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An authentic Jesuit academic

Gonzaga chapel was packed for the funeral Mass of David Tuohy SJ, which took place at 11 am on Monday 3 February 2020. David died peacefully, after a short illness, on the morning of Friday 31 January, just over a week before his 70th birthday. It was an occasion marked by hearty laughter, profound sadness, and deep prayer.

David’s family, fellow Jesuits and many friends were joined by members of the Church of Ireland community including Archbishop Michael Jackson and the Reverend Anne Lodge.

David had indicated some wishes for his funeral. He chose the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as the gospel reading and his long-time Jesuit friend David Coghlan SJ as the main celebrant and homilist.

It was not the first time that David had asked his Jesuit friend to preach on the Emmaus gospel as David Coghlan explained. “In 1994 when he was taking his Final Vows as a Jesuit David asked me to preach on this gospel and what he wanted me to emphasise was how Jesus, by explaining what he was about, transformed the misguided vision of the two –“Our own hope had been”…  In his work with educational leaders, he engaged with them very seriously on what their vision was, what their values were and how they would be actualized in their trust or school structures and educational processes.”

In his opening remarks of welcome », David Coghlan said that during the six months of his illness David spoke constantly in terms of an image from St Luke’s gospel, where the friends of a sick man climb on to a roof of a house and taking off the tiles, lower their friend, who is on a stretcher, down through the ceiling to place him in front of Jesus to be healed. “As David received cards, messages, and reports of love and prayers, he spoke of how he understood that those who were praying for him were holding the ropes and lowering him down to Jesus,” said David. “He was very moved by the prayers and support he was receiving from all over the world. Sometimes he’d apologise for being in bad form, especially when was feeling sick, and in my helplessness, I’d say that there was no need to apologise as I was merely holding the ropes.”

And anyone who spoke at both David’s removal and funeral, including the Jesuit Provincial Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, also attested to the fact that the prayers or presence of his fellow Jesuits, from at home or abroad, throughout his illness was a true source of comfort and support for David – in particular, his Jesuit contemporaries and the  Leeson St community. Mary Rickard, Rachel O’Neill and all the staff of Cherryfield nursing home and St James’ hospital were also acknowledged for the wonderful care they gave him in his last months.

David Tuohy was a native of Galway and was schooled in Coláiste Iognáid SJ. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1967 at the age of 17 and was ordained in Galway in 1981. He did his primary degree in botany at UCD under Professor Johnny Moore SJ.

He became a teacher, the first of many careers, and taught in Coláiste Iognáid and Belvedere College. He completed his doctorate in NUI Galway in 1993 and took a post lecturing in UCD, before moving to NUI Galway in 2000. He resigned from that post several years later and became an educational consultant. According to David Coghlan in his homily », David’s time in these universities was foundational and shaped the work he would subsequently go on to do with teachers, school principals, educationalists, and doctoral students.

“His energy and output were enormous,” said David, referencing “the consultancy work with individual schools, boards of management, religious congregations, educational trusts, of which his pioneering work with Le Chéile stands out, research for the Dept of Education, work in Africa with the Loreto sisters, with the Church of Ireland, The Marino Institute, school of nursing… The list is extensive.”

At the end of the Mass, Leonard Moloney SJ also mentioned David’s expertise at board meetings where he as Provincial needed support when complex issues would arise. “David had to give me the odd kick under the table at some of those meetings,” he quipped.

David was also the author of numerous books, articles, and ground-breaking research and reports. His book on Denominational Education and Politics: Ireland in a European Context, published in 2013, was widely acclaimed. His work as an educationalist spanned the continents of Africa, Australia, America, and Europe. He was “an authentic Jesuit academic in the Jesuit intellectual tradition of education in his heart and in his practice,” according to David Coghlan, who added that the central theme of David’s whole apostolic enterprise was “values, leadership, and Catholic education.”

In later years, around 2011 David began working with the Church of Ireland on a number of substantial projects that have borne fruit in the form of key initiatives for giving vigour to Church life in Ireland. He developed a deep friendship with Archbishop Michael Jackson and the Reverend Dr. Anne Lodge. On 1 October 2017, he was made an ecumenical canon in the Church of Ireland.

David Coghlan in his homily told a story that underlined the importance of this ecumenical work for his friend David. “Last week in his dying days when he was telling me again what he wanted me to say at this Mass, and from an apparent sleeping state, he opened his eyes, stretched out his arm and grabbed me to remind me to be sure to mention his ecumenical work.”

In his address at the end of the Mass, Archbishop Michael Jackson certainly did not forget to do just that.  In 2015 David was asked by Archbishop Jackson to take part in his Come&C project (“come and see”). This involved facilitating parishioners in Dublin and Glendalough who had taken part in a survey on mission, commissioned by the Archbishop. Over 80% of these parishioners had responded to the survey. They then came together to reflect on it and to plan for the future in terms of a commitment to discipleship in their local parishes, inspired by the gospel vision.

David subsequently co-authored Growing in the Image and Likeness of God, with Maria Feeny which grew out of this work. The book explored discipleship and the five ‘marks of mission’ within the Anglican communion.

Archbishop Michael Jackson spoke about this project in his address at the end of the funeral Mass. “We in the Church of Ireland dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough have so much for which to be thankful on this day of thanksgiving for the life of David Tuohy,” he said. “Because David transformed. He transformed our rather insufficient and inert understanding of our Anglican identity, in which we slumbered somewhat, by taking the five marks of mission of the Anglican communion and bedding them in our psyche and in our spirit.”

Noting that the power to simplify complex concepts was one of David’s key gifts he added, “Forevermore we in Dublin and Glendalough will remember the five marks of mission as the five ‘T’s, that came ready-made from the pen of Dr. Tuohy: Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, Treasure. And so will the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he presented them!”

There was of course more to David than his impressive academic career, As David Coghlan pointed out, he had a wonderful, quirky sense of humour. He often accepted the offer of a gin and tonic by remarking, “I feel a bout of malaria coming on so I need the quinine!” He could turn his hand to anything, according to David, and that included cooking, writing biblical meditations, co-producing musicals, coaching rugby, rowing and show jumping. “And who remembers how he trained to be a soccer referee and was certified by the FAI and had the referees’ black outfit, whistle and notebook?”, David asked adding wisely, “As a player, I wouldn’t have dared give him any backchat!”

David’s entire life was underpinned by a deep connection to his family, his sister Ann, his brother Paul and all the many nieces and nephews around the world with whom he made contact. Paul pointed out in his address at the end of the service that David had probably married or baptised all of the family gathered for his funeral Mass.

Archbishop Michael Jackson finished his tribute to David by saying, “I will miss him terribly, and I have no doubt that many others will also,” a sentiment echoed in the closing words of David Coghlan’s homily. “When the pain and awfulness of today has transformed into the warm and lovely memory of someone beloved, then we may be hopeful, be appreciative of who David is for us and we may let into our hearts the transformative love that God offers us. But that may not happen easily today.”

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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At the vigil for David in Cherryfield Lodge on Sunday 2 February, Kevin O’Rourke SJ spoke movingly about David’s last days. Read his words here »