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Johnston, William, 1925-2010, Jesuit priest

  • IE IJA J/776
  • Person
  • 30 July 1925-12 October 2010

Born: 30 July 1925, Belfast, County Antrim
Entered: 20 September 1943, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 24 March 1957, St Ignatius, Tokyo, Japan
Final Vows: 02 February 1961, Tokyo, Japan
Died: 12 October 2010, SJ House, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan - Japanese province (JPN)

Transcribed HIB to JPN: 02 February 1961
Grew up in Holyhead, Wales and Liverpool, England, and returned to Belfast.

by 1952 at Eiko, Yokosuka-shi, Japan (JPN) studying
by 1954 at Sophia University, Tokyo (JPN) Regency teaching
by 1955 at Nerima-ku, Tokyo (JPN) studying

◆ Jesuits in Ireland :

Goodbye to Bill

Fr Bill Johnston, who has died in Tokyo, had a good send-off, reflecting the remarkable impact of this diffident Belfast-born Jesuit. It included a message from President Mary McAleese: ‘I’m so sorry to hear of Father Johnston’s death, though glad for him that his suffering is over and he has reached life’s best destination. May he be enjoying a heavenly welcome.’ The Archbishop of Tokyo (whom Bill had baptised) led the funeral Mass in St Ignatius’ Church, accompanied by the Irish Ambassador, some thirty priests and Archbishop Pittau SJ. The Irish Times plans an obituary. All friends are welcome to a Month’ s Mind Mass in Milltown Park at noon on Friday, 12 November. The photo of Bill reproduced here was taken in 1988.

William Johnston SJ, RIP
Bill Johnson SJ, the Irish Jesuit internationally renowned for his work on mysticism and inter-faith dialogue, died peacefully this morning, Tuesday 12 October in Tokyo, Japan. Born in Belfast on 30 July 1925, he entered the Jesuits on 20 September 1943. He was ordained a priest on March 24 1957 and spent many years of his life in Japan where he became actively involved in inter-religious dialogue, especially with the Buddhists. Writing in an article for The Tablet in the aftermath of 9/11 he claimed, “We used to say that dialogue between the religions is necessary for world peace. Now we can say that dialogue between the religions is necessary for world survival.” He was well known also for his best-selling books on mysticism, including Silent Music, The Still Point, and The Inner Eye of Love. Read the full text of Bill’s Tablet article below. May he rest in peace.

Death of Bill Johnston SJ
Bill Johnson SJ, the Irish Jesuit internationally renowned for his work on mysticism and inter-faith dialogue, died on Tuesday 12 October in Tokyo, Japan.

Born in Belfast on 30 July 1925, he entered the Jesuits on 20 September 1943. He was ordained a priest on March 24 1957 and spent many years of his life in Japan where he became actively involved in inter-religious dialogue, especially with the Buddhists. He was well known also for his best-selling books on mysticism, including Silent Music, The Still Point, and The Inner Eye of Love. May he rest in peace.

William Johnston
Born in a time in Northern Ireland when religious strife and segregation was prevalent, William Johnston went on to become one of the foremost persons in the area of interfaith dialogue, after encountering Buddhism while in Japan.
William Johnston was born in 1925 in Belfast, the youngest of four sons. When he was seven his family moved first to Holyhead in Wales, then to Liverpool. At fifteen he returned to Belfast, where he attended St Malachy’s College. In 1943, having finished school, Johnston entered the noviciate for the Society of Jesus, in Tullabeg, Co. Laois. While studying philosophy in Tullabeg, he was assigned to Japan, so in 1951 he travelled east. He first spent two years learning Japanese in a Jesuit community south of Tokyo, before moving to Sophia University in the city, where he taught English.
Johnston went to Japan expecting to preach and convert. While studying theology in Shakujii, however, he began to develop a fascination with Buddhism, in particular Zen Buddhism, and mysticism. He saw that for all the differences between his religion and those he encountered in Japan, when it came to meditation and the search for wisdom the great religions shared a common ground. From this revelation came what would be a lifelong involvement in inter-religious dialogue, in particular between Buddhism and Christianity.
When he travelled to Rome in 1958 for six months he further immersed himself in mysticism and transcendental meditation. He later called his time there a ‘revolution in my life’. Once he returned to Japan to resume teaching in 1960, having spent a short while in a New York parish, Johnston read the great 14th century mystical work, The Cloud of Unknowing. He was enthralled. He began then to write on it, work which he later turned into his doctoral thesis, later published as The Mysticism of the Cloud of Unknowing.
Following this Johnston’s next major endeavour was the translation of a novel called Chinmoku, written by Endo Shusaku, a Japanese Catholic. The book, released as Silence, tells the story of a Jesuit apostate in Japan, and because of this many of Johnston’s colleagues weren’t pleased that he chose it. The translation, released in 1969, was highly regarded, and it introduced the acclaimed novel and writer to a new audience. Johnston met Endo when undertaking the translation, and they remained friends until Endo’s death in 1996.
Johnston continued to write over the decades that followed, and he amassed a wider and wider following. He was in demand as a teacher and travelled extensively, to China, the Philippines, Australia and elsewhere. In 2006 he released an autobiography titled Mystical Journey. Johnston died in 2010, in Tokyo.

