Woods, Brendan, 1924-2014, Jesuit priest

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Woods, Brendan, 1924-2014, Jesuit priest

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03 October 1924-28 May 2014


Born: 03 October 1924, Armagh, County Armagh
Entered: 07 September 1942, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1956, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 05 November 1977, Milltown Park, Dublin
Died: 28 May 2014, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin

Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death.

by 1973 at New York NY, USA (NEB) studying

◆ Interfuse No 157 : Autumn 2014 & ◆ The Clongownian, 2015


Fr Brendan Woods (1924-2014)

3 October 1924: Born in Keady, Co. Armagh.
Early education in CBS, Armagh and St. Patrick's College, Armagh
7 September 1942: Entered the Society at Emo
8 September 1944: First Vows at Emo
1944 - 1947: Rathfarnham - Studied Arts at UCD
1947 - 1950: Tullabeg - Studied Philosophy
1950 - 1952: Clongowes – Teacher
1952 - 1953: Mungret College - Teacher
1953 - 1957: Milltown Park - Studied Theology
31st July 1956: Ordained at Milltown Park, Dublin
1957 - 1958: Tertianship at Rathfarnham
1958 - 1972: Clongowes – Teacher
1972 - 1973: New York - Pastoral Studies
1973 - 1989: Milltown Park; Promoting “Marriage Encounter”; Teaching at Gonzaga; Teaching at Belvedere
5 November 1977: Final Vows
1985 - 1989: Director SpExx; Assistant Librarian
1989 - 1995: Campion House - Director SpExx; Assistant Librarian Milltown Park and Manresa
1995 - 1996: Leeson Street - Librarian, Assistant Librarian at Milltown Park; Director SpExx
1996 - 2002: Milltown Park - Assistant Librarian Milltown Park & Manresa
2002 - 2010: Manresa House - Assistant Librarian Milltown Park and Assistant Comm.
2011 - 2014: Milltown Park - Assistant Comm. Librarian; Director SpExx
2011: Resident in Cherryfield Lodge. Praying for the Church and the Society

Brendan settled well into Cherryfield and appeared happy and content. His condition has been deteriorating for some time. He died peacefully on 28th May 2014. May he rest in the Peace of Christ.

Brendan Woods was an Ulsterman, who spent his Jesuit life in the South; he was a man attracted to solitude, but he entered an apostolic religious order, and thereby guaranteed himself the constant presence of others for nearly seventy-two years. Brendan's Northern accent was not strong, but his upbringing in Northern Ireland, under triumphant and intolerant Unionism, left a deep impression. Very occasionally, Brendan spoke about “What we had to put up with” and he had no sympathy with some Jesuits when, towards the end of the Troubles, they empathised with the fears of Unionists, of whom Brendan said: “They had it all their own way for a long time; they won't anymore; they'll have to get used to it”.

Brendan did not talk about his family, and it was almost by accident that some of us discovered that his sister is a Carmelite nun. He had three brothers, one of whom died the day before Brendan's own death. His friendships were many, including one with a laicised priest working in Dublin as the caretaker of a block of flats. Brendan offered friendship and moral support to a number of 'lost souls', but he never spoke about them; he really did 'do good by stealth.

Community life was never easy for Brendan, and he could seem remote, but in reality, he was warm, witty and quietly supportive. Being so intensely private, he was comfortable expressing his feelings through humour, rather than directly. He could be very perceptive. When Brendan said, of a particular Jesuit, that “He goes around giving retreats to well bred nuns”, he spoke in the light of a major shift in his own life, one that took place after he left teaching at Clongowes in 1972; he had lost interest in any apostolate to the privileged and preferred to work with those who had less money and less security.

Brendan gave many guided retreats at Manresa House, but his greatest satisfaction came from the weeks of guided prayer, usually given as part of a team in many outlying parishes in Dublin. Brendan never learned to drive, so those guided prayer weeks meant long bus journeys, and waits for buses, in all weathers. The effort meant little to him in the light of the reaction of so many ordinary people, as they had their first experience of praying with Scripture and asked “Why did nobody tell us about this before now?” This invigorated and encouraged him, but Brendan, not always a patient man, had no patience at all with one aspect of post-Conciliar religious life: the emphasis on self-improvement. He was impatient with techniques, had no time for the Myers-Briggs Table and regarded the Enneagram as pernicious, being convinced that it was Sufism diluted for Western consumption.

Brendan set very high standards for himself, and never felt that he had met them. He was an excellent teacher at Clongowes and a hardworking assistant librarian at Milltown Park. In neither job did he accept praise, nor feel that he had done well. In even the coldest weather, with only a small radiator for comfort, Brendan worked on the top floor of the Milltown Jesuit Library, cataloguing the collection of books about Ireland, discovering rare pamphlets and taking a special interest in Irish Catholic printers. Being over-cautious, he kept duplicate and even triplicate copies of books, which packed the shelves.

Having had some experiences of book theft, Brendan was a bit paranoid about library security. His love of books, however, meant that even the most tedious library work never seemed to be a chore. When a Jesuit house closed and its library was being cleared, Brendan had a remarkable ability to notice precisely what was lacking in Milltown.

With his a deep appreciation of what it meant to be both Irish and Catholic, Brendan concentrated on the essentials. He had no interest in the disputes about clothes that were so common in Irish Jesuit life in the 1960s and 1970s. Brendan was quick to abandon clerical clothing, and it is doubtful if, latterly, he even owned a Roman collar, but, somehow, there was an indefinable quality about him, so he always looked priestly. Being blessed with a fine head of white hair, Brendan cut a striking figure.

Brendan was quick to appreciate other countries and cultures. He read a vast number of travel books and had a balanced, even sardonic, appreciation of the United States. American crime fiction (to which Americans themselves give the more euphemistic title 'Mystery') was his secret passion and he read many authors long before their fame spread west across the Atlantic.

Marriage Encounter gave him, for thirteen years, a strong link with the United States and had him working closely with Bill White SJ, who was as committed to the work, but was utterly unlike him. Brendan was the organizer, Bill was the inspirer; as in many unexpected pairings, they were a very successful team. Some years before the onset of his own prolonged final illness. Brendan gave up attending Jesuit funerals, because the homily had been replaced by a eulogy, so he had difficulty reconciling what was being said with the reality of the man he had known. His feelings, whether positive or negative, about everything and everybody were strong, but his shyness often made him seem remote or indifferent and was a barrier for many who might have become closer to him. Those who persevered, or who worked with him regularly, discovered his warmth and his compassion.

Brendan's stories were many. Some were based on experience in retreat direction: “If a person on a retreat says that they'd like to meet you after the retreat, for further spiritual direction, you can be assured that you'll never hear from them again!”, in parish supply work, such as the Italian-American parish in New York, where terrified black teenagers returned the chalices stolen on the previous day, because their fence told them that the silverware bore the names of local Mafia families. But was there really an English Jesuit who, in his own retreat talks, used to refer, in his examples for edification, to “a humble Irish lay sister”?

Brendan rose early and prayed often. One year, his entire annual retreat was centered on the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”). Any hints about his own prayer were revealed inadvertently.

As Brendan's memory began to weaken, his brow settled into a permanent frown, which was very distressing for his friends. Everything seemed to worry him, but he was able to sustain a conversation by focusing on the person speaking to him, never on himself. He was not aware that he had celebrated yet another Jubilee in the Society, which was just as well, because he would have striven, with all his might, to avoid it!

Brendan has earned his rest.


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

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


Woods, Brendan, 1924-2014, Jesuit priest

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