The Clongownian Annual 2011 has just been published – in full colour. Edited by Declan O’Keefe, the current issue features an in-depth interview with Provincial (and Old Clongownian) Tom Layden SJ. There is also an article by Bruce Bradley SJ, editor of Studies, covering one of the most significant events in the history of the school – the amalgamation with Tullabeg 125 years ago – as well as a piece by Conor Harper SJ marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Fr John Sullivan SJ, ‘Servant of God’. Declan says that “a cursory glance through its pages reveals that 2011 was a big year for rugby, but Clongowes is about much more than sport and The Clongownian 2011 reflects the breadth of activity in the school throughout the year, be it academic, cultural, pastoral, religious or sporting.” Read his interview with Tom Layden SJ, below.
‘BE OPEN TO THE SPIRIT’
Fr Thomas Layden SJ in interview with Declan O’Keeffe
On April 12th, 2010 the Jesuit Superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolàs, appointed Fr Tom Layden as Provincial of the Irish Jesuit Province. Fr Layden took up office on July 31st, the feast of St Ignatius. He is an Old Clongownian who left in 1975 and in May of 2011 he returned to the school and kindly gave an interview to The Clongownian. He began by telling us about his early life.
He was born in Dublin but grew up in Keadue, outside Boyle, Co Roscommon, as his father worked in the Arigna mines close by. Later his father got work in a limestone company, and when that was sold to the Sugar Company in 1972, the Layden family moved to Greystones, Co. Wicklow. Tom’s early years were spent in Kilronan National School – ‘a very happy time…that set me up well for studies elsewhere later in life.’ After Kilronan he moved to Clongowes, which was quite a contrast, and the young Tom found the first year quite difficult…
I was a rather shy guy and wasn’t really into sport. It was a bit of an adjustment from life in a small family to what seemed like to me a very big boarding school. So I had some adjusting to do in first year and even in second year. But by the time I got to third year I began to feel more at home here, made friends and really enjoyed the final two years.
What struck you about Clongowes in those early days?
The first thing I noticed in Clongowes was the very distinctive smell in the refectory. I wasn’t quite sure where that smell came from, but I associate it with being here and being thirteen, and feeling homesick, shy and lonely. And then there was the food, which wasn’t as nice as the food at home. When we complained about it, we were told that there were people elsewhere in the world who would love to have this kind of food, and of course that was objectively true but not that obvious a comfort to me as a child. And then there was the lack of privacy. I was used to having my own room at home, and I could withdraw to it if I wanted to spend time by myself and read. I had a cubicle here in Clongowes in first year, but there wasn’t much private space and private time. I was already used to things being organised from my time in primary school, but there was a little bit more flexibility at home about when I’d retire and when I’d rise in the morning. Such flexibility did not exist here. And also, when we were in first year we didn’t have access to TV, except on very rare occasions. That changed a year or two afterwards.
At what stage did you think about joining the Jesuits?
I was thinking of joining the Society when I was here in school and I made contact with the appropriate people and got a very positive reception. But the general line was: ‘There is potential here in terms of vocation, but you’re too young and you’ve been in boarding school for a number of years. Go to university, see a bit more of the world, broaden your experience, but stay in touch with us.’ So I spent four years of studying history in UCD, and I took a bit of time out towards the end and worked at various things. At the beginning of my time in university I was very keen on a religious vocation, but I became less enthusiastic in my second year, and by third year the idea was definitely fading. Then I took a year out and the thought of the vocation came back again. I had been in conversation with Colin Warrack SJ, whom I had known from my days as a boy here in Clongowes, and as a result I made contact with Laurence Murphy SJ, who was Novice Director. He put me on to the Provincial, Paddy Doyle SJ, and I then met with the Board of Examiners. I went for a psychological evaluation and was accepted. It was 1979, the year the Pope came to Ireland and many people used to say the Pope’s visit was a factor in my vocation but I didn’t know that the Pope was coming when I made the decision.’
What was it like in the 70s when you joined?
In the 1970’s there was an interest among Jesuits, in social justice and ecumenism. Some were also interested in charismatic renewal, using scripture and prayer. There was an openness to experiences that were not part of the conventional Catholicism of the 1950s. This was ten years after the Second Vatican Council, and I had a sense it was a time of new beginning. There was also a sense of inter-dependence amongst nations when we joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and we were looking more towards Europe. Of course a major factor for the Republic was the Troubles in Northern Ireland. At that time particularly, everything was escalating out of control and there was a sense of hopelessness and even embarrassment at what was happening. Then there was the ongoing economic situation, and I can remember in my years in school here being worried about things like inflation and unemployment. I and people of my time were wondering would we find jobs or would we have to emigrate? It wasn’t that we were experiencing dire poverty, but we did have that sense of a basic underlying insecurity.
How did those significant developments impact on you?
In those years there was a recovery of interest in Ignatius, in his life and writings and in particular in his Spiritual Exercises. There was a great surge of interest in the Exercises at the time, as something that would help people make decisions in times of change. So there was a recovery of the personally directed way of doing the Exercises. And that was based on the fact that originally, if someone went on retreat, Ignatius would have an individual meeting with them where he would suggest texts and themes for their reflection. He would also give suggestions or hints about how they could move forward. There was a sense too of St Ignatius as a pilgrim who had very strong personal experiences and feelings and was somebody who was open to change and leaving baggage behind. That was creative and dynamic, and I was picking up on that and on the thinking of Ignatius that the Jesuits should be available to go wherever the need was greatest. That would sometimes lead to the setting up of institutions, while at other times it would mean that they would simply move on if the need emerged in another part of the world.
So you found new ways of tackling current issues through this re-visiting of the life and thought of St Ignatius?
Well, my impression was that from the time the society was restored in 1814 there was a lot of emphasis put, quite rightly, on setting up institutions particularly in education. But from the mid-60’s onwards, as well as supporting those institutions and renewing them, there was also an emphasis on new needs emerging. Some felt that a group which was international and mobile might be able to respond to those needs in a way other groups might not. I think there was also a growing realisation of the lay vocation in the Church – the majority of Christ’s followers are lay people – and that people wanted to be empowered to live out their baptism. When an institution has been going for a number of years people are drawn to it – a sense of loyalty is evoked – and because of that people want to be more and more involved and engaged. That meant that, in large measure, they could be the ones responsible for the institution, freeing the Jesuits to go where a new need had emerged.
What was it like for you when you first joined up and became a Jesuit novice?
Our Novitiate in Manresa House, Dollymount, was interesting. We spent part of the time in the Novitiate and part of the time outside on what people nowadays called placements, but we traditionally called ‘experiments’, or ‘experiences’. My experiments included working in the Geriatric Hospital in Longford, the Morning Star Hostel in Dublin, the Remand Centre in a prison in Cheshire in England, teaching in Gonzaga for a while, working here on a holiday scheme for young people from London, and spending time with those young people in their hostel back in London. The really big ‘experience’ that we did actually at home was the spiritual exercises – thirty days of prayer and reflection – and it was in the course of the spiritual exercises that my own personal vocation was very much confirmed, and strengthened. It is very hard to put into words what happened, but there was a sense of a very deep encounter with the Lord. Of course, I recognised it a second time many years later when I was doing Tertianship, the last stage of Jesuit training.
Did many men join with you at that time?
The Novitiate was quite small when I went there in 1979. There were three of us in 1st year and two in 2nd year. But we went from being the Novitiate of five, in total, in my first year to twelve in my second year, because there was a very large entrance class in 1980, and that was a big change. It was great for those who loved sport because there could be soccer games in the house, although I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the others! But I can see how having a larger number and greater range of personalities in the Novitiate was very life-giving. It made the Novice Director’s job much easier too because in the Society of Jesus it’s not just those in charge of our training who have an effect on our own personal growth and development, it’s also our peers and contemporaries. The larger group included some older people – one person from Hong Kong – and that variety was very interesting and very good for us.’
Did you keep up your contact with Clongowes?
I returned to Clongowes for occasional visits. We would come down for a rest or a break and spend a night or two here. I came here with those young people from London when we were on the holiday scheme back in 1980 and 1981. It was interesting to come back to the place where I went to school, the place where my Jesuit journey had started. After the Novitiate, when I was a student of philosophy at Milltown from ’82 to ’84, I came down here from time to time and always appreciated the hospitality of the community. I taught in Belvedere from 1984 to 1987, and I was happy that I was in a day school rather than a boarding school because I felt my own particular gifts were better suited to a day school. A boarding school would be easier for someone who, unlike me, was interested in sport, but still even if I had been sent here I would have been open to that. I have always found Clongowes very welcoming.
