Jesuits from around Ireland and some from Britain gathered together in Milltown Park on Saturday 21 September 2019. The day was facilitated by John Dardis SJ, the Counsellor for Discernment and Apostolic Planning to the Father General of the Jesuits. It began with communal prayer lead by Edmond Grace SJ and an opening talk and welcome from the Irish Jesuit Provincial Fr Leonard Moloney SJ.
This was followed by inputs from invited guests including Elma Walsh, whose son Donal made a nationwide impact with letters he wrote when terminally ill with cancer. There was reflection and small group discussion during the day followed by a plenary session. Proceedings drew to a close with the presentation of the Dominic Collins medal to John Bruton, former Taoiseach and Clongowes College SJ alumnus. The medal is awarded to men and women who have most closely collaborated in the mission of the Society, with a spirit of generosity and for the greater glory of God. John Bruton was awarded the medal also in recognition of his life of public service and his commitment to his faith – a faith that was nurtured in part in his school days at Clongowes.
The day concluded with Mass and dinner.
In his opening remarks, the Provincial spoke about the recent sale of some of the land of the Milltown Park, the beginning of another Tertianship year for 11 Jesuits in Manresa, the transferring of the Milltown library to Dublin City University and the ageing profile of the Jesuits in Ireland.
He then went on to address the issue of child protection. He emphasised that the survivor of abuse must always be at the heart of every policy. “It is painful and shameful to be living through this period,” he said, “And the call is to reach out to every victim. It is the victim who must always be our central concern.”
He noted too that it was essential to have the highest standards in place in terms of safeguarding and that all Jesuits be informed and aware regarding this most important issue. To that end, the Provincial said he had asked Saoirse Fox, the Province’s Delegate for Safeguarding, to update those present. He had also invited John Guiney SJ and Michelle Henderson, the Project Co-Ordinators for Promoting a Consistent Culture of Protection to address the Jesuits gathered, as did Fr Benoit Malvaux SJ, the Procurator General from Rome, who outlined how the Jesuits worldwide respond to sexual abuse allegations concerning the Order.
Elma Walsh’s talk was both moving and inspiring according to those present. She spoke about finding hope in a time of crisis and referencing the clerical sexual abuse scandal she noted that, “It is imperative that we learn from the past and that what happened in the past will never happen again”. She said that everyone had to move forward but for that to happen it is important that “we own what happened and our role in it. The Catholic Church in Ireland is coming through a necessary process…the hurt and anger that many Catholics felt is real, but by acknowledging and learning from the lessons of the past we are in a much better place going forward.”
She then went on to speak of her own crisis and that of her son Donal who was diagnosed with cancer, dying from it at the age of 16. “At that time in 2013 Donal was a boy in crisis, but yet people took great hope and inspiration from him. Today in 2019 and going forward people still need hope and inspiration and it is up to you the Church to stand up and help them find that hope…”
She spoke of the impact Donal is still having on young people today, six years after his death. “They relate to Donal in a variety of ways. They see how he looked and dressed and spoke the same as themselves. They are impressed with the way he spoke about his faith. They see what mattered to Donal and how he wanted young people to appreciate their lives. And as he said himself on television, ‘not just mentally but to appreciate life in general’, how he wanted what was best for them and how he wanted them to live healthy, caring lives into old age.”
Elma also said that Donal’s spirit is wide-reaching. “Because of what he said and the circumstances in which he said it, a lot of people today and not just young people use Donal when they are worried, stressed, confused and disoriented in their lives. They take courage in the words he said and in the strength, he showed. We get messages all the time telling us how he changed their lives, attitudes, beliefs in life.”
She concluded her talk with a word of gratitude and a final tribute to Donal. “Thank you, but now like all good Kerry mammies I will leave the last words to my son and read one of those letters he came to prominence with.”
I live in a part of the world that is surrounded by mountains. I can’t turn my head without finding a bloody hill or mountain and I suppose those were God’s plans for me. To have me grow up around mountains and grow climbing a few too. And that’s exactly what I’ve done, I may have grown up in body around them but I’ve fully grown and matured in mind climbing His Mountains.
He’s had me fight cancer three times, face countless deaths and losses in my life. He’s had my childhood dreams taken off me but at the end of the day, He’s made a man.
I am always called brave, heroic, kind, genuine, honourable and so many other kind compliments but I have to try to explain to everyone why I seem to reject them. I have never fought for anyone but myself, therefore, I cannot be brave or heroic, I’ve only been kind because my religion has taught me so. What impact could I ever make on the world if I was fake or how could I ever be honourable if I was not honoured to be here?
I am me. There is no other way of putting it, little old Donal Walsh from Tralee, one body, one mind with a few other cobwebs and tales thrown in. I’ve climbed God’s mountains, faced many struggles for my life and dealt with so much loss. And as much as I’d love to go around to every fool on this planet and open there eyes to the mountains that surround them in life I can’t. But maybe if I shout from mine they’ll pay attention.
If I start to accept these compliments I’m afraid of what I’ll become. Will I be braver than YE? Will I be kinder than YE? More genuine than YE? Or more honourable than YE? Better than YE? No. I can never accept that there is a YE. We are all the same; we are all given one body, one mind. The only difference for me is that I’m looking from the mountain.
Donal Walsh RIP