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 144 : Spring 2011


Fr William Johnston (1925-2010) : Japanese Province

Bill, the youngest of four boys, was born in Belfast, a city torn with political and religious tension and strife. Those earliest years scarred Bill's memory for the rest of his life. When he was eight, the family moved to Wales, and a year later to Liverpool, where Bill went to Xavier, the Jesuit school. He appreciated his Jesuit teachers but hated the use of corporal punishment. When Liverpool was targetted by German bombers in World War II, the family returned to Belfast and Bill completed his secondary education in St Malachy's College. He entered the Jesuit noviciate in Emo in 1943, did a BA in Classics in UCD, then studied philosophy in Tullabeg. The saintly Fr John Hyde later told Donal Doyle that of all the scholastics he had ever taught, Bill Johnston had the most brilliant mind.

In 1951 he and Gerry Bourke were accepted for the Japanese mission, and it was in Tokyo that he was ordained priest in 1957, taught English Literature in Sophia University, and enrolled for a doctorate in theology there. He did his dissertation on the anonymous medieval classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. Bill's book The Mysticism of 'The Cloud of Unknowing’, with a preface by Thomas Merton, became an authoritative work and set the tone for a lifelong spiritual journey through various styles of prayer. Bill had felt drawn to prayer from his early years, and the titles of his books reflect his spiritual journey: The still point: reflections on Zen and Christian mysticism (1970); Christian Zen (1971); Silent music: the science of meditation (1974); The inner eye of love: mysticism and religion (1978); The mirror mind: spirituality and transformation (1981); The wounded stag: Christian mysticism today (1984); Being in love: the practice of Christian prayer (1988); Letters to a contemplative (1991); Mystical theology: the science of love (1995); Arise, my love: mysticism for a new era (2000); Mystical journey; an autobiography (2006). He also translated Endo Shusaku's Silence (1969), and Nagai Takashi's Bells of Nagasaki (1984).

Because of the popularity of his books, Bill became well known around the world and, while continuing to teach religion at Sophia University, he gave talks and retreats in many countries, and was appointed to direct the tertians in the Philippines for two years. The last and most memorable of his retreats was to diocesan priests in China just a few months before he collapsed into his final illness.

As the book-titles suggest, Bill engaged actively in religious dialogue, especially with Buddhists. He wrote euphorically about the religious summits in Assisi convoked by Pope John Paul II, which he felt heralded the new era" implied in the title of Arise my love. He took part in a World Religious Summit in Hieizan in 2007. Throughout all this, his love for silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was remarkable. If he was not in his room or had gone out somewhere, he would often be found in the Chapel in silent prayer. With his prayer group of lay people, he would bring the Blessed Sacrament to a small chapel where they would pray silently together.

The Teacher
Bill first appeared in my life in 1944 as a teacher, instructing Michael Crowe and me in the customs of the Jesuit Noviciate in Emo. Indeed Michael was already a mystic. Bill was our angelus, the second-year novice who looks after a couple of first-years. He went on to be a great teacher. Most of his books were essentially didactic, teaching people how to pray. Being in Love begins: “You have asked me, Thomas, to write to you about the art of prayer” - and he goes on to instruct, with clarity and order,

Skip nearly sixty years. One morning in 2002 I had breakfast with Bill in Manresa, a chance to renew an old friendship. Looking back on the years since our noviceship, I ask him over breakfast:

“Bill, your life is productive. You have made a difference. You have helped countless people across the world. You have written bestselling and original books, lectured in your Japanese university and in many other countries. Of all the things you have done, what would you like to be remembered by? What was most worthwhile?”

Bill blushed, which he did easily, though his red hair had turned white. And he thought for a bit before replying: “I taught some people to pray”.

“When you say ‘taught’, I asked, do you mean by your writing and lecturing?”

“No, no”, he answered. “I mean that individuals asked me how to pray, and I taught them, one by one. Some of them were Europeans who came to Japan to learn Zen meditation, but they had no experience of the Christian tradition of interior prayer which goes back two thousand years. I taught them- that makes me happy”.

I thought about this. It was not what I expected. Bill was an international figure. He was moving on from Manresa to give a retreat to Lutherans in Sweden. He was just back from lecturing in USA. But he did not rate that as high as helping people to pray.