Is Clongowes today much different from the school you went to as a boy?
There have been big changes in the school since I have been here and what really strikes me is the friendly relaxed atmosphere, how at home the boys are, how confident they are. I received a good education here, but the years I was here were years of change; it was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Times of transition bring opportunities and challenges for all concerned. I think that stability came in the mid ’70s, and coming out of that stability I think there is an atmosphere in which students feel very at home and like being here. And I think that ‘settling in’ happens more quickly than it did in my time.’
Did you feel it bred more confidence in you – your education here? You came in as a quiet boy you said, where you more confident when you left?
Yes I was, and a number of things gave rise to that: the good care I received from certain individual Jesuits and teachers, particularly at difficult times; the friendship of my contemporaries and peers. And I was involved in debating in the earlier years and that helped me to become confident in the area of public speaking and not to be afraid to make a mistake in public, because that’s not the end of the world and one can accept the failure, turn it into a little bit of humour and a joke and learn from it. And then I was involved in drama, and in my three last years here I took part in plays. So I would say the drama and debating helped me to grow in confidence. And some of the teachers in class certainly did encourage us to talk out and to express our opinions and not to be worried if we did not have all the facts and all the details. That encouraged an adventurous approach.
And where did you do your further studies?
In 1987 I studied theology in Regis College in Toronto. I had done all my training in the greater Dublin area so the feeling was that it would be good to go elsewhere. There were a number of possibilities, but in the end it was Toronto that was decided upon. I had known a number of Jesuits who had studied there, including John Dardis SJ, my predecessor as Provincial, who had gone out there in 1984 and had really enjoyed it and told me it was a very good place to go. One aspect of it that I really liked was that the theology was done in an ecumenical context. Regis was in the Toronto School of Theology, which was a federation of several different schools of theology, including Anglican, Presbyterian, United Church and Catholic. There was an opportunity to be taught by Protestant teachers and to be in class with trainee Protestant ministers and Protestant lay people. As I always had an interest in ecumenism, that was a particularly important dimension for me. Also in Toronto there was a long tradition of theology students doing pastoral work; I was working with people in parishes and in hospitals. I got involved in the Jesuit parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in the city centre, mostly in hospital ministry, and that was to mark me in a very particular way, as it certainly gave me confidence when I came to making the application to go forward to be ordained. I was ordained a Deacon in Toronto in December 1990, and a priest in Gardiner St. on the 22nd of June 1991. I was twenty years a priest this summer and the time has gone very quickly.’
During this time of formation and your time in Toronto, were you getting an idea what way you wanted your vocation to go – to be a teacher or work in a parish or something else?
When I went out to Toronto first I was very interested in an academic vocation and I was hoping that I would go on to do post-graduate studies in theology and come back and teach theology with an ecumenical orientation. As time went on, then, I wasn’t totally sure that the academic vocation was for me. Many aspects of it did appeal to me, but sometimes I found it difficult to finish essays and to write papers and I would get a bit behind in my work. In the light of that I began to wonder about becoming a full time academic. So I thought I might keep up the academic interest along with something slightly more pastoral. I had a very good experience teaching in Belvedere in the 80’s and I knew that by the time I was ordained Leonard Moloney SJ would be leaving his role as the Pastoral Coordinator in Belvedere to go on Tertianship. I thought that a role like that would be one that would work for me. I suggested it to Phil Harnett SJ, the Provincial, and he suggested other things. He was wondering about different schools, and I was open to that, but there was a preference to go back to the school that I had known and where I had built up a network of friendships with teachers, students and families. So my desire was to return to Belvedere and to work there.
How did that decision fare for you?
I had three years in Belvedere and it was a very important time in my life – those first three years as a priest. Looking back on it I think I was very blessed, because from September to June I was working in Belvedere, and then I went back to Toronto to work in the Jesuit parish for the summer. So I was well trained as a priest in a school and as a priest in a parish, and I was having experiences on both sides of the Atlantic. I found Belvedere had changed in the years that I was away. People and places always change, I knew that intellectually, but to experience it practically was a little bit of a jolt. And also I had changed myself. I found it an adjustment getting used to being back in Ireland after four years in Canada. We didn’t have email in those years so the contact with friends in Canada was less immediate, and there was a sense of homesickness for my adopted country of Canada when I returned to the native land of Ireland. That was part of the adjustment.
