Born: 20 March 1914, Dublin
Entered: 12 September 1931, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1945, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 03 April 1983, Loyola, Eglinton Road, Dublin
Died: 23 October 1996, Glengara Nursing, Glenageary, County Dublin
Part of the St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin community at the time of death.
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Peter McVerry
Sweetman, Michael (1914–96), Jesuit priest and social reformer, was born 20 March 1914 in Dublin, the seventh child of Roger M. Sweetman (1874–1954), a member of the first dáil, and his wife, Katherine (née Kelly). He had four brothers – Patrick, Rory, Edmond, and Hugh – and six sisters – Maureen, Catherine, Joan, Margaret, Juanita, and Bridget. Following his education at Mount St Benedict's, Gorey, Co. Wexford, and at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare, on 12 September 1931 he joined the Jesuits and studied arts at University College, Dublin, philosophy at Rahan, Tullabeg, Co. Offaly, and theology at Milltown Park, Dublin. He was ordained a priest on 31 July 1945 and completed his studies in theology in 1947.
Sweetman's first appointment was to work in the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street in Dublin. However, within a few months he developed TB. During his long convalescence he began attending the children's court in Dublin, where he developed a lifelong interest in social justice and children's issues. While pursuing this interest he spent the next eighteen years in retreat work in the Jesuit retreat centres at Rathfarnham Castle, Milltown Park, and Manresa House. In 1959 he was appointed superior of the Jesuit community in Manresa House of Spirituality, but was transferred after one year, allegedly for giving most of the goods of the house to the poor. In 1965 he returned to his first ministry, in the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street, and the rest of his life was spent working in the inner city of Dublin and in the socially deprived neighbourhood of Ballymun. He pioneered the Jesuit commitment to the poor by electing to live in the tenement flats of Benburb Street and Summerhill, and, when they were demolished in the late 1970s, in the high-rise flats of Ballymun. Sweetman was also a social reformer, working for improved housing conditions in the 1960s and 1970s and speaking critically at public meetings about the neglect of the poor, which brought him into conflict with the political authorities of the time.
As Sweetman's health began to deteriorate in 1992, his mobility declined and he became very disorientated. In 1994 he returned from Ballymun to live in the community at Gardiner Street, where nursing care was available to him. When his health deteriorated further and he required twenty-four-hour nursing care, he was moved in June 1996 to a nursing home, where he died 23 October 1996.
Irish Province Jesuit Archives; personal knowledge
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
A life of passion: Peter McVerry SJ
No questions, no judgments
Sat, Dec 20, 2008
THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW: Kathy Sheridan to Fr. Peter McVerry
..........ON JANUARY 1ST, 1979, he opened Tabor House, a three-bedroom flat that became the first hostel for boys aged between 12 and 16 who were sleeping rough. The following year, he moved to a flat in Ballymun with Fr Michael Sweetman, where they asked for a flat to house over-16s – “and to my surprise and their regret ever since, they gave it” – an unfunded, understaffed, chaotic, overcrowded access centre for all-comers, utterly ill-suited to its original purpose.
Interfuse No 132 : Summer 2007
A LIBERATING AND EMPOWERING PRIEST (1) : FR MICHAEL SWEWETMAN
Thomas J Morrissey
This is the first in a series of three. Much of the information on Michael's family life has come from his own recollections and those of his sisters, Joan and Brigid; and on his later life, from his recollections and those of various Jesuits and friends. His recollections are contained in some ten tapes of recorded interviews, two with Gay Byrne and Mike Murphy for Radio Éireann during the 1980s, and the remainder by John Dardis and Jesuit colleagues of Michael at the start of the 1990s. There was also an important interview by Máirín de Búrca in the Sunday Tribune in 1987. Michael's own published writings, though not extensive, are also very informative, Michael asked the present author to write an account of his life, and much of the text was read to him for comment while he was still able to concentrate!
One evening in 1968, the Dublin Housing Action Committee (DHAC) organized a picket on City Hall protesting against the lack of housing for the 10,000 families then on the Corporation's housing list. The usual conglomeration of left-wing political people turned up - predominately members of pre-split Sinn Fein, the Communist Party, the Connolly Youth Movement, and the Irish Communist Organization (ICO). But a few minutes into the picket a tall, thin, rather ascetic-looking priest walked up Cork Hill and joined the picket. The DHAC members were stunned. The theology of liberation and its effects had not yet appeared. The consensus amongst the picketers was that this priest had somehow mistaken the purpose of the protest.... They sent their most respectable-looking member over to speak with the stranger. He turned out to be Fr. Michael Sweetman, SJ, and he said simply that he had much experience of terrible housing conditions in Dublin and that he had promised himself that the first person or group to draw public attention to the problem would get his support. Simple and direct - some might say naive. Fr. Michael later agreed, “I was as green as you could meet. I didn't know that most of the protesters were Communists...I soon learned about the Communists, but I always felt that the doctrine of socialism is far nearer to Christ's message than that of capitalism”.