He saw prayer not so much as a private devotion, but as the only hope for the future of mankind. At the Assisi meeting of the world's religious bodies Pope John Paul II had said that the exigencies of peace “transcend all religions”. Bill took this further: “I still ask myself if we can develop the Pope's thought in such a way that people throughout the world – with or without religion - will be willing to sit together in silence, faithful to their own beliefs but united in a great love for peace and for the earth”.

He was a good teacher because he had learned from experience, reflecting on the history of his heart in the same way as Ignatius did. His journey had been a lengthy one, from Ireland his mother to Japan his wife (as he liked to put it), from the sectarian hatreds of Belfast to a philosophy of love, and from the stringent logic of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises to a contemplation in which the body and the heart were what counted.

That was one of his lifelong struggles: did he belong in the Jesuits, where the spirituality he had been taught in Emo was so rational, conscious, intellectual? He came to see that Ignatius himself was not like that, but a true mystic, reaching beyond language, so much in love with God that his tears of joy in prayer threatened to damage his eyesight. Bill too was a man who wept easily, and knew the ecstasy of falling in love. His friendships, with both men and women, were immensely important to him. Yet in prayer he knew the value of habit and discipline in opening oneself to the Lord.

His first advice was: Attend to your breathing; then to your posture – straight back, eyes half closed, in lotus position if you can manage it. Then find a mantra, a phrase that you can repeat: Jesus, Come Holy Spirit, or the like. Give time to prayer - Bill himself was faithful to an hour's meditation every day, and as the years passed be loved to spend longer periods with the Blessed Sacrament.

Dark nights
Bill knew that it would not be all sweetness and light. He went through difficult periods. On a mission to India his money, passport, visa and tickets were stolen, and he had to cancel a retreat because he could not travel. He was left alone to manage a tertianship in the Philippines and was forced to realise that his strength was in teaching, not administration. He opted to make a 30-day retreat in USA under a famous director, but was so shaken by his confrontations that he fell sick. The shadow of the Cross often fell upon him. He suffered a great deal from what he felt were abuses of truth, as when well-known theologians were censured in different ways. At such times Bill became angry and critical of how things were being done. But he continued to pray, and in time, as the storm abated, peace and the love of life returned.

St Teresa of Avila warns that ordinarily one does not enter the seventh mansion (the apex of mystical prayer) without severe illness and pain. When Bill read this, he reacted: For me this is frightening, and I hope the great Carmelite is wrong. Alas, she was right. The real history of Bill lies not in his books, lectures or travels, nor in the things that he did, but in the steady work of God, putting him through a long dark night of sleeplessness and anxiety, and finally stilling him with paralysis. Even words failed as he lost the power of coherent speech. The last two years may well have been the most formative of his entire life, when God, not Bill, was active. The book that he had had constantly come back to was the anonymous Cloud of Unknowing, which urges us to seek God not through knowledge but through what the author calls a "naked intent" and a “blind Love”.

After two years in which he could neither move nor speak, Bill has gone beyond the Cloud of Unknowing to that happiness where, as St Paul writes: Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. The impression of his final weeks could be summed up in the word Peace. It was written on his face almost as though he had caught a glimpse of the happiness promised in the Gospel. May God be good to him.

Paul Andrews, helped especially by Dermot Brangan and Donal Doyle

MacErlean, John C, 1870-1950, Jesuit priest, historian and archivist

  • IE IJA J/462
  • Person
  • 15 February 1870-24 March 1950

Born: 15 February 1870, Belfast, County Antrim
Entered: 28 September 1888, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1904
Final Vows: 15 August 1907, St Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street, Dublin
Died: 24 March 1950, Milltown Park, Dublin

Brother of Andrew MacErlean - LEFT 1908

by 1893 at Exaeten College, Limburg, Netherlands (GER) studying
by 1895 at St Aloysius, Jersey Channel Islands (FRA) studying
by 1906 at Manresa, Spain (ARA) making Tertianship
by 1925 at Rome, Italy (ROM) writing Province History

◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
MacErlean, John Campbell (Mac Fhir Léinn, Eoin)
by Vincent Morley

MacErlean, John Campbell (Mac Fhir Léinn, Eoin) (1870–1950), Irish-language scholar and church historian, was born 15 February 1870 in Belfast, son of Andrew MacErlean, legal clerk, and Eliza MacErlean (née Campbell). Having attended St Malachy's College, Belfast, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tullabeg, King's Co. (1888), and graduated with a BA from the Royal University (1892). After further study on the Continent he returned to Ireland and taught classics and four modern languages (Irish, French, Italian, and German) at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, for six years. His colleagues at Clongowes included Fr Patrick Dinneen (qv), and MacErlean has been credited with arousing the latter's interest in Irish.