What kind of things did you do in Belvedere?
I have happy memories of a very good retreat programme which Leonard Moloney set up and particularly of the teachers who were very generous in helping me run that programme. I have happy memories of liturgies with the students in the school, and particularly the annual St. Francis Xavier liturgy in Gardiner Street, when the whole school would go over to Gardiner Street Church. It was a well-prepared liturgy; we would normally bring in a visiting preacher, the music was very carefully prepared, there was a elaborate Offertory procession of gifts, and there was a sense of the whole school community at prayer.
Back in those years in Belvedere, I was impressed by the various activities going on. I recall Gerry Haugh, who died recently, and the great work he did staging operas and plays. I was often involved in going on trips with Gerry, which I really enjoyed. My colleagues on the staff, lay and Jesuit, were very supportive during my early years as a priest. I had a sense of the musical tradition in the school and people working hard developing the choir. And then of course I was there the year that they won the Junior Cup in 1994. That was a wonderful moment, because in my early years in Belvedere great efforts had been made and there had been disappointment. There’s more to life than winning, and I know that Michael Shiel SJ in particular always stressed that. It was the quality of the rugby that was played that mattered, and the sense of performing well on the team that meant much more than the winning. But it was nice to have a moment of victory, and I was very happy that I was there for it and I savoured it.’
After Belvedere, you moved North?
I had three years in Belvedere and then I had to do Tertianship, the final year of Jesuit training, and I did that in Belfast in 1994-1995. I lived in a small community with two other Jesuits, one from Belgium who had worked with refugees in Cambodia, and the other from Brazil who had worked in a Centre for Faith and Justice and was an anthropologist by training. There were Jesuits living in two other small communities, in Coleraine and Derry, and we got together for classes in Maghera three mornings a week. We also did pastoral work in our own locality and I was involved in celebrating the Liturgy with an ecumenical community, The Columbanus Community of Reconciliation, who lived up the Antrim Road. 1994 was a very good time to be in Belfast because the first cease-fire happened then. The IRA cease-fire had been declared just before I arrived, and the Loyalist cease-fire was declared while I was there, so people were enjoying peace for the first time in twenty-five years.’
It must have been a very different type of experience for you?
It was, and I remember going to a Presbyterian church on the North Circular road on Sundays; I said, ‘This year I’m living in the North and I want to experience something of Protestant culture and Protestant worship. So I went to the church, whose minister was John Dunlop, and I attended their main service every Sunday at eleven. I have very clear memories of the Sunday before Christmas in 1994, when John Dunlop asked everybody in the church who was under twenty-five to stand up. Then he said, ‘For those of you who are under twenty five, this is the first Christmas that you have known when there’s a peace that will last after Christmas’. That really struck me. So in that year of Tertianship I found myself thinking about the years of the Troubles and how very complex the situation was. And because I have a background in history I have a certain understanding of it, but no one ever has a complete understanding of it all. And the danger of southerners going north is that we think we understand until we realise that all the issues are more complex than we can ever comprehend. But I had a sense of the great friendliness of the people, and just what they had suffered down through the years. And I was sharing in the rejoicing that the violence had come to an end, and hoping then that it would be possible to put political structures in place that would help to maintain the peace.
Had you ever been across the border before?
I spent time in the North as a university student. I spent a summer there with the Corrymeela Community back in the seventies, and I visited on a regular basis in the eighties, but I would have been heading back down to Dublin after three or four days or at the end of a month. ’94 onwards was my first time to live continuously there and I was all the time in direct contact with people, hearing their stories, particularly when they were beginning to trust me, which happened after a while. I remember one day a taxi driver was bringing me from the station back to the house, and he asked me what I was doing. I suppose I was being a little bit evasive, as one tended to be in the North in the years of the troubles and just afterwards. Eventually I said that I was a clergyman, and with a certain Northern directness he asked ‘What kind of a clergyman?’ I told him I was a Catholic priest, and he said, ‘Ah, the other side”. And then he said: ‘You know we used to think that our political leaders were working on our behalf. But they were living in big houses, and we didn’t live in a very big house, and we had an outside toilet for many years. They were always telling us that your side were the enemy and that they were looking after us and defending our interests. But I think that they weren’t really defending my interests”. So in moments like that, you hear something of the complexity of peoples’ stories and the way that people read their situation at one stage and how that can change for them as the years go by. And I think that when the guns were silenced it opened up a space where people could explore things; they didn’t have to be quite so defensive. During the troubles it was hard for people to be critical of their own side, because they felt that could be disloyal. But the freedom to look at the fullness of the picture was made possible by peace.
