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Irish Jesuit gets presidential award

Fr Donal Doyle SJ was recently awarded a Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for 2015. These awards recognise those habitually resident outside of Ireland who have served the country with distinction and those who have actively contributed to Ireland in a sustained manner. Donal has worked in Japan for over fifty years. He established an Irish Studies Programme at the prestigious Sophia University which encouraged students over many decades to visit Ireland thus making friends of Ireland of many hundreds of Japanese people who have now reached the upper levels of Japanese society, in business, administration and the arts.

Donal was born in the heart of the city of Dublin on 11th October 1931. His family lived at 72 Lower Baggot Street for many years. Donal’s father was a gynaecologist at Saint Michael’s Hospital in Dun Laoghaire – in those days a long commute. So the family moved to a new home overlooking the harbour there. Donal and his younger brother Frank went to the local Christian Brothers to be educated. The new location brought new friends and Harry Brennan from nearby Dalkey was a close one. Donal recalls wonderful funfilled Sunday teatimes with Harry’s family. He and his brothers were being educated in Belvedere College in Dublin and Donal wanted to move to secondary school there with his friends.

But his father, who was a Christian Brothers boy himself, had different plans. He knew nothing of Belvedere College and intended to leave Donal at the Christian Brothers school in Dun Laoghaire. Upon enquiry however, he was reassured by a colleague, Dr. Ryan – the father of Archbishop Ryan – and so Donal had his first encounter with the Society of Jesus at Belvedere. Deep down, Donal had felt his calling to be a priest living in a community from an early age. He was a member of the Solidality of Our Lady and it was on the Feast of St Francis Xavier, when he first heard of the Jesuit mission to Japan through the letters that Francis had sent to St Ignatius Loyola. He was very moved.

On July 31st 1958, the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, Donal and Dermot Brangan set sail from Naples on the Lloyd Triestino cruise line aboard the “Asia”. The voyage took three weeks. Passing through the Suez Canal, the ports of call were Port Said, Aden, Karachi, Colombo, Bombay, Singapore and finally Hong Kong. There they spent a few days visiting the Irish Mission in Hong Kong before setting sail for Yokohama where they arrived on September 3rd. An interesting anecdote: as the “Asia” and its sister ship passed each other in the Indian Ocean, they sounded their ship’s whistle in the night. Many years later, when Donal was working as Assistant to the President of Sophia University, he discovered that the future president had been on that very ship en route to Italy and remembered the incident.

Japan being isolated and so far away geographically, the prevalent thinking can be that of an island mentality, reminiscent of the Ireland of years ago. The love of traditional life, music, folklore is valued by both cultures. In 1985 he was encouraged to establish an Ireland Studies Programme at Sophia University. Two years late, this developed into the Ireland Studies’ Tour that gave students a special, personal experience of the country and the people. As a result, Ireland has many hundreds of Japanese friends who are influential in business, administration, and the arts.

For 26 years, Donal accompanied new groups and was warmly welcomed at Áras an Uachtaráin where the students were graciously received by the president of the time: Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and President Michael D. Higgins. He is a recipient of the 2015 Business and Education Presidential Distinguished Services Awards that recognise remarkable people who have served Ireland with distinction whilst living abroad.

Donal is busy with positions carrying many responsibilities. In particular, he remains involved with the Alumni Association of the University and is the contact person for weddings of graduates in the 100 year old university chapel on campus. He is happy in Japan and is very grateful for the opportunities that have led him to an encounter with God among the people there. He recounts his 57 years in Japan in this article: “Why Japan”.

This article was first published on the website of Irish Jesuit Missions.