MacErlean showed an interest in Irish as early as 1887 when he collected phrases while on a brief visit to Rathlin Island, although it was not until 1895 that he published this material. He was elected to the Gaelic League's central branch in 1899 and his first scholarly work, an edition of the poetry of Geoffrey Keating (qv), appeared in 1900. After his ordination in 1904 he completed his religious training at Barcelona, where he also acquired a knowledge of Spanish. On his return to Ireland he began to research his most important work, an edition of the poetry of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (qv) that appeared in three volumes between 1910 and 1917. In the same period he assisted his fellow Jesuit Edmund Hogan (qv) in the preparation of Onomasticon Goedelicum, an index to Irish placenames that was published in 1910. MacErlean was also drawn towards church history: in 1912 he edited seven poems addressed to Eoin Ó Cuileanáin, bishop of Raphoe (1629–c.1658) in the first volume of Archivium Hibernicum; in 1914 his study of the synod of Ráith Bressail, based on the evidence of Keating's Foras feasa ar Éirinn, appeared in the same journal; for many years he was a frequent reviewer of books on church history for Studies; and in 1939 he argued in Analecta Bollandiana that the ‘Silva Focluti’ mentioned in the Confessio of St Patrick (qv) should be identified with modern Magherafelt. Charged by his superiors with the task of collecting materials for a history of the Irish province of the Society of Jesus, he spent two years researching the subject in the archives of Italy, Spain, and Portugal and compiled copious notes, but the history remained unwritten at his death. He also researched the history of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, and the material he collected was used by a biographer of Catherine McAuley (qv).

MacErlean taught theology in the Jesuit novitiate at Milltown Park, Dublin, for twenty-five years and continued to live there until the end of his life. He died in Dublin on 24 March 1950.

‘Irish in Rathlin’, Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge, Dec. 1895, 140; Roland Burke Savage, Catherine McAuley: the first Sister of Mercy (1949), p. ix; Ir, Independent, 25 Mar. 1950; Proinsias Ó Conluain and Donncha Ó Céileachair, An Duinníneach (1958), 102–5; Hayes, Sources: periodicals, iii, 460–62; F. X. Martin and F. J. Byrne, The scholar revolutionary (1973), 317; Aubrey Gwynn, ‘A forgotten Irish theologian’, Studies, xliii (1974), 259; Beathaisnéis, iii (1992), 53

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 25th Year No 3 1950


Fr. John MacErlean (1870-1888-1950)

Fr. John MacErlean was born in Belfast on 15th February, 1870: and was educated at St. Malachy's College. He entered the noviceship at Tullabeg 28th September, 1888, and graduated in the Royal University in 1892. He did philosophy at Exaten in Holland and in Jersey. He taught for six years in Clongowes. He did theology in Milltown Park and was ordained 31st July, 1904; Tertianship followed, in Barcelona.
As a young man he collaborated with Fr. E. Hogan in the compilation of the standard work on Irish place names. He worked for two years in the libraries and archives of Italy, Spain and Portugal. He devoted many years of strenuous research to the promotion of the cause of the Irish martyrs.
For twenty-five years he was Professor in Milltown Park.
He published scholarly editions of the works of Keating and O'Bruadair for the Irish Texts Society, and contributed many articles to “Analecta Bollandiana”, “Gaelic Journal”, “Archivum Hibernicum”, “Studies” and “Irish Monthly”. He supplied much of the matter for other historical writers.