Thus, Máirín de Búrca, a former Assistant Secretary of Sinn Fein and a member of DHAC, in the Sunday Tribune in 1987, the year of Michael Sweetman's 73rd birthday. The unconventional, independent action, and fearless pursuit of a goal or principle, which she depicted, had been a constant phenomenon in Michael's career; it appears, indeed, to have been a recurring feature in the lives of many distinguished bearers of the family name.
The Sweetman Name
Michael was fascinated at the prominence achieved in Irish history by bearers of the family name: from Milo Sweetman, archbishop of Armagh, who in 1374 successfully foiled the Lord Deputy's plans to dispense with the Irish parliament (1), to Nicholas Sweetman, bishop of Ferns, who in 1774 vehemently opposed the suppression of the Jesuits (2), to John Sweetman, friend of Wolfe Tone, who suffered transportation and the loss of his brewery because of his active involvement in the United Irishmen (3), and to Dom Francis Sweetman, OSB, who ran a celebrated school, Mount St. Benedict, near Gorey, Co. Wexford, and educated many destined to play prominent roles in the history of Ireland, who later paid tribute to his "idealism, self-reliance, and courage" (4). Michael's own father, Roger Mary Sweetman, also displayed the Sweetman traits of independence and courage. A Sinn Fein deputy in Dail Eireann during the Troubles, he resigned in protest at the shooting of policemen, a dangerous protest to make in those days.
Family Background and Glendalough
Roger Sweetman had qualified as a barrister and held a relatively minor civil service post as secretary to the Charitable Donations and Bequests Association. He married Katherine, Aliaga Kelly (Aliaga' testifying to Spanish-Peruvian ancestry on her grandmother's side). They had a large family and lived at 24 Herbert Park, Dublin. Michael Sweetman was born there, the seventh child, on March 20, 1914. That year the fa mily moved to Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. An uncle had died and left a considerable sum of money. With it Roger bought a large house and 1700 acres of varied land: a mountain, woodland, a stretch by the smaller lake on which they had a boat and fishing rights, and just 80 acres of arable land. The house, with its distinctive green shutters, was named Derrybawn. In this setting young Michael grew up and found a dream world. It remained for him throughout his life the ideal place against which to measure all others.
The sense of space and leisure, and indeed freedom, is reflected again and again in Michael's recollections of his youth on radio and in newspaper interviews, Childhood “was happy enough because we were free”. There were the hills and the woods, the streams and the lakes, the swimming and boating, and the echoes of their shouts across the large lake. “You could be out all the morning wherever you liked”. He added that his father “would not be considered liberal or easy-going ...He was a strict man, but it was a very limited strictness. He would let you do what you wanted otherwise”. As an example of “limited strictness”, Michael recalled that they had to be in for dinner at 1 p.m.: “You had to be in for that....dressed and clean....then you could be out all day after that”. Some of his sisters remembered a further requirement: not to raid the orchard, and Michael had been spanked by his father with the back of a brush for disobeying this requirement. He could be very stubborn and willful, one sister who was close to him remarked. When punished for something, he tended to do it again. And there was a dare-devil quality. She recalled her astonishment at seeing him, when he was nine or ten years of age, running over and back across the road in front of a motor car, as if defying it to knock him down. “He was a complex person. He was kind and very sensitive, but could be irritable. Like his father, he had a great honesty, naivety, stubbornness, independence, and determination, and could be stubbornly argumentative”.
