Type of entity
Authorized form of name
FitzGerald, John, 1919-2012, Jesuit priest
Parallel form(s) of name
Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules
Other form(s) of name
Identifiers for corporate bodies
Dates of existence
29 September 1919-13 January 2012
Born: 29 September 1919, Dublin / Kilkenny City
Entered: 07 September 1937, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1950, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 02 February 1953
Died: 13 January 2012, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin - Zambia-Malawi Province (ZAM)
Part of the St Ignatius community , Lower Leeson Street, Dublin at the time of death.
by 1953 at London (ANG) studying
◆ Companions in Mission1880- Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Obituaries :
Note from Patrick (Sher) Sherry Entry
“We imagine his going left many hearts empty and evoked memories of all kinds of services and kindnesses, not least his unfailing patience and cheerfulness”. With these words Fr John Fitzgerald, writing from the Seychelles, summed up well the immediate aftermath of Br Sherry's death on the night of Saturday 5 November 1983.
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/60-years-after-the-milltown-fire/
60 years after the Milltown Fire
At 5.40 a.m. on Friday, 11 February, 1949, a fire was discovered in a pantry of the Milltown Park building where the community lived. The fire brigade was summoned, and shouts went up to arouse those sleeping nearby. The fire was of the “flash-over” type: propagated by the secret spread of smoulder inside floors, stairs, partitions and lofts until a critical temperature is reached and the smoulder bursts into flames simultaneously at different points. At ten to six, with a muffled explosion, a great wave of fire and smoke rose up to the roof and flowed into the corridors of the house. The roof was in flames, the lights went out and within minutes the whole place was engulfed in thick smoke and fumes. Within two hours Fr Jimmy Johnston was burned to death, Michael Reidy was injured, and the Milltown building was a ruin. Below, Fr John Fitzgerald recalls that winter morning :
I rose early and left my room with a jug to get hot water. There was some commotion below, with the sound of jugs filling. I cried: “I’ll go down to help” – but a shout came up: “Get out!” All I recall is hurrying back, putting on shoes and some clothes, and calling Des Coyle, my neighbour. “There seems to be a fire. We’re ordered to get out.”
By now there was some heat and smoke. I made for the fire escape across the corridor. An iron ladder was the lifeline for about 30 Jesuits on the two upper stories. Barring an emergency, none of us would have tackled that ladder, as it was narrow and vertical and passed some distance from the window sills. There was no hesitation then.
We gathered on the grass between the refectory and the library. Mick Reidy was on the projection of a bay window. We urged him to jump. Michael was no athlete. He dropped like a stone, fell on the grassy slope and back into the area, fracturing his spine. That was the only injury, but sadly there was a fatality. Jimmy Johnston had the last room on the top floor. He was to have said the late Mass at the convent, so while his neighbours hurried to safety Jimmy slept and the flames raced up. He left his room too late and was overpowered on the corridor.
All those on the first floor would have probably survived, provided they waited behind closed doors. Those on the top floor were surely saved by the fire escape. Fr Packy Gannon was at the end of the first floor and when he turned his doorknob his hand was burned. He was making his peace with God when the fireman came. Dick Brennan and Piaras O’Higgins were rescued from the roof of the roadside bay window. Piaras’ mother remarked: “Piaras would usually fall over a pin!”
We gathered near the Minister’s House (the reception area in today’s Milltown). It was an awesome sight to watch the fire fighters, and the fire engulfing the upper rooms, and showers of sparks scattering upwards as the roof fell in. We saw a fireman shepherding down Fr Edmund Power from the topmost room of the Minister’s House. Back inside Fr Tommy Byrne told us that Jimmy Johnston was missing. Soon after, a fireman brought down his body.
Some final reflections: Those on the top floor lost everything. Jim Corboy and my brother Eddy had a souvenirs the corpus of a vow crucifix half melted by the heat. If I had closed my door I would have lost nothing to fire. The smell was all pervading, and unlike anything experienced before or since.
A sad note to end. Jimmy Johnston was a kindly and thoughtful soul, scholarly and sensitive. In 1945 he handed over senior history classes to me in Clongowes. Caring and perceptive as ever, he tried to alert me to the pitfalls ahead, as he foresaw the fate of one ill-equipped to enliven later medieval European history. At Milltown we gardened together and shared an interest in nature.
Jimmy’s death came as an immense shock to his family. I don’t think his elderly mother could take in the tragedy. Perhaps the circumstances were kept from her. But Jimmy’s younger brother was deeply saddened, puzzled and disappointed. Why had Jimmy alone died? How was it no-one had thought of him? It was hard to reassure, and besides Fr Tyndall in his imperious manner waved Eddie and me away as we approached the family at the coffin. The whole episode of 11 February was mysterious and tragic, but also miraculous for most, and befitting the Lourdes feast.
