indeed he lived what he shared, the Word of God. God’s word always on his lips.

“Yes,Tom was most certainly a religious missionary of the Divine Word. To his nieces and nephew and extended family my deepest sympathy.

“You can be proud of your Uncle Tom he was a priest of Jesus Christ and lived what he was ordained to be. A humble servant of the servant of God.

“Tom you never showed the ‘white feather’ and Mayo always close to your heart. Like so many others I was blessed by your goodness. Rest In Peace, my friend.”

Another person added: “RIP Fr Leyden - You lived a life less ordinary devoted to others.”

Local media reports that police in Nairobi have now launched investigations into Fr Tom’s death.

According to Nairobi News, police said in a report that the caregiver had reported that the priest “has been battling high blood pressure and other health complications”.

Police further said the deceased did not have any visible injuries at the time he was found inside his house.

Police visited the scene and helped to move the body to the mortuary pending autopsy and other procedures.

It has further been reported that police are hoping the results of an autopsy will reveal more about how the priest died.

Fr Tom joined SVD in 1964 and was described by the order as “highly intellectual” and of “reliable character".

He was called to Kenya in 1993, working across 12 parishes between Kenya and Tanzania and serving as a Novice Master, Formator, and Regional.

“His commitment to Donamon and the wider communities in the West of Ireland, as well as his articulate letters describing the SVD work, left an indelible mark,” SVD said in a memorium post on their website.

“Colleagues recall Fr. Tom as one of the most intelligent and authentic individuals, deeply connected to the human condition and scripture. His annual reading of the Bible, coupled with his past as a mathematics professor, showcased his extraordinary intellect and authenticity.

“As we bid farewell to this once-in-a-lifetime person, let us remember Fr. Tom Leyden’s legacy with gratitude and may he find eternal rest in the embrace of the God he knew and loved so well.”

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