In their relatively remote world, without radio or television to attract them, they created their own amusements. In their playroom they used to dress up and do various forms of acting. Some of their productions were in Irish. A frequent theme was the "War of Independence", in which Lloyd George, in particular, was held up to ridicule: an indication of how the serious political issues of the time had found their way into the children's leisurely lives. It was inevitable, given that their father had joined Sinn Fein after 1916 and divided his energies, as he later wrote, “between running a big country place and politics”. He was then “42 years old and well off financially”. (5)
In the background, but the main prevailing influence as the children grew up, was their mother. Michael remembered her as “very religious”, though she “didn't impose” religion on them. Every afternoon she made her way uphill to St. Kevin's Church, and on Saturdays brought flowers from the garden for the altar. Gardening and music were two of her main interests. She promoted family prayers morning and evening; and led by example in her concern for the poor of the area. Undemonstrative in her love, she yet had an uncritical attitude which helped create a caring and relaxed atmosphere, despite the father's disciplinary requirements and the inevitable hubbub and rows in a family of eleven children. Eventually in 1924, at the age of ten, Michael's carefree days at Glendalough came to an end. The civil war was over. He was sent to Mount St. Benedict. Even though his brothers were there, he found it “a horrific change”.
The Restrictive life of Boarding School
By the time Michael went there, the school was greatly run down. It closed the following year, and the three Sweetman brothers, Roger, Edmund, and Michael, were sent to Clongowes. By then, their father's fortune had collapsed, and it was proving difficult to provide for and educate his large family. The boys found that their clothes were shabby compared to those of many of their companions, and they did not enjoy any “extras” at breakfast. They settled in, nevertheless, and made their own friends and went more or less their separate ways. Michael found a place on all the teams - in rugby, cricket, tennis - making up for whatever skills he lacked by his size, energy, enthusiasm and determination.
He spent six years at Clongowes, from 1925 to 1931, and all in all they were happy years. In the Lower Line, he soon made his mark. He was liked by his contemporaries and had leadership
qualities. He was made captain of the Line in his second year. He also got on well with one of the priests in charge, the flamboyant, histrionic, Fr. McGlade. The conditions, as in most boarding schools of the period, were Spartan, and there was tight discipline. Silence was required in the dormitories, and there was an early call; Michael got into the habit of taking a swim each morning about 7 o'clock. He enjoyed the experience in itself, and as a mark. of toughness. There was Mass, which all attended at 7.30, followed by breakfast. Like boarders of every generation, he found the food unsatisfactory, Games, other than outside matches, as he recalled them, were played in one's clothes, and the boys returned to heated rooms in damp clothes which dried on them. There were no hot showers. “After rugby, you could go in for a swim and get clean”. There was a hot bath about once a month. There was no provision for haircuts. Accordingly, as Michael related some forty years later in a radio interview, on their return home their mother “used to always scrub us down, wash us and cleanse us, and delouse us if necessary”.
He enjoyed, nevertheless, the rough and tumble of school life; and the rather wild, mischievous side to him found outlets, particularly in the early years. One of his teachers was the saintly Fr. John Sullivan, who was meant to teach him Greek and geography, but was not noted for class control. Michael's class made life difficult for him, and Michael was prominent in the persecution. In time, he grew in appreciation of Fr. John. “We looked on him as a saint. He dressed very poorly, shabbily. He visited the people in the neighbourhood who were sick”. As spiritual director to the boys, he spoke of the sickness of people, of those “with the whole side of their face eaten away with cancer”. He became a model for Michael. “In my last year, I would go walking with him....He was absolutely genuine, and fearless. He was respected by everyone and loved”. His example stayed with Michael for life. Years later, preaching at Gardiner Street on his memories of Fr. John Sullivan, he indulged his tendency to shock in the guise of jest with the comment that “John was unlike other Jesuits!” John's simplicity, fearlessness, and above all his genuineness, appealed particularly to him. In his own seventies, Michael was to write: “I have come to the conclusion - if you are playing any kind of a part, putting on any kind of an act, you are not being true to yourself”. (6)
In his fifth year he was made a school prefect. In this role he showed he could be strict with small boys, but preserved control without reporting anyone for punishment. He was appointed school captain the next year at the early age of sixteen and a half. He had become noticeably more serious and reflective following a retreat given by a well-known missioner, Fr. Ernest Mackey, who had a way of challenging senior boys, and who, as a result, attracted many to religious life. The Sweetman boys began to do “Mackey's quarter”, ie, to devote a quarter of an hour to prayer each day. He persuaded us, Michael observed, “because it was the tough thing to do. He put it up to you”. And “we did it even when we were camping at home. We were absolutely sold on that”. It involved fifteen minutes in silence in church, or wherever one found oneself. He did not recall that Mackey gave them any special method of prayer. Michael had begun to feel by this time a desire to be a Jesuit, but as his brother Edmund expressed an intention of joining the order, he decided he “wasn't going to follow him”. Then Edmund changed his mind and Michael changed his. He told nobody about his intention. During the summer holidays he informed his parents. They were well disposed, and his mother immediately assured him, “If you ever leave, you are welcome back”. The departure from Glendalough itself was a great wrench. In those days, once one entered a religious order one was usually not allowed home except in the case of a death, or some very serious family illness.
