Butler, Richard P, 1915-1999, Jesuit priest

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Butler, Richard P, 1915-1999, Jesuit priest

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Other form(s) of name

  • Dickie Butler
  • Butsy
  • 畢義理神父
  • Richard Patrick Butler

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Description area

Dates of existence

27 November 1915-21 April 1999

History

Born: 27 November 1915, Waterford City, County Waterford
Entered: 07 September 1933, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 30 July 1947, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1950, Loyola, Tai Lam Chung, Hong Kong
Died: 21 April 1999, Galway University Hospital, Galway City, County Galway

Part of the Coláiste Iognáid, Galway community at the time of death.

Family lived at Royal Hotel, Waterford City supported by businessy.

Youngest of five boys with two sisters.

Early education at Waterpark College for twelve years.

◆ Interfuse
Interfuse No 101 : Special Edition 1999

Obituary

Fr Richard (Dickie) Butler (1915-1999)

27th Nov. 1915: Born in Waterford
Educated at Waterpark College, Waterford
7th Sept. 1933: Entered the Society at Emo
8th Sept. 1935: First vows at Emo
1935 - 1938: Rathfarnham, study Arts at UCD
1938 - 1941; Tullabeg, study Philosophy
1941 - 1942: Mungret College, teaching
1942 - 1944: St. Ignatius College, Galway, teaching
1944 - 1948: Milltown Park, study theology
30th July 1947; Ordained priest at Milltown Park
1948 - 1949; Rathfarnham, tertianship
1949 - 1951: Hong Kong, at language school
1951 - 1952: Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, teaching
1952 - 1954: Wah Yan College, Kowloon, teaching
1954 - 1999 St. Ignatius College, Galway:
1954 - 1956: Teaching
1956 - 1961: Prefect of Studies
1961 - 1990: Teaching

When he retired from teaching in 1990, Richard continued in College administration, and as health prefect. He was admitted to University Hospital, Galway, almost two weeks before Easter. He was operated on for a perforated ulcer. Though initially he appeared to make good progress, he subsequently suffered a stroke, rallied somewhat again, but then suffered kidney failure. He died very peacefully at 6.45 a.m. on Wednesday 21st April 1999.

I first met Father Dickie Butler, as we affectionately knew him, on the doorsteps of Coláiste lognáid in Galway, 31 years ago, when I arrived there to begin my regency. I had spent the whole summer in the Gaeltacht building up my Irish but I knew about the place I was going to teach, and was somewhat fearful. I was greeted at the front door of the residence by a tall, mandarin-like figure with small round glasses and winged gown. On learning that I had just arrived to embark upon my teaching life, he informed me that he was the acting-minister and that before I went any further I was to put down my case and follow him. He ushered me into the kitchen and within five minutes produced a full glass of red wine, and giving it to me said “Drink that boy, you'll need it”.

Dickie Butler was a man who always made people feel welcome. He had a great eye for the details of life. I could say that Christianity is all about caring, - caring for one another, “whatever you do to one of these”, - because Christ first cares about us. Dickie was a man who always cared and made room for others. I'm sure that he has now found the room in his Father's house prepared for him from the beginning. (Though I should say “the mansion” in his Father's house, for Dickie did not update biblical translations lightly).

Richard Butler was born in Waterford in 1915 and entered the society at Emo. He studied at UCD, Tullabeg and Milltown Park and spent his regency teaching at Mungret and Coláiste lognáid in Galway. He was ordained priest at Milltown Park and after his Tertianship at Rathfarnham, went to teach at Wah Yan College in Hong Kong, with a view to moving further inland on the mission. He used to say that Celtic Scholars were particularly marked out by the Provincials for work on the missions, especially in China, presumably because somebody thought that if you could make headway in the Irish language you could certainly master Chinese. Whether it is true or not, what is definitely true is that Dickie Butler was a brilliant Irish scholar, a wonderful speaker of Irish and an excellent teacher of the language to generations of schoolboys (and latterly, girls).