An Appreciation :
In the old Gaelic economy there was a class of men called fir leighinn: men of learning, professors, lectors. From these Fr. John MacErlean got a surname of which he was proud and to which he brought honour.
Father MacErlean was a versatile man, He excelled not only in the usual studies of the Society, but in much else. It is doubtful whether any one of our time had such a comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the language, history and literary monuments of Gaelic Ireland. He was an admirable Latin and Greek scholar. He knew Sanskrit and Hebrew, and among modern languages, German, French and Spanish. He had a special gift for languages. He was not, perhaps, specially fluent in speaking, though the writer remembers his free German spoken in the Roman Forum to a lady who sought information about a monument. It is a little difficult to define in what his power lay. He seemed to reverse the conventional direction in language study which is to work from the periphery to the centre. He appeared to begin at the centre and proceed outwards. Even a Cursory examination of his editions of Keating and O Bruadair attests the power and accuracy of his scholarship in a domain in which he had to depend on his own resources and could not with impunity fall below the exacting standards of Irish textual studies.
For many years Fr. MacErlean taught Church History in Milltown Park. He specialised in the History of the Irish Church and of the Irish Province of the Society. In the former domain he had few peers, in the latter none. He devoted much time and labour to collecting and collating materials for Irish hagiography, for Irish Causes for Beatification, in particular for the Cause of Mother Catherine McAuley, Foundress of the Sister's of Mercy. We have heard it reported that an ecclesiastical judge acclaimed him as an incomparable witness before such tribunals.
But the quality of Fr. MacErlean's learning was even more remark able than its range. His mind was acutely critical not only in professional subjects, but in the discussion of current topics or of a newspaper report. It was also very exact. He was impatient of approximations and of loose generalities. He acquired the scholastic genius for bringing the question at issue to the test of the simple proposition with subject and predicate clearly defined. He had considerable dialectical skill and could defend his views with great ingenuity. He enjoyed nothing better on a rustication evening that defending some unpopular cause against all comers. He had a natural attraction for difficult studies and problems, and was never satisfied until he had got to the root of a question or reached the prime sources. He had a bent for establishing indices and vocabularies. The index to Migne in the Milltown Library is his, so is a vocabulary to the Writings of St. Patrick, so, too, is a valuable glossary of words and phrases from old Irish Texts. Apart from the daily paper he had little or no interest in ephemeral literature, but there was no new publication of scholarly interest which escaped his attention.
Fr. MacErlean's production in later years did not answer common expectation. We are the poorer for want of a history of the Province from one who wrote well and had a unique knowledge of the sources. As an offset to this loss we may notice that the Archives are the richer for the mass of historical material which he collected for others to exploit. Further, it may be fairly contended that the less he published over his own name in later years, the more he helped and inspired others to write. He was constantly reviewing some MS at the author's request, providing references and reading lists, solving historical and textual problems. He gave freely of his learning and time to many, and the annotations which he wrote in his neat legible hand in answer to a question were a model of accuracy and relevancy,
In fine Father MacErlean was a scholar of the first rank, not surpassed in his own field by any contemporary and worthy of a place among the eminent Irish scholars of the New and Old Society.
So far we have dealt with Fr. MacErlean's academic achievements. Of other things we must speak briefly. He was a man of strong character and uncompromising opinions strongly held on many subjects. He defended them in a spirit of independence and with great moral courage, though without rancour or bitterness. For all his learning he was the most modest and simple of men. He had a special charism for the direction of religious women. Communities to whom he had given the Exercises in his youth were still asking him twenty and thirty years later. He was much consulted by convents of the Dublin district, Nor should we omit to record his apostolate over many years in Donnybrook Convent. Only those who have met the sisters in charge could credit the amazing influence and power for good which he exercised over the penitents.
Not so long ago Fr. MacErlean told the writer that every night he recited a Gaelic quatrain which dedicates lying down to sleep as lying down to die. This was one of the rare and fugitive glimpses of the inner life of a great and good man who was not given to self-revelation, Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam.

McGlade, Patrick, 1891-1966, Jesuit priest

  • IE IJA J/287
  • Person
  • 03 April 1891-13 August 1966

Born: 03 April 1891, Belfast, County Antrim
Entered: 07 September 1909, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1923, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1931, Clongowes Wood College SJ, County Kildare
Died: 13 August 1966, Warrenpoint, County Down

Part of the Clongowes Wood College, Naas, County Kildare community at the time of death.

Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ

Had studied for a BA in Arts at UCD before entry.

by 1914 at Valkenburg Netherlands (GER) studying
by 1915 at Stonyhurst England (ANG) studying
1925-1926 Tertianshiup at Exaeten

◆ Fr Edmund Hogan SJ “Catalogica Chronologica” :
Loose leaf note in CatChrn : Entitled “Left Stonyhurst for Castle Brown”
23 Oct 1815

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 42nd Year No 1 1967

Obituary :

Fr Patrick McGlade SJ (1891-1965)

Father Patrick McGlade was born in Belfast on April 3rd, 1891. He spent some years at St. Malachy's College, Belfast, before going to Clongowes where he spent five years as a boy. He entered the Society on September 7th, 1909. He studied as a Junior in Milltown Park. His philosophy was divided between Valkenburg (1913-14) and Stoneyhurst (1914-16). He returned to Clongowes for his regency from 1916-1921-filling the posts of Gallery Prefect and Lower Line Prefect the latter from 1917-21. He then went to Milltown Park for his theology and was ordained on July 31st, 1923. Tertianship was in Holland. The remainder of his life is divided as follows :
Clongowes : Prefect of Studies 1926-27, Prefect of Lower Line 1927-31. Crescent : Teaching 1931-33. Emo Park : Retreat Staff. 1933-34. Clongowes : Teaching 1934-62.