Fr Sullivan: the last witness
Fr John Fitzgerald SJ, the last surviving Jesuit to have been taught in Clongowes by Fr John Sullivan, shared some precious memories at the commemorative Mass :
The bones of Fr John Sullivan are your precious possession. They draw his clients from near and far. If John is beatified, St Francis Xavier’s will be a place of pilgrimage like St Thomas a’Becket is at Canterbury, Blessed Pope John XXIII at St Peter’s, Bl. Mother Teresa at Calcutta, and as Cardinal Newman will be at the Oratory in Birmingham. The people in a quiet corner of County Kildare still keep such fond memories of John. They were greatly saddened when his bones were taken away from them for Gardiner Street in 1961. It is a sad separation they will always feel. In fact his grave has been visited ever since.
The relocation of Father’s bones is as good for his cause as it is for you who give them this new home. You have always by your devotion shown how grateful you are to have him. You bring him day by day the stories of your needs – they are always pressing and often sad. John listens – he was always a ready and eager listener to others’ worries.
Coming to St Francis Xavier’s was in a sense a homecoming. John had been baptised in Temple Street (St George’s), and Dublin was his home until he joined the Jesuits. During the years in Clongowes, the City’s hospitals, the Mater included, were within range of his trusty old bicycle.
Sometimes people have asked me what was he really like. Some have a nagging impression that he must have been an ascendancy type, as his father was a baronet and he had passed through Portora Royal School to Trinity College. My own memory of him – clear and vivid – is of a humble, entirely self-effacing person, riveted on the one thing necessary, the commandment of love. He was completely focussed on the needs of others, particularly of the poor and suffering. For him the face of the Lord was there. Gardiner Street would have been an ideal assignment with so much sickness, suffering and poverty all around in the hungry years between the wars.
Clongowes in its rural isolation does not seem an ideal place for one so drawn to the poor and suffering. I knew John in the last three years of his life – my memories are boy’s memories – a child’s impressions – but still so vivid. His appearance so well captured in Sean Keating’s drawing – the sunken cheeks, the fine crop of brown hair, the bowed head, the penetrating eyes – a true man of God. I remember his wrinkled leathery hands. Meeting you on a stone corridor on a bleak cold winter’s evening he would clap those hands and say “Cheer up, cheer up, cheer up”. He well knew the mood of small boys – short of funds, nursing chilblains and facing into two hours’ study. I have a memory of Johnny O shuffling quickly from the sacristy, head bowed, halting at the altar rails – a welcome interruption to the evening rosary. Always he would describe a visit he had made to some sick or dying person. He was no gifted story-teller, no gifted preacher. There were no embellishments; sincerity shone through, telling of his complete devotion to the sick and needy.
John was occupied with the People’s Church and the boys’ spiritual needs with very little teaching. He took the smallest ones for Religion classes. Often we delighted to annoy him by rowdiness and irreverence. This drew the condemnation we intended: “Audacious fellow – pugnacious fellow!” Deep down we revered him, but we played on him.
If some day you visit the Boys’ Chapel, you see at the back on your left Fr John’s Confessional. The “toughs” – the ones never selected as prefects and who won no prizes – were most often there. The smaller boys would crowd into his very bare room after supper. We would come away with rosaries and Agnus Deis which John got from convents he knew. The People’s Church is the easiest place for a visitor to find. There is where John spent long hours andhelped so many in times of trial. There he prayed long after the boys were tucked in bed.
Father John was our Spiritual Father. His life and interests revolved round the boys’ spiritual needs. He took no part and had no interest in our games – never appeared at matches, debates, concerts or plays. Free time meant time for prayer or the sick. No use asking Johnny O to pray for victory at Croke Park today, buthe will listen to your sorrows, he will pray for your sick and departed ones.
The day of Fr John’s funeral in 1933 comes back clearly. I was in the youngest group and so was up front in the Chapel, and near the coffin. I tried without success to cut off a splinter – as a keepsake, a relic. We had been privileged to know Fr John for three years. Not everyone is so blessed – perhaps only a few have been close to saintliness in one who so well mirrored the Lord Jesus, the Suffering Servant. It is a joy to be here in St Francis Xavier’s and to share your treasure – the Venerable John Sullivan.
◆ Irish Jesuit Missions : https://www.jesuitmissions.ie/news/198-interview-with-late-fr-john-fitzgerald-sj
Interview with late Fr. John Fitzgerald SJ
Fr. John Fitzgerald, SJ died on 13th January 2012 in Cherryfield Nursing Home, Ranelagh after a long illness which he bore graciously to the end. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetry following the funeral mass in Milltown Park Chapel on Monday 16th January. Below is an interview with Fr. Fitzgerald before his death in which he recounts his experience of Zambia as a Jesuit Missionary.
‘Zambia was a completely new world,’ began Fr. John Fitzgerald, as he recalled his years spent in Africa. It is certainly easy to imagine that the Northern Rhodesian bush, as it then was, would have been a world away from Fr. Fitzgerald’s native Killiney!
Fr. Fitzgerald was born in 1919, and was educated at Clongowes Wood College before joining the Jesuits in 1937. He was ordained with his brother Teddy in 1950. He spent 48 years of his life abroad, living and working in Zambia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Seychelles, before returning to Ireland in 2001. Although it was only one of many posts, it was Africa on which his mind used to dwell.
