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Hugh Duffy – ‘a gentle Jesuit’

Fr Hugh Duffy SJ died in St James’s Hospital on Friday 28 April 2017, aged 80 years old. Born and raised in Dublin, Hugh won a senior cup rugby medal with Belvedere College SJ and entered the Jesuits in 1954. He spent several years in Limerick as a teacher and lecturer. He did his Doctoral degree in English in the United States and he worked in parish ministry and as a visiting professor there. Brian Grogan SJ gave the homily at his funeral mass in Milltown Park Chapel on 3 May.

Fr Grogan said about his friend and classmate, “This man was more there than the average man. He was able to reveal gold to other people”. He fondly remembered when Hugh went on to do his doctoral training after four bachelor degrees during a time when the Church was struggling to adapt to the times. His PhD thesis explored a fresh following of faith in a God who infinitely loves.

Regarding his life as a teacher, “Hugh struggled to liberate his students from destructive images of God. He had a passion for the genuine liberation of the human heart. He wanted people to know that they are loved and appreciated beyond words”. And he taught thousands of pupils in thousands of classes over his lifetime. A friend once noted: “He was a pet; he had soft eyes”. Fr Grogan also thanked his family for sharing Hugh with his Jesuit companions.

Referring to the Jesuit’s decline in health where he moved from autonomy to dependency, Fr Grogan remarked that “He did not yield to dark moods. He was humble and patient, and he offered his suffering for the Church and the world”. The Gospel for the funeral mass depicted Jesus asking his disciple Peter if he loved him, then commanding him to look after his flock. Fr Grogan imagined Hugh answering wholeheartedly, “Yes, I love you, Lord”.

“And so, Hugh found that dying is safe because God is safe, and all restricting images melt away. In his transfigured body, he’s able to dance and sing, and sing and dance, without a stick. And I think that laughter and merriment will be a large part of his contribution to the cosmic party.”

Damien Burke, assistant archivist in the Province, was also at the funeral mass. Hugh helped Damien in his work, identifying Jesuits from earlier days whom Damien would not have known. The very night before his stroke, Hugh was working with Damien on a pamphlet from Belvedere College SJ. “We were discussing a flyer for a 1953 production of the Mikado in which Hugh had a part – he was in the chorus. He was his usual lovely self, a kind and gentle Jesuit, and I really enjoyed working with him.”

A large number of Hugh’s family were in attendance including nieces and nephews who returned from many different countries. His nephew Ian spoke movingly about him. He said he would have made a great father so it was all the more inspirational that he had dedicated his life to the Church. And he raised a laugh when he talked about Hugh’s love of America and how he drove right across the continent from one coast to another – adding, “probably very slowly, but he did it!”

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.