Review of the book The Uncharted Road: Memoirs of a Missionary Life written by Eithne MacDevitt OLA

The title of the book The Uncharted Road by Sr. Eithne McDevitt captures the attention of the inquisitive reader.  Have you wondered why the title of the book is The Uncharted Road?  The title served as a hook for me and the content would captivate anyone who tries to explore further.  What was it about this road that earned it the title?  To understand the phrase better, I checked the synonyms and words like unexplored, unfamiliar, unmapped popped out for me and as I read, unmapped seemed the nearest in meaning.

I want to trace briefly aspects of the book that I consider lent itself to the choice of the title of the book

  1. The discovery of Ardfoyle high School and visits to the SMA museum inspired something in young Eithne that made her feel West Africa was the place for her. Today, one can safely say it was the Lord who brought her parents from Donegal to Cork – giving Eithne the opportunity to meet the OLAs.
  2. Choice of a profession – young Eithne wanted to be a writer, a war reporter, a foreign correspondent and a missionary – all these aspirations were fulfilled in the Lord’s own way – not hers! For indeed she is a writer, a reporter not of war but of history, a foreign correspondent and missionary – West Africa was indeed the place for her.
  3. In 1955, she expected to be sent on mission but this was not to be as she was needed to replace Sr. Dympna a music teacher. Although disappointed, ‘I was convinced that God had planned mission for me but only when he willed it’.  In later years she was to realise, I guess that she was striving to attain what Ignatius of Loyola called ‘holy indifference’.  Resignation indeed.  The Lord willed it in 1956, and from then on she remained a missionary in West Africa until 2014 when, due to health challenges, she was asked not to return to Nigeria. Eithne, in her own words, was shattered by this decision – she would have loved to bid Nigeria (West Africa) a proper farewell but this was not to be. ’Eventually grace prevailed, and as usual, she bowed to God’s will’.  Eithne’s firm trust in the Lord’s plan was rewarded when in 2015 she was miraculously invited for the Silver jubilee of the Province of Nigeria and of the Institute for Formators, Jos.  She utilized this opportunity well.

Eithne undertakes to describe a journey that has spanned a period of 90 years.  A missionary journey, not just hers alone but that of other missionaries as well – OLAs, SMAs and other religious and priests – a journey that has so many twists and turns from the beginning leading to joys, challenges (health and otherwise), letting go of known ways so as to be transformed by the Light of Christ as she concludes ‘I find that thy will knows no end in me’.

The book is a joy to read – the first journey to Lagos that began first by boat, by road and by air from Ireland to London, London to Kanu to Accra and to Lagos. What a route.  This road later, led her so many times, through these routes to other parts of the OLA world.

In different pages, Eithne talks of collaboration, even in the very early stages of our mission especially in St. Teresa’s College, Ibadan with SMAs. She further expresses a hope that one day the OLAs will return to Topo, a hope I also share.  Something about Topo beckons to us and it is my hope that one day both Institutes (OLA and SMA) will begin a joint venture – perhaps a place of Sabbatical for the African Church.

Eithne, a great story teller, with such clarity for a woman of over 90years, tells the story of her life from birth to the later years of her life.  Eithne, the historian, taught the novices the life of our founder and one day, after lectures a novice asked her if she had met our founder in person. Remember, Eithne was born in 1931 and our founder died in 1907.  Such was her gift in telling a good story! I rate this book highly.

I wish to express my gratitude to the PLT for giving me this singular privilege to review the book of a dear friend who was at different times, over a period of 40 years, my formator, teacher, colleague and friend. Although I have heard some aspects of these stories from Eithne at various times and was present at some of the events discussed, the invitation to review the book gave me a chance to take a second, third and fourth look at a story that spanned so many decades – from birth to the present day.


Read more about Sr Eithne MacDevitt here: A Life of Mission and Love

Download a copy: The UnCharted Road_by Eithne MacDevitt OLA