This has been a brief, partial tour d’horizon, one man’s hasty, not particularly well-informed perspective on the past 150 years and slightly more. I have missed or omitted many contributions that should have featured in any such account. I know I have not mentioned the outstanding work of Fr James Cullen, founder of the Messenger and the Pioneers in the late 19th century, and the continuing influence of his work. With Pat Coyle sitting beside me, I have not mentioned the work of the Jesuit Communications Centre. I have not mentioned the outstanding holiness of Fr John Sullivan, in particular, or the heroism of Fr Willie Doyle and his fellow-chaplains in two world wars. I have not mentioned our contribution to the Gregorian and other Roman houses, where, in terms of the numbers involved, we have often punched above our weight as a province. I have not mentioned the development of youth work outside the schools – in Tabor Retreat House in the 1970s and, more recently, through the activities of Slí Eile (now Magis Ireland).
I have not mentioned An Timire and the Irish language apostolate. I have hardly mentioned at all all the quiet, faithful, unsung labours of those who served and administered houses and communities over the years, the brothers not least; or those who toiled in classrooms and lecture-halls with little palpable return, ‘seed-time workers’ as Paul Andrews once memorably called them; or the hidden one-to-one evangelisation of those involved in church work, sitting for hours in parlours and confessionals, listening, counselling, healing wounds; or so many other apparently more minor ministries, hospital and university chaplaincies and the rest – all those hidden labours which, rather than any great achievements of the Society at large, Karl Rahner famously said in 1973 were the reason he himself remained a Jesuit. Those whose work may seem neglected in this potted history will, I hope, forgive me.
As we face now into an increasingly secular age, with all its challenges and possibilities, we ask ourselves, chastened and humbled by our history but also consoled and full of hope, where God is leading us now. Much has been accomplished through those who have gone before us, seen and unseen, beginning with Peter Kenney’s small missionary band in 1811, moving to the inauguration of Fr Joseph Lentaigne as first provincial on 8th December 1860, and then through all the years since. Now for the future!