For Jesuits who depend in many ways on the administrative abilities of Fr Socius (Provincial’s secretary), it is consoling to know that our efficient Noel Barber has a poetically different side to him. He has just been chosen for the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award 2011 by the eponymous Society: a recognition of his huge contributions to the Society. Some were administrative contributions – organising and hosting conferences and serving for many years on the Society’s Committee. Noel’s energies have also gone into scholarship: he has read papers on Hopkins at conferences in Rome, Oxford, Dublin, Monasterevin and Denver, and published papers in Studies, Milltown Studies and the Hopkins Review. Noel describes the growth of his interest below.It all began under the influence of Fr. Donal O’Sullivan, my Master of Novices who was my best educator in the arts and literature. As a novice I was greatly taken by the sonnet on St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. My interest developed during studies of English Literature at UCD in the 1950s. In more recent times I began to study the relationship between the philosopher Scotus and Hopkins, on which I have given a couple of papers. But my main interest has become Hopkins, the Jesuit and his spirituality, and I have given a number of papers on these themes. The enigmatic quality of his spirituality and his inner relationship with the Society fascinates me, a fascination I have formulated in a series of questions:
Was Hopkins ever able to integrate his natural inclinations and talents into a coherent spirituality? Were there always elements in his vision that were at war with one another? To what extent did his Jesuit vocation help or hinder him? Was Ignatian spirituality his making or his undoing? Was he a Benedictine manqué? Was he a Franciscan in Jesuit clothing? Was he a lapsed Jesuit or a Jesuit par excellence?