When did you leave Belfast?
I returned down south at the end of the Tertianship. Laurence Murphy, the Provincial at the time, missioned me to teach in Crescent College, Limerick, and I had two really good years in the school there. It was a different type of school to Belvedere, a co-ed school and a comprehensive. I was teaching history and religion. I have the happiest memories of it, and when I returned on visitation there last December I had a certain sense of homecoming. During the Tertianship, my peers said to me that they felt that long-term my future was in the north. I said that to Laurence, and he was open to it, but at that time there was no vacancy; all the places were filled in our communities in Belfast and Portadown. So he suggested that I go to the schools, and I really enjoyed being in Limerick. I was getting ready for a third year there, when I got a phone call from Laurence, saying that a vacancy as a Chaplain had arisen somewhat unexpectedly in Galway in Coláiste Iognáid. He asked me would I be open to considering it. I found it hard to leave Limerick and would have preferred to stay but I could sense there was a need in Galway. So I went and had a very good year there, standing in for Terry Howard SJ who was away on Tertianship. Galway was a very different kind of school. One of the streams was Irish speaking, and it was a school with its own very particular tradition.
But you did more than chaplaincy work there?
One of the great things that happened for me in Galway was that I got involved in an adult education programme in the Galway-Mayo Institution of Technology. Fr. Eugene Duffy asked me if I would give some classes on the theology of Church. I ended up giving about ten evening classes and that, alongside my work in the school, made for a very enjoyable year. Teaching adults was a new experience for me. I made some mistakes at the start as everyone does. Sometimes I talked too much, and didn’t give them enough time for discussion, other times there was too much discussion and at the end of the class nobody was quite sure what we had learned or what points we were agreed on, or what points we needed to look further into. But gradually I grew in confidence, and began to find a way of presenting as much material as people needed whilst still leaving time for discussion. Then towards the end of that year in Galway, Laurence Murphy phoned me and told me that a vacancy had arisen up North, and he was missioning me to go to Belfast.
So were you glad to be returning to Belfast?
There was sadness at leaving Galway. I had liked it and part of me wouldn’t have minded another year there. But I knew there was a kind of ‘vocation within the vocation’ to go North to work in the ecumenical area. During the two years in Limerick and the year in Galway I’d often go back once a month to the North and I had particularly close links with Saint George’s Church of Ireland church in High Street. I had stayed in contact with people there, and it was a kind of little base for me for when I went back north.’
What did you do when you went back? What was the mission?
Well, the mission really was threefold. It was a house in which people were engaged in the ministry of spirituality, so giving retreats and giving spiritual direction was one part of the work. Adult education was another part of the work. I assisted Brian Grogan SJ with a programme called Living Faith,which was an adult education course in applied Christian theology for lay people, in the diocese of Down and Connor. It took place in the Redemptorist Retreat centre on the Antrim road. I also involved myself in other adult education initiatives in various parishes. The third area of work was ecumenical contact and outreach. A lot of that centred on the links I had with Saint George’s Church of Ireland church in the city centre, where I’d occasionally preach and where I developed a bible study group as the years went by. I also got involved in the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriage Association, ministering to people in mixed marriages, preparing for mixed marriages, working on the format of the ceremony, how clergy from various churches would be involved, and what decisions would be made in relation to baptism.
That seems like really challenging and diverse work?
Yes, and as time went on I was invited to be spiritual director in the local seminary, St Malachy’s College, where seminarians lived as they studied philosophy in Queen’s University. Later on I was invited to be the Assistant Vicar for Religious in the diocese, working as the link person between the bishop and the religious. I also became involved with an integrated school, like a college, set up in 1981 as a place where young people from both parts of the community could be educated together. I used to go there one day a week and I assisted the two lay chaplains there, one Catholic and one Protestant, and I helped a little bit in the teaching of religion. Quite often then enquiries would come to me from the student body, from teachers and staff, from people connected with the school, asking for help in the area of inter-church marriages.
