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Sadness and style

j_redmond_01Fr John Redmond died peacefully in Cherryfield on 29 September at the age of 87. How would we like to remember John? In two scenes, from the start and the end of his adult life. With a group of fellow about-to-be novices he hired a chauffeur-driven car and proceeded in style from Dublin to the noviciate in Emo. Other photos from this time show him handsome, stylish, full of charm. There is a transparent innocence and optimism in his face. He never lost that innocence. In his seventy years as a Jesuit, John schoolmastered  and ministered as a priest. But he suffered from serious illness, initially depression, later accompanied by physical illness. Last month, after a particularly traumatic spell in hospital, he returned to Cherryfield literally weeping with joy that he would be able to die at home.

One remembers too a picture of the Belvedere Cricket Team from the college annual of 1942. A close friend describes it: “In the middle, small, confident, nonchalant in his blazer and whites is John the team captain (also a disconcerting slow bowler and steady bat). In the row behind, tall and angular, Dermot Ryan, namer of metropolitan parks. The photograph celebrates a victory and is full of life and promise.

Another memento from that time marks his victory in the Belvedere debating society. Classmate Garret Fitzgerald’s rapid-fire delivery had for once met its match. It was a wonderful consolation to the family that in his final days he returned to Cherryfield.  Then he was at peace  – like the man in Luke who was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. That is how I will remember John, at peace at the end, as he was on that sunny day of cricket.  I know he gave his best as a Jesuit for 70 years, even if he thought his best was not good enough.  He never ceased to think of and pray for all his family and to thank God for all his good companions in the Society of Jesus. It is with thoughts such as these that I comfort myself.”

John’s contemporary, Dick Cremins, preached at the requiem Mass in Cherryfield:

“An early memory: in Emo we were gathered at the back door, waiting to go in after recreation. I said or did something unusual, at which he exclaimed encouragingly, “Brother Cremins, you missed your vocation!” Then his hand on his mouth, as he realised that in another sense this was not something one novice said to another. Even then John was the life and soul of the party.

In our years of formation, in Tullabeg and Milltown, he continued as a cheerful spirit, always engaged in the choir and on the stage. That was the man I left behind when I went to what was still Northern Rhodesia. We lost touch until 50 years later when I returned home and found he had become the Hermit of Cherryfield. He was odd, withdrawn, and never left his room. On the few occasions when I met him, I found him gracious, although I believe this was not the experience of every one, including his family. I heard then how he had isolated himself and given up work – until in the end there was no place for him except in this nursing home.

One of our contemporaries, Michael O’Kelly, who was a strong young man and one of the best footballers of our time, began in Tullabeg to complain about a pain in his knee. My reaction was to say to myself, “Why doesn’t he snap out of it and get on with life?” It was a cancer. In a short time his leg was amputated above the knee, and he died before he could be ordained. I learned not  to take the pains of others so cavalierly.

Likewise, we should not underestimate John’s sufferings: isolation, depression (those who have never known it wonder why he didn’t snap them out of it), low self-esteem, a feeling of being useless and achieving nothing (what could be worse for a Jesuit?). John’s achievement was a life of suffering borne with great fortitude and who knows how much prayer. For that we give thanks.

Edmund Campion (d. 1581), in his Brag, spoke of being “merry in heaven” with his persecutors, a word he borrowed from Margerie Kempe (c. 1400). We pray that John may be merry with the Lord and that with help of his prayers we will join in their merriment when our time comes.