A Capuchin Franciscan priest from Northern Ireland who spent 50 years on mission in Zambia has been awarded one of Japan’s highest honors for his promotion of judo in Africa.

“It’s a great recognition. I’m very proud of it, but I’m also surprised and overcome by the enormity of it. It’s not something I was expecting at all,” Father Jude McKenna told the Belfast Telegraph.

The 84-year-old judo expert is one of this year’s recipients of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, awarded each year by the Japanese government. The award is “given to people who make a very significant contribution to the spread of Japanese culture,” the priest told the Belfast Telegraph.

McKenna, a native of Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, lived in Zambia from 1966 until 2017, when he retired to Dublin due to failing eyesight.

McKenna’s twin brother Brian was ordained a priest at the same time as Jude and they both joined the Capuchin Franciscans. When the time came for the brothers to be given their assignments, Jude was sent to Zambia, and Brian to California.

Father Jude said he was always a keen boxer, and after three visits to Japan, developed an affinity for judo, a form of self-defense developed in Japan in 1882 that today is generally practiced as a sport.

In addition to his missionary work in Africa, McKenna helped to spread the practice of judo across Zambia and throughout Africa. He founded the Lusaka Central Sports Club in Zambia’s capital.

McKenna’s award, given June 26 by Japan’s Ambassador to Ireland Mari Miyoshi in Dublin, was in recognition of his “outstanding contribution towards strengthening bilateral relations and promoting friendship between Japan and Zambia through judo,” the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Established in 1875, the Order of the Rising Sun was Japan’s first national award – CNA.     

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