Born: 26 May 1886, Kune-Khandala, Maharashtra, India
Entered: 07 September 1904, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 15 August 1919
Professed: 02 February 1923
Died: 25 January 1950, St Vicent's Hospital, Dublin
Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death
by 1909 at Stonyhurst, England (ANG) studying
by 1922 at Drongen, Belgium (BELG) making Tertianship
by 1923 at Rome, Italy (ROM) studying
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 23rd Year No 4 1948
Fr. Canavan, who, as briefly recorded in our last issue, is attending Congresses, at San Sebastian and Barcelona, writes on 12th-13th September from the former place:
"The trip out was pleasant and rapid. Señor Don Jose Arnau, who leaves for Dublin tomorrow, met me at the frontier, saw me through the customs and drove me to San Sebastian, a perfectly lovely place. I had hardly arrived at the Residence when I was called on the phone by the Irish Loreto nuns at Las Arenas, near Bilbao, asking when I was going to them. They had received permission from the Bishop for me to give them a couple of talks and to hear the confessions of the community! I fancied I was back in Milltown Park. Our Fathers have been extremely kind, in fact everyone goes out of his way to do me services. On Saturday last I got up at 4 o'clock, caught an early train and said Mass at Loyola in a chapel all silver, the altar silver, the very flooring of silver. To-day some Spanish friends are driving me to Pamplona and Puente la Reina, and I shall try to see Xavier, and that will take in most of Navarra..
We opened the Conversaciones with Mass and Breakfast at the Episcopal Palace. The Nuncio presided, flanked by a Bishop on his right and left. The Council then set up three Commissions, and I am or one. We speak French and English and Spanish to a lesser extent. The resolution on Liberty of Education adopted practically entire the account I had given of the Irish outlook and system, and has recom mended it to the general body. We have Spaniards, Portuguese, Brazilians, English, French, Italians, Swiss, Belgians and Dutch on our committee. We meet twice a day for two hours or so each time, and now and again we have a plenary session in the evening. Yesterday we were invited to a reception given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which I refrained from attending, as I had had a long day already, what with my trip to Loyola and my attendance at the Conversaciones in the afternoon. I forgot to mention that at Loyola I offered Mass for the Province and its needs”.
13th Monday :
“Yesterday I drove to Pamplona through the mountains of Guipuzcoa and Navarre, saw the spot where St. Ignatius was wounded, had dinner with some friends at Puente la Reina and then went on to Xavier. One of the Fathers there had been at Milltown, and another knew Fr. Joy at Rome. It was a wonderful day spent in a country vibrating with the memory of St. Ignatius and St. Francis, On Wednesday I go to Bilbao, then to Oña, Burgos, Valladolid, Salam anca and Madrid. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (a former President of Catholic Action in Spain) has presented me with a Kilometrico, a document which entitles me to travel first-class and free over 5,000 kilometers in Spain. The climate here is rather like Ireland's : plenty of rain, some storms, but much hotter when the sun shines. The other side of the Sierras, in Navarre there is little or no rain, the land is dry and rather parched, and the vine and olive flourish. Loyola is in a pleasant green valley, Xavier is a hard, severe, austere barren, opening in the hills. Spain is a country of sudden violent contrasts, but the people, at least here in the north, are splendidly Catholic...!”
Irish Province News 25th Year No 2 1950
Fr. Joseph Canavan (1886-1904-1950)
Father Joseph E. Canavan. Born Khandalla, India, 26th May, 1886. Educated St. Mary's High School, Bombay and Clongowes Wood (1901-1904).
At. C.W.C. he gained high priase for his maiden speech in the Higher Line Debating Society in his last year.
Cricket : On the House XI, second in batting averages and first in bowling averages. Soccer : On the House XI. Athletics : Easter Sports, 1904 won the Higher Line 100 yards and 2nd in the 440.
Entered Novitiate 7 September, 1904. Juniorate, got B.A., Philosophy at Stonyhurst, 1908-1911.
Taught at C.W.C. 1911-1917. Theology at Milltown, 1916-1920. Taught for a year at C.W.C., 1920-1921. Editor Clongownian. Tertianship - Tronchiennes, 1921-1922.
Biennium, Rome, 1922-1924.
Prof. Philos. at Milltown, 1924-1931 and at Tullabeg, 1930-1933.
Prof. Theol. Milltown Park, 1933-1949. Praef. Stud. Milltown Park, 1947-1949. Elector at General Congregation, September October, 1946. Died, St. Vincent's Nursing Home, 25th January, 1950,
“I was taught here to accept success without arrogance and defeat without repining. I was taught here, by precept and example, the lessons of truth, of chivalry and of manliness”. This extract from John Redmond's speech at the Clongowes Centenary Celebrations is quoted with approval by Father Joseph Canavan in an article which he wrote for the Riverview College Magazine in 1948.
It is revealing in a two-fold manner. It shows directly something of what Father Canavan thought of his Alma Mater, and it shows indirectly and unconsciously something of the man himself. The revelation, limited as it is, is valuable because he was not one who opened his heart readily, fearless in expressing his convictions, he kept his sentiments to himself. Bearing in mind the words, we may review the chief activities of his life as a Jesuit.
After his Biennium in Rome - which gained for him the coveted degree of Magister Aggregatus of the Gregorian University - he returned to Ireland to begin the unbroken course of teaching which ran from 1924 to 1949 : Philosophy for nine years and Theology for sixteen years. One of his students has kindly supplied the following impression of Father Canavan as a Professor of Philosophy :
“I was lucky enough to have Fr, Canavan for my three years of Philosophy and to have him as my professor for three of the six main subjects, i.e., for Critica, Cosmology and Ethics. The years were 1929-1932, the heyday of his professorship. He was clear and incisive in exposition, cutting away irrelevancies. He never went in for spoon feeding - his students had to make a considerable personal effort. There were no such things in those days as polycopied pages handed round, each philosopher had to make up the theses for himself. This system was excellent for the averagely intelligent - though it must be admitted that the weaker brethren found it rough going. Fr. Canavan lectured, in the true sense of the word. When the main point of the thesis had been dealt with clearly, succinctly, he sat back, as it were, and began to open up larger horizons - allied questions in the same subjects, the interconnection of the various disciplines, the points of contact with modern thought (how often he brought into class articles from contemporary reviews, cuttings from newspapers and the like!). In the light of his future activities, which seem to have been connected mainly with ethical and moral questions, it is interesting to note that his first and deepest love was metaphysics. (Later on, in Louvain, I was reminded of him time and again by the professing of Pere Pierre Charles.) He took a great personal interest in his students, and this was especially evident in his dealings with them outside class. Always at their service in his room, he was affable and stimulating. One of his most outstanding traits was his way of talking to you as man to man - he never condescended. Even - or perhaps particularly - in his treatment of the least philosophically minded was this true. It was ever his habit to speak to you on his own level of intelligence. For him you were a grown-up, not a school-boy, and an intelligent grown-up, at that. He gave you confidence, drew you out of yourself, made you face difficulties, both philosophical and personal. A true educator”.
When Father Canavan came to teach Theology, his method and his manner did not change and his classes were almost to a man as enthusiastic about their Professor as his classes in Philosophy had been. And a point not mentioned in connection with Philosophy, he was an ideal examiner. His questions were clear and fair. He put the candidate at his ease with a sympathetic courtesy which, without impairing the rigour of the examination, did much to diminish its nervous strain.
Without ever neglecting his main work - that of Professor - he contrived to meet, to a great extent, the demands that were made for his services by the many externs who were not slow to recognise his ability. He had a masterly grasp of business, and a fund of tact and patience which made him an excellent committee-man and chairman, and won for him many tributes, of which the following is an example :
An Appreciation :
“I had not set eyes upon Father Canavan for ten years, but my brief encounters with him in 1938 and 1939 when I served with him as a member - under his chairmanship - on the Citizens Housing Council are so clear that they might have occurred yesterday. There was more than one man of character on that Council, and more than one man of high distinction. I met none who was not proud to serve under Father Joseph Canavan.
As one in charge of a major social programme, he had the ideal qualifications - of tenderness, of incisiveness, and of what, for want of a better phrase, I may call social conscience. He possessed also, in very high measure, that courtesy which, above all else, is desirable in the controller of a committee. I am not in fault, I think, in saying that at least one very high ecclesiastic of the Church of Ireland would second my weakness in this respect. As a layman, Joseph Canavan would have proved himself eminent in this or any other State. To his capacity for the leadership of men he added the finest qualties of a priest of God. Such at least is the sentiment of one who admired and loved him”. W.A.N. (Irish Times, 26/1/50).
In addition to the Housing Council just referred to, he served on the Governmental Commission on the Civil Service. His work for the Civics Institute won an expression from that body not only of grief at his death, but also of grateful appreciation.
His many lectures to externs on a variety of subjects, from Medical Ethics, Miracles, Church and State, to Matt Talbot were marked by thorough knowledge and clear expression. His writings ranged from poetry for instance, the Clongowes Centenary Ode to the scientific prose of his Biennium Thesis, entitled : “De Iure Proprietatis ; Sententia Hodiernorum Collectivistarum comparata cum Doctrina S. Thomae et Doctorum Scholasticorum”. And in all of them, the standard was high - nothing that he did was second-rate.
His interest in Social Science found early expression when as a young priest in Clongowes he was appointed director of the Leo Guild, and manifested itself soon after in his choice of the subject for his Biennium Thesis. That interest was maintained all his life and it was not merely the theoretical interest of a detached observer, it was the practical interest of one who had at heart the welfare of those in need and who did not spare himself trouble when there was question of helping them. The full extent of the services rendered by him in the sphere of practical sociology cannot be estimated, for they were as unostentatious as was his practice of private charity.
There were, I think, several stages in getting to know Father Canavan. And for those who did not go the whole way it would have been easy to misjudge him. Speaking in a general way, it may be said that the first impression was that one had met a brilliant thinker, a witty conversationalist, a man of the world, polished and thoroughly competent to hold his own in any company. This impression was followed often enough by another, less favourable. An element of vanity, of cock-sureness, of cynicism, seemed to emerge and become conspicuous. At this second stage, the effect of the brilliance and the wittiness wore off, and the views expressed - and still more the manner of their expression - became irritating. How was it then that Father Canavan enjoyed the high esteem and the warm and loyal friendship of so many people, both inside and outside the Society? The reason was because there was a third stage, reached by those who recognised the truth : that the cock-sureness was but the incisive expression of views clearly formulated and sincerely held; that the vanity, such as it was, was the product of a childlike simplicity; that the cynicism was a defensive armour, hiding and protecting a profound sensitiveness. And, making fair allowance for these mannerisms, one had not to know him for long to detect his extraordinary kindliness. This is the trait which made the deepest impression on those who knew him best.
His judgements on men might be severe (though never unjust), but whenever he could do anyone a good turn, he did it, generously and graciously. He could not abide humbug or pretensions, but he could and did sympathize with misfortune, with weakness, with lack of ability. Of malice or meanness, there was not a trace in him. If he was sensitive, and I believe he was, he did not betray it. If he was disappointed, he did not complain. I fear that Superiors were sometimes tempted to overburden him with work, because of his readiness to accept any task and his prompt and efficient discharge of it.
He did not make a parade of personal piety, but the solidity of his religious life was proved by his religious regularity, his obedience, his punctilious care in asking for leaves, and his loyalty to the Society. I never made a retreat under him, but I am told that, when giving an eight-day retreat, he used to devote two full days to the study of the character of Our Lord.
It is not surprising that, in his last illness, after months of unrelenting pain, his patience should have occasionally worn thin but a remark made by him not long before the end was an eloquent revelation of the real man - his nurse was about to give him an injection to relieve his agony, but he refused to accept it, saying: “I want to die in pain”.
If I were to suggest that he was faultless, he himself would be the first to protest - and with vigour. But, I do firmly hold that, if chivalry be understood in the Ignatian sense of the word, those lessons of truth, and chivalry, and manliness, which he learned as a boy, remained ever deeply impressed in the heart and were consistently and nobly followed in the life of Father Joseph Canavan.