Shanahan, Joseph (1871–1943), missionary bishop, was born 4 June 1871 in Glankeen, Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary, third son among ten children of Daniel Shanahan, herdsman, and Margaret Shanahan (neé Walsh). He attended Templederry national school, Co. Tipperary, and Rockwell College, Cashel, and at 13 years of age went to study with the Holy Ghost Fathers in France. He returned to Rockwell in 1897, and was ordained into the Holy Ghost congregation 22 April 1900. He served as dean of discipline at Rockwell, and volunteered for the order's mission in the prefecture of the lower Niger, arriving in Onitsha 13 November 1902. He succeeded Fr Lejuene (who returned to France due to ill health) as prefect apostolic on 26 September 1905, and began to concentrate the mission's efforts on education, particularly among the Ibo. Because of a chronic shortage of missionaries, he trained native lay catechists and focused on evangelisation through the education of children in the village mission schools. To this end he also actively sought to recruit female religious to the area to establish schools, and thereby reach the female population. When the prefecture was raised to the status of vicariate in 1920, he became the first vicar apostolic of Southern Nigeria and titular bishop of Abila. Mission records of 1906, just after he assumed leadership of the mission, note 1,488 catholics and twenty-four schools and churches in the prefecture. By the time he left in 1932, there were 110,049 catholics and 1,386 schools and churches (Jordan, 140).
In addition to pioneering education in southern Nigeria, he is credited with establishing the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, based in Killashandra, Co. Cavan, in 1924. They first arrived in his vicariate in 1928 and initially concentrated their efforts on education, eventually expanding into medical work. Many also acknowledge his influence on Máire Martin (qv), founder of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1937, who first travelled to Calabar, southern Nigeria, as a lay missionary and teacher at his invitation in 1921. He is also associated with the founding of St Patrick's Missionary Society (1932). All three of these congregations established active missions in southern Nigeria. To develop an indigenous clergy, he established a native seminary in Igbariam (July 1924), and the first Ibo priest, John Anyogu, was ordained there 8 December 1930.
An energetic missionary who regularly travelled on foot, and later on motorcycle, throughout his vast mission field, he eventually suffered ill health and failing eyesight and was forced to retire in 1932. However, retirement in Ireland at Blackrock College did not suit him, and he accepted an invitation to be chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters in Nairobi in 1938. He remained there until his death, 25 December 1943, and was buried at the Holy Ghost cemetery in Nairobi. He received a ‘second burial’, as fellow missionaries note, when, in recognition of his contribution to the mission in southern Nigeria, his remains were reinterred in Onitsha cathedral, Nigeria, on 23 January 1956.