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Loss of a leader: John Humphreys

Last Friday, 10 October, the Irish Jesuits lost one of their great servants. John Humphreys, aged 71, had been unconscious for two days, and increasingly sick with a brain tumour for five months. John was a Limerick man, a passionate fan of Munster rugby. His father, 25 years older than his mother, had died in 1953, leaving 10-year-old John as man of the house. He learned to manage the burdens of responsibility in a calm and kindly style, and as a result was landed with them all his life, as captain of Clongowes, beadle of scholastics during his years of study, Socius (companion and close advisor) to three Provincials, and Rector of several houses. When he was taken sick he was in his ninth year as rector of St Ignatius, Galway, charged with the thankless task of raising two million for school buildings.

John’s administrative gifts would not explain the grieving crowds who packed Gardiner Street church for his funeral. John was loved, and will be terribly missed. His style was upbeat, encouraging and giving. He was a humble man, a quiet listener, ready to learn from his mistakes. A Jesuit friend remembers him as good company at table, not saying much, but smiling at the craic and adding to it.

The source of this warmth became particularly clear in his last months of life. When he learned that his cancer was probably terminal, he lived with it, and his increasing sickness, with good humour nourished by his prayer. He asked a friend to seek out the text of a prayer which touched him, and described his spiritual state:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve. I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things. I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.