I am glad to pay tribute to Father McGlade as a Line Prefect. As a young priest he was an extremely effective Lower Line Prefect in Clongowes, able to maintain the confident control which they need and like over boys of fifteen or sixteen, This was done without excessive severity, because his aim was not to produce a cowed, regimented, submissiveness, which might have made life easy for him. Discipline was never an end in itself he had some thing to give. Notably he engendered enthusiasm for photography, good literature and music. Silence in the library was insisted upon because he rightly judged that many boys relished that quiet refuge from the harassments of mob life. He took pains to develop taste in music, not merely to pander to immature standards; his dramatic scratching of the key across a low-grade gramophone record left an indelible impression on my mind as well as on the particular song. At this period he taught English - as he did for many years afterwards and managed to convey to a rather restless group some appreciation of the beauty, and power, of words. His own sermons and “declamations” were delivered in an immensely impressive, softly booming tone, and with an exquisite choice of words. They were invariably enjoyed.
What about games? He created, or directed, keenness for high standards in rugby, cricket, tennis, hurling and hockey, etc.; this without ever, to my knowledge, kicking a ball or handling a racket or bat. One felt, in spite of this, that he was thoroughly, un questionably competent. His performance as a rugby referee was accurate and stylish. But he commanded from an eminence; no one expected him to come down into the melee, indeed they would have been embarrassed if he had; he was riot to be jostled, Here again one learnt by experience that games vigorously and skilfully played were the most enjoyable.
There was a certain fascination about him, partly because at times he seemed aloof and formidable, indeed occasionally unpredictable. He was colourful, with a touch of the unorthodox about him; something of a character. I think he commanded almost universal respect. This he may not have realised, for he had a nick-name which he abhorred; it clearly embarrassed and irritated him; in fact it had no hostile or contemptuous under currents at all; it sprang simply from his very dark and determined jowl. For a while he was more commonly known only as “Paul” ; this is fixed in my mind by the memory of the death of the crease horse, “Paulina”, who was named after him, and collapsed so dramatically from excitement on the day that Col. Russell landed his plane on the cricket crease, about 1929.
But of course what gave him his exceptional influence was his ability to feel, and show, genuine personal interest in the boys and their groups. He had on those occasions a quizzical and humorous approach, which, coming from such a majestic figure, gave him the advantage of tactical surprise. But he never presumed or demanded intimacy or confidences, nor did he ever betray them. I am inclined to think, now, that he never knew how much people liked him. He was probably far more diffident about his personal relations than any boy ever suspected. He was an artist working in a rather difficult temperamental and emotional medium, always a hair's breadth away from disaster. He lived interiorly under strain; externally he presented an impregnable front. One sensed that he really delighted to see someone developing their own personality; he did not want to impose uniformity, nor did he want to know what everyone was doing all the time, above all he did not presume to think that if you were not enjoying yourself in the way he had organised for you, you could not be enjoying yourself at all; he did not intrude. He welcomed the signs of coming maturity, neither resenting the departure of childish charm nor expecting adult solemnity. God be thanked for his vital influence.

Ó Cathain, Seán, 1905-1989, Jesuit priest

  • IE IJA J/317
  • Person
  • 27 May 1905-26 December 1989

Born: 27 May 1905, Belfast, County Antrim
Entered: 31 August 1923, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1938, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1941, St Ignatius, Leeson Street, Dublin
Died: 26 December 1989, Our Lady’s Hospice, Dublin

Part of the Sacred Heart community, Limerick at the time of death

Had studied Medicine for one year before entry

by 1930 at Berchmanskolleg, Pullach, Germany (GER S) studying

◆ Interfuse
Interfuse No 82 : September 1995


Fr Seán Ó Catháin (1905-1989)

27th May 1905: Born in Belfast
31st Aug. 1923: Entered the Society of Jesus
1923 - 1925: Tullabeg, novitiate
1925 - 1929: Rathfarnham, juniorate: MA (UCD) in Celtic studies
1929 - 1931; Pullach bei München, Germany: philosophy
1931 - 1934: Galway, regency
1934 - 1939 Milltown Park
1934 - 1935: private study,
1935 - 1939 theology
1938: Ordained a priest
1939 - 1940: Rathfarnham, tertianship.
1940 - 1946: Leeson Street:
1940 - 1941 private study,
1941 - 1946 University Hall, vice principal, private study culminating in a PhD.
1946 - 1948: Clongowes, teaching
1948 - 1978; Leeson Street:
1949 - 1966 Lecturer at UCD's department of Education;
1966-1973 Professor of Education;
1950 - 1959 Inspector of studies in colleges of the Province.
1973 - 1978 writing.
1967 - 1973: Superior.
1978 - 1989: Limerick (Sacred Heart Residence): church work, librarian. In 1982 (also in October 1989) he suffered a stroke which impaired the memory function of his brain. After spending some time in St. John's Hospital, Limerick, he was removed to Our Lady's hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin
26th Dec. 1989: Died

The following additional details concerning Seán's academic career have been gleaned from the Report of the President, UCD, 1972-3 (section on retirements) and 1989-'90 (obituary section). Seán gained four diplomas, all with first-class honours (the middle two in Irish), from one or other of three Irish university colleges: pre-medical (UCC, 1923), BA (UCD, 1928), MA (UCD, 1929), HDip in Ed (UCG, 1932). For his PhD in Ed (UCD, 1941) his thesis was on 'The diffusion of Renaissance ideals of education in the schools of the Jesuit Order'. 'During these years (seemingly 1932-48) he acted as an Assistant Extern Examiner (through Irish) in Education for the National University of Ireland.