Fr. Fitzgerald was sent to the Jesuit mission station in Chikuni, Zambia in 1953, where he worked at St. Canisius College, the Jesuit-run secondary school, and Charles Lwanga Teachers’ College, a centre for trainee teachers. Although he did not view himself as a natural teacher, witnessing the benefits of education proved to be his greatest consolation in mission. Seeing students on the path to better career prospects and a higher salary was gratifying because of the appreciation displayed by the students. In his own words, ‘you didn’t give them very much, but they’d gobble it up. They were good, eager students- even though I wasn’t a good teacher!’
Listening to Fr. Fitzgerald, one couldn’t help but conjure up exoticised images of a world completely foreign to our own. This was particularly true of his descriptions of the physical landscape, the seasons, and the flora and fauna. Life was governed by the changing seasons rather than the ticking clock, and everything depended on the coming of the rains. Although the landscape would remain dusty and barren during the dry season, ‘in the rainy season, everything changed. You quickly had a carpeting of all kinds of wild flowers, all totally different in appearance... I was teaching in a rural area, and so much depended on the rain.’ With the rain, however, came danger: thunderstorms were frequent, and injury by lightning was not unheard of. Other occupational hazards included venomous snakes and poisonous spiders, with the puff adder being the most dreaded. If one stood on a puff adder, it could be fatal: because of the distance to the hospital, it was difficult to receive the necessary antidote. For this reason, snakes were always quickly ‘dispatched’, regardless of their species!Climate and wildlife were not the only differences which Fr. Fitzgerald encountered. He soon came to realise that Zambian Catholicism was expressed in ways which would be unfamiliar to Irish Catholics.
‘They threw themselves into Christianity wholeheartedly. In comparison to what we are used to here, they are much more demonstrative in their piety: they sing, they dance, they participate. Kneeling in silence, as we do, might be completely foreign to Tongan Christians.’ New and innovative ways of expressing Christian worship were devised to accommodate Zambian culture. One such method involved using local hunting songs as templates from which to create Christian hymns: this allowed people to experience a message which was unfamiliar in a format which they recognised. These hymns are still sung in Zambia today.
Missionaries in Africa have always worked as agents of development, and Fr. Fitzgerald believed that development is a key part of the missionary project: ‘Christianity cannot make any headway unless people also develop economically. Without development, I don’t think Christianity could be easily accommodated.’ He stated that Dr. Corboy, who was appointed Bishop of Monze, Zambia, in 1962, was interested in developing Africa ‘along African lines’, so as to ‘promote the African.’ There was a great emphasis on promoting development in such a way that it fit with African culture.
However, some cultural practices were found to be difficult to integrate with Catholicism. Fr. Fitzgerald argued that the ‘superstitions’ of the Tonga had an occasional tendency to ‘spill over into Christian living’. This was particularly apparent with regards to local understandings of health and sickness. Because the Tonga believed that all misfortune could be attributed to evil spirits, there was a constant struggle over their reactions to hospitals and Western medicine. Certain practices which were antithetical to Christian living also proved difficult to stamp out. For example, some converts would revert to polygamy because it was seen as an economic practice which was necessary for subsistence farming.
As an Irishman, Fr. Fitzgerald admitted that he originally found the cultural divide between Killiney and Chikuni quite difficult to bridge. However, the influence and efforts of other Jesuits, some of whom produced cultural studies, English-Tongan dictionaries, and works of anthropology, made the transition more manageable for those who came later. ‘In our days it was a good deal different, but later works focused more on enculturation.’
Although the Chikuni mission is now run by Zambian locals, there is still a part for Irish Catholics to play in promoting the missionary spirit. Fr. Fitzgerald believed that volunteering is a great help: ‘the fact that people are willing to go out and work must make a big impression [on their hosts].’ Such work benefits not only the recipients, but also the volunteers, by ‘breaking down barriers’ and facilitating the opening of a ‘global conversation.’
Fr. Fitzgerald always remained optimistic about the future of the Jesuits in Africa. Vocations have been successfully promoted, and studies for the religious life, from first interest up to ordination, are completed in Africa. Returning missionaries are happy to pass the torch to their African brothers; this was, of course, always the end goal! ‘It’s a healthy looking, locally-grounded church. The Jesuits will continue to do excellent work there, just as they do here in Ireland and in our other foreign Provinces.
All indications are that it will become stronger.’
Republic of Seychelles
Functions, occupations and activities
Mandates/sources of authority
Access points area
Subject access points
Place access points
- County Dublin » Dublin City
- County Laois (Queen's) » Emo » St Mary's
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Lower Leeson Street » St Ignatius
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Milltown » Cherryfield Lodge
- England » London
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park
- County Kildare » Clane » Clongowes Wood College SJ
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Glasnevin » Glasnevin Cemetery
- Zambia (N. Rhodesia) » Chikuni » Canisius College (Chikuni)
- Zambia (N. Rhodesia) » Charles Lwanga College
- Papua New Guinea
Authority record identifier
IE IJA J/774