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Fr Jim Hayes RIP: committed to kindness and service of the Gospel

There were two sides to Jim Hayes, the Limerick-born Jesuit who has died at the age of 82. At first blush a stranger might find him serious, almost stern, in face and manner; but where he was looking after others – as he was for most of his ministry – he was kindness itself. He is remembered in both Milltown and Belvedere not just for efficiency as a Minister, but for an almost motherly eye for the needs of the brethren, and readiness to take pains and spend money to meet those needs. Any Jesuit in the job of Minister lives in a tension between the needs of the brethren and the moneywise watchfulness of superior and bursar. In that tension Jim put the brethren’s needs first. So he is remembered with great regard and affection. He sometimes felt the pressure of the bursar’s books, for instance when he was unexpectedly moved from Belvedere. Years later the Provincial who moved him wrote to him with an apology for making that move, acknowledging that it was a poorly-founded decision.

After a short spell in Limerick, (at that time there were more priests in its main street than in the whole of Zambia), he was invited by Fr Oliver McTiernan to ease the shortage of priests in London. With the support of both Irish and British Provincials he spent fifteen happy years in Islington. Both Oliver and Bruce Kent, his companions in Islington, later left priestly ministry, but Jim persevered faithfully.

In the mid-1980s he felt moved to volunteer for the diocese of Aberdeen, where the shortage of priests was so chronic that it survived only through an infusion of Jesuit volunteers. Jim was parish priest in a Highlands parish west of Inverness, then in a city parish, and then for seven years in the Shetland Islands. When he went there, he found only four native Catholics, but with the development of the oil fields their number was swollen by a surge of workers, from Scotland, England, Ireland, Poland and elsewhere.

Despite the loneliness and the long winter nights, Jim enjoyed Shetland, moving round his parish by car and boat. But ten years ago he found that his half-moon glasses no longer served him adequately. A specialist found that he was suffering from loss of central vision due to diabetes (of which Jim was unaware). His sight gave way suddenly. When he could not identify parishioners, he knew he had to leave the parish. The British Provincial asked him to serve as full-time chaplain in the Catholic Institute for the Blind in Liverpool. He worked there for fourteen years until, blind and afflicted by Parkinson’s, he returned to Ireland and settled well into Cherryfield Lodge. His condition deteriorated quickly in the past two weeks, and he died peacefully on 21 January, surrounded by his family and Jesuit companions.