Seán Ó Catháin was the second son of Seán and Kathleen nee Dinneen. Seán senior was a native of Kilbeheny, near Mitchelstown, while Kathleen from Rathmore, Co. Kerry. It was in London at the turn of the century that Seán, who had succeeded in the examinations for the civil service, found himself posted for work at the department of customs and excise. Kathleen Dinneen had qualified as a primary teacher and found employment also in London. They were both the children of Irish speaking parents.

Sometime about 1904 Seán Ó Catháin was transferred to Belfast. Some day a curious enquirer may discover whether his transfer was by way of promotion or downright exile to dour Belfast, where there were fewer Gaelic Leaguers!

Here our own Seán was born, and baptised at the parish church of the Sacred Heart, Oldpark Road. In due course he was confirmed at St. Patrick's parish church, Donegall Street. After primary school he was sent to St. Malachy's college and had all but completed his secondary schooling when his father was once more transferred to a very different location of the customs and excise. This time it was to Cork, not far from his native place. It is almost certain that the transfer was scheduled for the late spring of 1921 - a very significant date. Britain was busily partitioning Ireland in the administrative sector in preparation for political partition and the opening of a new Six-county parliament on 22nd June 1921. In fact, the separation of the administrative files of government had been going quietly on even before the general election and victory of Sinn Féin in December 1918! All this underhand work was unknown or unsuspected, apparently, by the young republican politicians, the heirs of 1916!

Seán junior resumed his secondary schooling at the North Monastery CBS in June 1922. He entered the medical school at UCC, but in the event he was not destined to become a medical doctor.

In 1923 Seán senior was transferred to Dublin, In August Seán junior entered the novitiate at Tullabeg, and in due course made his first religious profession. In after years he often spoke of his privilege to have spent his first year as a novice under the direction of the saintly Fr. Michael Browne. He went to Rathfarnham Castle where he was to spend four years. At UCD he won scholarships; at home he was a live-wire in the Irish Society, and every Christmas distinguished himself as an actor in the Irish plays. He crowned his career at Rathfarnham with a first-class-honours MS in Celtic studies.

He was next appointed to the philosophate at Pullach, where he graduated DPh of the Gregorian university. Bilingual from infancy, it is not to be wondered at that he acquired an enviable mastery of the German language. Later he added Italian and French to his linguistic accomplishments.

Back in Ireland he was appointed to Galway for his regency, and it was during this period that Fr. Timothy Corcoran, professor of education at UCD, began to take an interest in Seán as a future successor in his own chair at Earlsfort terrace. These were happy years in a youthful, full and flourishing province, with only an occasional rumour of trouble trickling into Ireland from Hitler's Germany. But peace in Europe was already openly threatened when Seán was ordained priest in 1938. By the summer of 1940 he had completed his fourth year of theology and made his tertianship.

He was now appointed to Leeson Street for private study. Here under the watchful eye of Fr. Corcoran he began his studies in education that would lead to another doctorate. By an odd turn of events his prospects of eventually succeeding to the Chair of Education diminished considerably before the year was over. Fr. Corcoran's health had not been robust of late but he battled on - not only conducting his own lectures but also supplying for his assistant, Mr. W J Williams, who had recently suffered a stroke. It was anticipated that Williams, who was within a very few years of retirement, would resign, but when Fr. Corcoran himself was obliged on medical grounds to resign in September 1942, Williams declared he was going forward for Fr. Corcoran's chair. Meantime the Provincial and consultors (at the urging of members of the Hierarchy) put forward the name of Fr. Fergal McGrath as candidate. (No complaint was ever heard from Fr. Seán.) However, as soon as Fr. McGrath learned of Williams' intention, he immediately withdrew his name - and Williams secured the professorship. He had to retire in 1948. Since 1942 Fr. Seán was stationed as vice-warden at Hatch Street, where he continued work on his doctoral thesis. At the end of this study he spent the years 1946-48 as a master at Clongowes, and 1950-59 - with his characteristic thoroughness - Seán carried out the duties of inspector of our province's schools.

In 1948, when the chair of education was once more vacant, Fr. Seán allowed his name to go forward, and found overwhelming support in the electoral body. However, for the next eighteen years he enjoyed the title (and salary) of lecturer only and not professor. It was an open secret that the late Professor Michael Tierney had used all his considerable influence to downgrade the chair of education. Tierney's hostility dated from the time (1920's and 1930's) when his political views attracted strong opposition in The Catholic Bulletin, on the editorial board of which Fr. Timothy Corcoran's word was law.

In 1966 came belated acknowledgement of Fr. Seán's ability and worth when he was accorded the rank of professor. However, I always felt that the seven years during which he held the professorship were wearying if not even distasteful to a man of his sensitivity. It is enough to recall here that in 1968 student unrest in France spilled out all over Europe and across the Atlantic, and in the universities civilised behaviour, good manners and respect for any authority were the first casualties.

During his later years as professor, when he was also superior at Leeson Street, Seán's health was not robust. He suffered much from sleeplessness, yet during the thirteen years I lived with him he never missed an appointment and was exemplary for punctuality. A product of the old school, that is, brought up in the province to value the necessity of co-operation whether in teaching, church work, parochial missions etc, he lived in no ivory tower of academia. He was interested in everybody and everything connected with the Irish province, and that meant all our fathers, scholastics and brothers, and the works they were engaged in. He had an authentic apostolic bent, as could be deduced from his active interest in the work of two societies, one named after St. Vincent de Paul and the other called St. Joseph's Young Priests. He was an excellent community man, incapable of pulling a long face at table or recreation: he simply radiated a sense of fun. It was a delight to hear him enter the lists with Fr. Frank Shaw, My own impression was that if they had chosen the law for their profession, both would have gained celebrity as advocates.

As superior, Seán tended to be over-scrupulous, but against this he was particularly caring for the sick and generously sympathetic in times of bereavement. Like Fr's Fergal McGrath († 1988) and Redmond Roche († 1983) he acquired an almost legendary reputation for attendance at funerals. 1973 seemed to be the end of his active life; early that autumn he resigned from the chair of education and two months earlier had been replaced as superior of Leeson Street. The next five years he spent in quiet study and in a ministry within his capacity.

An unexpected challenge awaited him in 1978. The Provincial was faced with diminishing manpower, and one of our churches, the Crescent, rather urgently needed an operarius. The difficult proposal was made to Seán, a Dubliner of long standing, and now in his seventies. Generously, as was the custom of this province, he answered the call of duty and courageously entered on a new and unaccustomed way of life. In Limerick, while his fragile health remained, he gave of his best; but the last years must have been frustrating for a man of his once boundless nervous energy. In 1989 he seemed to rally somewhat, and twice at least attended funerals in Gardiner Street, but his years were telling against him. At length he had to go into St. John's hospital, Limerick, whence he was taken back to Dublin to spend the short time that remained to him at Our Lady's hospice, Harold's Cross. There, on St. Stephen's Day, God called him home.

Tá an tAthair Seán imithe uainn ar shlí na firinne, agus tá uaigneas orainn dá dheasca sin go bhfeicimid arís sna Flaithis é; ach idir an dá linn guímis go bhfaigh a anam dilis suaimhneas síoraí, go raibh sé faoi bhrat Mhuire i radharc na Trionóide.

Proinsias Ó Fionnagáin

Riordan, Brian J, 1907-1985, Jesuit priest

  • IE IJA J/375
  • Person
  • 12 October 1907-01 September 1985

Born: 12 October 1907, Belfast, County Antrim
Entered: 04 October 1934, Manresa, Roehampton, England - Angliae Province (ANG)
Ordained: 22 July 1922
Final Vows: 20 March 1950
Died: 01 September 1985, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin - British Province (BRI)

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

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 60th Year No 4 1985

Fr Brian Joseph Riordan (1907-1934-1985) (Britain)
Fr Brian Joseph Riordan was born in Belfast on 12th October 1907. He was educated at St Malachy's College, Belfast, and St Mary's College, Dundalk He became a journalist and then on 4th October 1934 joined the Society at Roehampton. After 1st vows he studied philosophy and theology at Heythrop Oxon. In October 1942 his theology was interrupted when he became an RAF chaplain. In February 1947 he was demobbed and had a brief spell on the staff of the Holy Name, Manchester, before returning to Heythrop to finish theology. In 1948 he was a tertian at St Beuno's. In December 1949 he went to Rhodesia where he served at Mondoro, Makumbi, Kutama and Martindale. He returned to the UK in June 1954 and went first to Craighead and then in 1955 joined the parish staff at St Aloysius, Glasgow. He was in charge of the Preparatory school at Langside from 1961 until 1964 when he began his long spell as priest-in-charge and military chaplain at St Margaret's, Lerwick. In 1980 he went to work in N Ireland, first at Ballykilbeg and then at Ballycrabble - both in Downpatrick. In Oct 1984 he was admitted to the Irish Province infirmary, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin, and from there moved to Our Lady's Hospice, Dublin, where he died on 1st September 1985. Fr Provincial celebrated the requiem in Gardiner street. Among those participating were Brian's brother and other members of the family; the parish priest of Downpatrick; Fr Senan Timoney, Acting Provincial in Ireland, with many members of the Irish Province; and Rory Geoghegan, Hugh Hamill and Bill Mathews from our own province. Fr Provincial is very appreciative of the care shown to Brian by the Irish Province during his illness in the last year, and for their support and hospitality at the funeral. The interment was at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin.