When Pat Davies SJ was pucking the sliotar or kicking the ball into the net for jubilant Home Farm fans he never dreamt he’d end up outside Divis Flats in Belfast at one in the morning, collecting his burnt out car with an RUC escort. It was a long road from the Home Farm fields to those Belfast streets, but a blessed one according to Pat who’s now marking 20 years of ministry with the Jesuits in Northern Ireland. At every unexpected turn in his journey, he says the providence of God was at work. He was sixteen and a keen Dublin hurler when eyesight problems saw him dropping the hurl and hitting the soccer trail where he ended up playing for his local team Homefarm. Bright but with no great grá for study he led the life of a happy teenager with a gift for sport. Yet from time to time a vague sense of unease would niggle at him. At the suggestion of a friend, he made a spur of the moment decision to go to a ‘come and see’ type event with the Jesuits in Mungret, Limerick. The friend was thinking of becoming a Jesuit, Pat hadn’t the slightest notion of it. Pat ended up joining, his friend did not. Once he’d make that decision it was a steep learning curve, for him as for all Jesuits, through philosophy and theology. He also completed a primary degree in psychology. He did his postgraduate studies influenced by the wise advice of a fellow Jesuit who saw in the early 70’s on the converging paths of spiritualty and psychology. He was also very impressed by the iconic psychologist Rollo May and after his studies he trained and qualified as a psychotherapist.
Although a Jesuit of the Irish Province, for a long time he had a deep conviction that he was meant to work and serve in Britain. That conviction proved to be correct and he set up a centre for adult formation in Birmingham where he worked for over ten years. He trained in family therapy and worked also as a Chaplain in a diocesan school for emotionally disturbed children. So with a significant workload going full steam ahead he was somewhat surprised to be asked to move to Belfast and join the Jesuit community there. He did so willingly however and from the outset found it easy to settle in. “The people in North Belfast were most welcoming and despite ‘the troubles’ there was a great community spirit which reminded me of what it was like growing up in Artane in Dublin”. He quickly settled in to a ministry that was part of the Jesuit response to live a ‘faith that does justice’, so close to the heart of Fr Pedro Arrupe, the Father General of the Jesuits at that time. He was impressed with the foundation work done by the Jesuits already there, like Finbarr Lynch, who had introduced Ignatian Spirituality and prayer to many parishioners. They in turn were passing on what they had learnt in small groups within their parish community. And they developed a great outreach to the local protestant churches who all (with the exception of the more fundamentalist evangelicals) embraced Ignatian spirituality warmly. Pat soon secured an office in North Belfast and began his counselling and family ministry as requested by the local bishop who had clients waiting for him when he arrived! There was no shortage of work for him given what was happening at the time: the struggle for peace, the sectarian murders and the impact of thirty years of violence. And he was eminently qualified to help. “The need was great and I loved the work – I never looked back”. Nowadays in the new dispensation of the peace process, things are much easier. “In the past I may have been nervous the odd time but never afraid. People here were great and really supportive. But in general the tense, tough atmosphere has gone, and the young people are much more settled.” But he had one or two hair raising moments- like the walk in the park to clear his head which ended up in him being surrounded by armed police and soldiers who were convinced he was ‘a terrorist’. “I remember thinking – if I die now I’ll be a martyr!”
Today what drives Pat is sharing the compassion of Jesus, something which he has thought a lot about recently. “When you are sitting helping a client as a counsellor, you are being compassionate, you’re listening to them, not judging them and helping them to heal. And that’s why so many people are coming to counselling. But that’s exactly what Jesus offered people, mercy and compassion. He did not condemn. He said to the woman taken in adultery ‘, did anyone condemn you? Neither did I. Go and sin no more’. I’ve come to realise that.” So after twenty years of ministry in the North how would Pat sum up his life? “In one word –wonderful”.
You can listen here to Pat in conversation with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications.