60 years a Jesuit: a retrospective

Published on 20 Sep 2019
A vase of flowers to celebrate the jubilee

by Dermot O'Connor SJ

On 9th September this year, Fr Dermot celebrated his 60th jubilee as a Jesuit together with Fr Damian Jackson, who also marked 60 years, and Fr Rory Geoghegan, who celebrated 70 years. We share with you his homily from the jubilee Mass on that day, the Feast of Jesuit Saint Peter Claver:

‘At the risk of boring you and my fellow jubilarians (Rory and Damian) I’d like to start with a short personal retrospective of my 60 years in the Society of Jesus and stopping every ten years:

I entered the Society on 7th September 1959 in St Mary’s, Emo Park in Ireland. There were 19 in my year and 2 years later 12 took vows, 4 left subsequently, and 2 have died. We are now 6 survivors.

On 7th Sept 1969, I was in Milltown Park in Dublin about to begin my theology. Fr Pedro Arrupe had been elected only 4 years previously and we had a new rector, Fr. Cecil McGarry: an inspiring and charismatic figure who later became assistant to Fr Arrupe in Rome. I remember clearly that it was  a time of great hope and promise. These were the years immediately following Vatican 2. As Wordsworth put it: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”.

On 7th September 1979, I was teaching English, French and religion in Belvedere College in Dublin. The previous June I had just completed a teaching Diploma in UCD and I was about to take final vows 3 months later on 4th December.

On 7 September 1989, I was teaching in Crescent College Comprehensive in Limerick. Two months later 6 Jesuits would be murdered in El Salvador - an event that had a huge impact on all of us.

On 7 September 1999, I was still teaching in Limerick and about to start auditions for our school production of “Oliver”. I was now 40 years in the Society.

On 7 September 2009, I was in Belgium, working in my office in Brussels sending out invitations for the General Assembly of the European Provincials which would take place in Malta the following  month.

On 7th September 2019, I was here in St. Beuno’s preparing this homily.

We live in troubled times today,  and in a sense they are unprecedented. And yet when I look back in all honesty we never lived in an ideal world:

• In 1959 we were in the middle of the cold war. Two year later the Berlin Wall would be built.

• In 1969 the Vietnam war was escalating and there was huge unrest in Europe.

• In 1979 the troubles in the North of Ireland were at their worst. In August there was the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten and in Warrenpoint the killing of 18 British soldiers by the IRA

• In 1989 it was, perhaps, an exception. The fall of the Berlin wall took place that year and the collapse of communism was happening all over Eastern Europe.

• In 1999, little did we know it but things were gearing up for 9/11.

• In 2009 we were struggling with the effects of the financial crash of the previous year.

On a personal level I have had my struggles; there were low points, situations where I could see no way out… failures…disappointments, darkness. But through it all I have had good people around me who put up with me, who encouraged me and who pushed me; to all of them I am immensely grateful.

One of the striking things about today’s saint, Peter Claver - a man who spent nearly 40 years looking after the African slaves as they came off those dreadful boats in South America - he owed his vocation to the prayers and encouragement of another Jesuit - a saintly brother in the college in Mallorca where Peter was studying.

Clearly I’m no Peter Claver but as I look back over 60 years what stands out immediately for me are the extraordinary Jesuits whom I have met and with whom I have been privileged to live and to work. They have certainly influenced me:  Pedro Arrupe, Jacques Sommet (my prefect of studies in Chantilly who had been a prisoner in Dachau); Cecil McGarry, Phil Harnett; John Humphreys, Mark Rotsaert, John Dardis, Dermot Preston. All so different and yet each one has passed on to me something of Ignatius. For them and for all the other countless people who have supported me I am immensely grateful.

My second reflection on 60 years is on the patience of God. There are some things that have taken me 60 years to learn and I’m not sure if I have learnt them yet... but God is patient. When Pope Francis talks about “God’s timetable which is never our own” I know exactly what he is talking about.

I didn’t choose today’s readings but there in the psalm is one of my favourite texts: “In God alone be at rest my soul; for my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress.” Perhaps I’ll finish there.