So you were meeting people from all walks of life and differing traditions in the North?
Indeed, and one interesting moment I had while living there was when a senior member of the Orange Order came to talk to a group of students about his own tradition and how he saw things. I gave him a lift back to his home afterwards, and we had a nice chat in the car. I think some of those moments were very sacred and precious in their own way because as people from different backgrounds we could meet, could acknowledge that there were certain irreconcilable differences in how we looked at the world, but as human beings we could live together and show mutual respect.
So how long did you spend there that time?
That lasted twelve years, the longest period I have spent in any one place. I went North in ‘98, I was appointed local superior in 2000, and then I was asked to co-ordinate the work in the North in 2003. That meant gathering the Jesuits working in Belfast, Portadown and Armagh for meetings four or five times a year. Then we could share with each other what we were doing, the contacts we had, and plan together a little bit, in terms of the next few months or the next year or so. It was largely a support group, but also a group that from time to time would reflect on the mission and have something to say to the Provincial. It was a very diverse group. Some people were very involved with socio-political issues, particularly the Portadown people and our man working in Armagh, Brian Lennon SJ. While in Belfast, the emphasis tended to be more on the spiritual and theological, though not exclusively so.
And you returned to Dublin when you were appointed Provincial of the Irish Jesuits?
Yes, but there was one little tweak that came in my last year in the North. I was approached by my Provincial, John Dardis, on behalf of four Provincials, those of Britain, North Belgium, the Netherlands and himself, and I was asked to become the coordinator of planning for four provinces, Flanders, Netherlands, Britain and Ireland. So that involved attending meetings in Britain, Belgium and Holland. A number of commissions were set up to look at various aspects of Jesuit ministry, asking the question, ‘With the change in our numbers, are there ways that we can work together? Can there be a common thrust to our work?’ We looked at things like new apostolic initiatives and an international apostolate, and at lay people and Jesuits working together. We also looked at communications. One very important event that year was when we gathered the younger Jesuits of the four provinces at Manresa House in Dollymount and asked them how they saw the future. Novices nowadays are together in a shared Novitiate in Birmingham in England; they study together in London, Paris and elsewhere. When I joined, I was very conscious of joining the Irish Province but when a younger man joins now, he knows he joins in the Irish Province, but working in collaboration with other provinces. So they have an international sense in a more immediate way than would have been the case in our time.
And now you are a Provincial in that changing landscape. How do you see your role?
To me the job of Provincial involves care of persons and care of the mission. Fr Kolvenbach SJ, our former General, said at a meeting of Procurators some years ago, that in terms of the personality of Provincials, some people are more drawn to the care of persons while others might have an interest in the planning and the long term, and the challenge is getting the balance between the two. I discovered in my years working in the North that I had to respect the individual Jesuits and respect what they were interested in, their gifts and talents, and to encourage them to build on that. At the same time you can’t have everyone doing their own thing; there has to be some kind of a shared vision and there has to be a sense of what might happen in a year’s time or two years’ time. I think it calls for a certain creativity to keep a sense of people as individuals, who they are and where they are coming from, without losing the sense of us as a group which asks the question ‘What’s the best service that we can provide?’
I suppose what unites us at the end of the day, is the desire to do what the Lord would want us to do. Ignatius had this great sense of the three divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit looking down on the world, and seeing the needs of humankind, and then sending the second person to become human to redeem them. I find it helpful to say to myself that as the three divine persons look down on the Irish Province, on Ireland, on Europe, on the world, what needs do they see? How do they want us to respond? How do they want us to bear witness to the Gospel? How do they want us to live our faith? How do they want us to incarnate a faith that does justice?
So you’ve come back to Clongowes after thirty-six years to a much-changed institution?
I’m back here because yesterday we had the Mass in the Boys’ Chapel to celebrate 150 years since the birth of Father John Sullivan SJ. There was an overflow congregation in the Peoples’ Church also, and it was the most moving occasion, a time of faith and of prayer. Our chief celebrant was Bishop Jim Moriarty, the retired bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and our preacher was Father Ciarán O’Carroll, from the University Church in Dublin. And many things struck me including the faith of the people and John Sullivan as a person who bridges different traditions in our own country. One thing I noticed during the ceremony was the presence of the Clongowes students and teachers and the way they helped with providing chairs and with the organisation of the Mass. I especially noticed the way they looked after the people in wheelchairs. Afterwards we were involved in celebrating the sacrament of anointing of the sick, and the boys helped people to come to me and helped bring me to people and helped to organise the lines. What really struck me about the boys yesterday was how relaxed and at home they were, how comfortable they are here, and their friendliness – they are easy to talk to. In our time, I think we were less inclined to talk to adults. I think they are just spontaneously friendly now and that’s regarded as normal. In my time we would have been teased a little bit for talking to a Jesuit or to a visitor, but that’s not the way at all now.
Do you have a view of where Clongowes is going, a vision for it and hope for it?
My hope for Clongowes in the future is that we can build on all the good work that’s been done here down through the years. Father Pedro Arrupe SJ, who was an inspiration to me in my early years as a Jesuit, spoke about our schools as places that would help our students to become men and women for others. I would hope for the young men here at the moment – and those who come in the next few years – that they will truly be men for others. That they will have a care and a compassion for our whole world, and will want to bring about change so that everybody can feel safe, everybody can have enough to eat, everybody can have shelter, and that there is respect for the diversity within and between the nations of the world. When I was here as a school boy, it seemed a pipe dream that Eastern Europe would see the liberation from Communism that came in the late 1980s. There was a sense that the arrangement which had been established after World War Two would take many years to unravel. But we have seen that change happening. When I was here as a student, apartheid seemed deeply embedded in South Africa. We were disturbed by it, we prayed for change, we wanted to work for change in many ways, and change did happen. We’ve seen so many natural disasters in recent times in different parts of the world. Sometimes those natural disasters can be caused by human planning, where people end up being housed in areas that are not safe. I would hope that the young men that we have here in Clongowes would be people that would be really concerned about that world out there, would care about Haiti, would care about Sudan, would care about the Ivory Coast, and would want things to be different in our world.
We’re going through a challenging economic time in our country at the moment. But it’s not just our country – there are issues in Portugal, Greece and elsewhere in the world. How can we face into these issues? How can we name them? I would hope for the young people here that they would have the imagination to consider how things could be different and the intelligence and the integrity to help bring about that difference. We can’t do it alone and there will be young people from other schools – the other Jesuit schools, Gonzaga, Belvedere, Coláiste Iognáid, Crescent College Comprehensive, St Declans, as well as Portora in Enniskillen, to which Clongowes is linked, and many other schools throughout the country. And I hope that the young men and women being educated there would want to make a difference and that the idealism of youth can have an impact.
What for you are the core values of a Jesuit education?
I was with a group of parents and teachers from another Jesuit school recently, talking about what I, as a trustee, would be looking for in the school. The three areas that I mentioned were excellence in academic education, sensitivity to the things of faith, and a faith that would do justice and want to bring about change, especially for the poor. Those would be three of the things that I would hope for the boys here in Clongowes. Also that they would work really well. This is a school; there is no point in having a nice experience living here and daydreaming. We want them to really get to know Jane Austin’s Emma, we want them to get to know the causes of the Irish Civil War, we want them to get to know the theorems of mathematics, to enjoy experiments in physics and chemistry, to have a sense of geography. We want them to feel confident in languages – Irish, French, German, Spanish whatever it be – to have a sense of the classics and all the different branches of education. But also I want them to come to know the God who is the author of all that is good, the one from whom we come and to whom we go. That relationship with God, however it’s expressed, is fundamental. It was what ignited Ignatius and gave him energy.
It’s a challenging time for faith in our country and elsewhere, but that relationship with God, expressed in the prayer in morning assembly, expressed in the celebration of Mass and in many other ways, is core. Young men find it when they go to Taizé; they find it when they go to Lourdes; they find it in many different ways. And then there is the work of justice. One of the big things for me here in the school was the Society for the Relief of the Poor and the Aged (SRPA) with Fr. Brian Cullen. Our sisters and brothers are in need – and that can happen to ourselves and our own families – and maybe some of us have experiences of economic difficulty in the family. Whenever people are in need, be it at home or abroad, they are our brothers and sisters – they are our own flesh and blood, we are deeply connected, and we have a responsibility toward them.
And so I would say to the boys in Clongowes: study well, be open to the spirit, and show care and compassion to your fellow men and women.