He became the great Irish teacher he was because his health broke down in China in 1954 and he was sent to the school down in Galway where he taught for 45 years. Dickie was a man of great discipline, a man with an incisive mind. He served as a headmaster in the school before he returned to the classroom to teach for 37 years, at a time of rapid change in Ireland and in education. I lived in his community for 12 of those years and met with him regularly afterwards. Dickie was an engaging and imaginative conversationalist; he had a marvelous command of both the English and Irish language, and he used both daily in his daily all his adult life. Sitting at a table with him in the refectory was informative and entertaining as well as refreshing. Much of his colourful imagery will remain with those of us fortunate enough to have been in his community. Whether he was sharing his insights into information in the Province or on some aspect of contemporary Irish culture, he was always well worth listening to.

Dickie was a theologian and theology was never far from his thoughts. He was an avid reader, especially of the latest publications in theology. Often in the refectory we would watch with interest as visiting theologians, in Galway for a few days rest, sat down at table with Dickie and how he would ask them some seemingly innocent question about theology which would lead to a whole conversation that would keep them on their toes, so to speak, defending whatever their side of the argument was through the whole meal, answering the questions he put so casually. His favourite phrase throughout these encounters was “de vera religione”. I think Dickie would have made many a theological board proud with his questioning. I always felt he would have made a fine professor of theology but he only wanted to do what was asked of him, whether it was going on mission to China at the beginning of his priestly life, or working in College administration towards the end. He had what we used to call in the Province 'a fine mind' but he was a humble man too and one who never put himself forward. He was both modest and devout.

Dickie Butler was a very personal man, who always gave you the impression that he was speaking directly to you. He was interested in everybody in the community and the work they were at. Some might have seen him as old-fashioned but that might be because he had very definite ideas on things and would let you have the benefit of them whether you wanted them or not. Everyone I knew who met with him acknowledged that he was a wise man, and that brings me again to this mandarin-like figure. In his later years Dickie rode a motorbike and dressed in his special biker's gear, with the wire glasses and the all-seeing eyes, he cut a dashing figure as he rode up Sea Road, off into the dust.

Dickie was a man of routine who did not move much out of Galway. But in the early 1980's he decided, and we helped him, to go to America for a summer supply. He had not been out of the country for nearly 30 years when he boarded the plane for California. Despite his initial trepidation, he loved California once he became accustomed to it. But even in this he was different because Dickie took a supply in an island parish at the edge of a hot desert. And he continued this supply until he retired from teaching, and then he moved into school administration in Coláiste lognáid where his genius at Irish was much appreciated and must have caused many an envious eye in the Department of Education when school reports were processed. When Dickie was taken to hospital just before Easter this year he was very concerned to let the school authorities know that his work for the school right to the end of the summer term was all prepared and sitting on his desk.

He was a man of great discipline. The last time I spoke with him, he was sitting in his room with the door open, seemingly doing nothing. We had a few words and I asked him if he was waiting for something. He replied in his lovely Irish, “When you get to my age, you'll know what I'm waiting for”.

We say good-bye to an excellent teacher held in high esteem by his colleagues, a marvelous companion in community, a scholar and a storyteller, but most of all, a good Jesuit and a holy man. An tAthair Risteard de Buitléar will be missed by many.

In lothlainn Dé go gcastar sinn.

Liam Greene

-oOo-

Funeral Mass of Fr. Richard Butler, SJ
A Jesuits room reveals a great deal about its occupant. The most striking feature about Fr. Dickie's room was how spartan it was. All that was superfluous had been removed by Dickie in the last few years. It was as if he had folded up his tent some time ago and had already moved most of his belongings to a more everlasting home. But not everything was superfluous - some things had to be kept - just in case!

What remained tells you a great deal about this kind and gentle man. Only seven books are to be found on his bookshelf. These books are the New Testament; The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma; The Code of Canon Law; The Catechism of the Catholic Church; The Concise Oxford Dictionary; Dineen's Irish-English Dictionary and The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. Fr. Dickie was a man who thirsted for God, for Truth, for Certitude, for Precision and if the mysteries of faith were sometimes shrouded in darkness, Dickie would struggle for light. If the intricacies of Irish grammar left other mere mortals somewhat disillusioned, Dickie would delight in shedding much needed light.

St. Ignatius warns anyone who might want to be a Jesuit, “Let any such person take care, as long as he lives, first of all to keep before his eyes God and then the nature of this Institute which is, so to speak, a pathway to God; and then let him strive with all his effort to achieve this end set before him by God.” Dickie always strove to remain faithful to his vocation as a Jesuit priest. His personal, unobtrusive fidelity to prayer and the daily celebration of the Eucharist in what became affectionately known in the house as “Dickie's Chapel”, spoke more loudly than long lectures in theology.

Not that Dickie was adverse to theological discussion and argument. He was never too certain about all this new-fangled theology since Vatican II. Sometimes he would put the younger Jesuits through their paces just to check out their theological orthodoxy. I remember one Easter Sunday evening being the victim of one of Dickie's theological inquisitions. In his estimation I probably came out with today's equivalent of a “D3” on the Foundation level paper!

The Ardmháistir of Scoil Iognáid, Niall Ó Murchadha, said to me only last Tuesday, “Bhí an t-Athair de Buitléar go hiontach ag múineadh Teagasc Chríostaí". One of Dickie's past students, now a Jesuit priest himself, remarked how Dickie would insist with the boys (for there were only boys in Coláiste Iognáid then) that they must always remain faithful to the basic truths of Christianity and to the teaching of the Church. However, Dickie confessed to the same class of boys, “Boys, when I was in Honk Kong in the early Fifties, if those Communists had invaded from China brandishing red hot pokers, I'd have said anything they wanted me to - I'd even have sworn that there were twelve persons in the Blessed Trinity!” Here indeed was a good man who though he struggled for Truth, acknowledge his own limitations and kept a gentle sense of humour.

Obviously I chose today's readings with this good man in mind. The first reading spoke of the necessity always to pursue and to respect Wisdom. It said, “Is le hintinn ghlan a d'fhoghlaim me agus tugaim uaim gan doicheall; ni choinnim a saibhreas i bhfolach”, or translated, “What I learned without self interest, I pass on without reserve, I do not intend to hide her riches”. Over the past few days, many of Dickie's past students have spoken to me of their fondness for him as a teacher. They spoke of how organised he was, how every class was planned, how clear he was in explaining the subject matter. But more than that, they spoke of how gentle he was, as the Beatitudes would have us be. A card arrived for Dickie a few days ago, it reads:

“I heard that you were poorly. I am sorry to hear this and so I just wanted to say hello. I'm not sure if you remember me; I finished the Jez in 1981 and you taught me Gaeilge for about five years. If you recall, I was a bit of a chatterbox and, to dissuade me from talking, you used to place me right in front of you. I didn't mind it and it did me no harm. Thank you. I have very fond memories of you teaching us.”

Fr. Dan Dargan, a former parish priest of St. Ignatius' here and a contemporary of Fr. Dickie's in the order said to me the other morning that there was always a “a certain giddy quality” about Dickie, a sense of fun, that twinkle in the eye. Past students of Dickies from the fifties and sixties speak of how he used to delight the young first years by shouting at them (gently, of course) in Cantonese. He objected strongly to the use of bad language in English and so taught his classes how to curse really and truly “as Gaeilge” much to their delight and to the advancement of the Irish language. Even in the last year when Dickie was much more confined to the house, he would often watch the students “ag pleidhcíocht” in the yard and would give a guffaw of laughter. Little did the students know that they were being watched in more ways than one for it was Dickie who right up to the end almost wrote out the term reports for each student in Coláiste Iognáid. He loved to help Joan with this seemingly tedious work, but this was important for Dickie because it meant that this former headmaster was still part of the school administration and Jesuits, as you know, never retire!

My lasting memory of Dickie will be that he was forever whistling Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago. I sometimes wondered did he know any other song. Even in the last months, Dickie would walk along the corridor whistling, and so I found it particularly poignant one day when he stopped me and said in Irish for he always spoke to me in Irish, “Ta a fhios agat, a Bhreandáin, go mbímse i gcónaí ag feadail - níl ansin ach cur i gcêill - taimse ag fulaingt go mór”. Before he went into hospital, this essentially discrete and private man, spoke very movingly of his own physical weakness and sense of anxiety, I thought at that time of the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” in other words, blessed are those who know their own fragility and their need of God. The same beatitude continues with consoling words “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Dickie, guímid uile ar maidin nach bhfuil tuileadh de dhíth ort, go bhfuil tú i gcomhlúadar Dé agus naomh uile - bain sult as an bhfírinne go síoraí, a chara shéimh, uasail.

Brendan Comerford

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Royal Hotel, Waterford City, County Waterford

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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IE IJA

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hierarchical

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830-

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Butler, Richard P, 1915-1999, Jesuit priest

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IE IJA J/588

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IE IJA

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