Three elderly members of one of Ireland’s leading overseas missionary communities have died from Covid-19.
The priests were all members of the Society of African Missions (SMA) Irish Province, whose headquarters are on Blackrock Road, Cork.
They were among 19 SMA priests who tested positive for Covid-19 at Blackrock Road.
The priests are also among scores of clerics who have tragically died from the deadly virus nationally.
The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference, which runs the Catholic Church in Ireland, does not yet know how many have died in total so far.
However, they told the Irish Examiner: “An aggregate figure may be available in the future.
"The 26 individual dioceses and about 150 religious congregations hold that information at the moment.”
The three priests who died had been based in Cork and were among a total of 11 SMA priests who have died since January in Cork, Longford and Galway.
Of those priests who died in Cork, three died in University Hospital Cork and six died in the SMA community’s St Theresa’s Medical Unit on Blackrock Road.
A total of 46 SMA priests and brothers were tested for Covid-19 and 19 were found to be positive for the virus.
Everyone who tested positive had to self-isolate in their rooms at the Blackrock Road premises.
“We have no idea how they got Covid-19,” SMA Provincial Leader Fr Malachy Flanagan said. “As we live in a community, it's very likely that once one person got it, then it spread quite easily.”
However, he added that, at present, none of the priests at Blackrock Road and Wilton are Covid-19 positive.
Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill said: “I heard priests at the society had lost their lives from the virus. It is very sad because these men are held in very high regard locally.
“It should also be noted that this is in effect a retirement home and the society has its own infirmary on site.
“And the elderly priests who are there are extremely well looked after.”
On average, six members of the Irish province - whose members are mostly in their 70s and 80s - die each year. But the fact that nearly double that number have died in the first five months of 2020 alone raises the prospect that the death toll for the whole year is likely to be higher.