Jesuit Religious Formation
He entered the novitiate at Emo Park, former residence of the Earls of Portarlington, on September 12, 1931. Recently acquired, it was in a dilapidated condition. The duration of the noviceship was two years. It was to prove a difficult time for Michael. Time and again he thought of leaving, and each time decided to stay on. There were 19 novices in his year. Together with the 25 in the second year, they formed a community of 44 young men. Their lives from 5.30 a.m. to about 9.0 p.m.were fully time-tabled. The day began with an hour's mental prayer, followed by mass. After breakfast, time was given to spiritual reading, house work, work in the grounds, vocal and additional mental prayer, Silence reigned, except for a short period of recreation after dinner, and an evening recreation during part of which one was expected to converse in Latin or, on certain evenings, in Irish. There was a villa day, or free day, once a week, given over to walks outside the grounds with a companion chosen for one.
The drudgery and disciplined routine of the years at Emo were given meaning and purpose by the thirty-day retreat. He took his first vows in September, 1933, and moved to Rathfarnham Castle the following day. From there, during the next three years, he was to cycle to University College, then at Earlsfort Terrace, to attend lectures on Latin and Greek. The subjects chosen for him were not those he would personally have preferred, but the allocation was made with the needs of the Jesuit colleges in mind. His time at Rathfarnham, nevertheless, appears to have been a reasonably happy one. Across the three years, there were some 160 scholastics, some of them Australian. On a half-day there were vigorous football matches, and on villa days there were long walks to the Dublin mountains in the autumn, winter and spring, and to the sea in the summer. Michael pushed himself both at study and in physical exercise. He eventually paid the price. He took little precaution against wettings on long walks, and in his third year, when he was probably already tired, he contracted pleurisy, which became wet pleurisy. He recalled that he first felt it in his lungs in the course of a 12-mile walk to Glencree, in the Dublin hills, and back again. He was seven weeks in hospital, and his doctor thought for a while that he would not survive. His degree examination was deferred. On coming out of hospital, he was allowed home to Glendalough to recuperate. It was a wise decision. He relished the space and quiet, and used to wander off by himself and swim on his own in the smaller lake. On recovery, he moved with his contemporaries to Tullabeg to study philosophy, only he had the additional burden of preparing for his BA.
Prefect and Teacher
By the end of three years in Tullabeg, the scholastics had been eight years in formation, and were now more than ready to face the task of teaching and organizing pupils in Jesuit schools. Michael at this stage came into his own. He had become a tall, serious but pleasant man, with an original turn of mind, who had been given additional opportunity for reflection during his illness and recuperation. He was appointed to Clongowes, where he spent the first two years of the Second World War. He was third-line prefect in charge of the youngest boys. He seems to have done well: managing to be friendly with the boys, yet preserving control and gaining their respect without ever resorting to physical punishment.
There was that about his presence and personality which suggested that he could be very tough if they tried to take advantage of him. The position of third-line prefect was demanding both physically and psychologically. He had little teaching, but he was with the boys at every free moment and constantly on his feet. One suspects that he again over-stretched himself. In any event, he was laid up with an inflamed and ulcerated leg which affected his circulation.
For his third year in the colleges, he was given a different experience: a year in a day school, at Crescent College, Limerick. When he arrived there in 1943, he found himself one of a community of twenty: 14 priests, 3 brothers, and 3 scholastics. He enjoyed his time in Limerick, and was given more opportunity to test his capacities as a teacher. These proved exceptional. One pupil, whom Michael had for Religious Knowledge in a junior class at the Crescent, retained fond memories of his style and presence. The pupil's main recollection concerned the use of the catechism. Some questions were set each day to be memorized for the next day. “Mr. Sweetman”, as he was called, took great care to explain in detail the meaning of the questions and answers to be memorized. Next day, after an examination of the lesson, for which there never was punishment but a rebuke, and obvious disappointment when little effort had been made, there followed an invitation to the class to ask any questions they wished relating to the material covered. Often the questions roamed far afield, but every question and questioner was treated with seriousness and respect, with the result that there were always many questions, and always there was an honest response; and if he did not know the answer he would say he did not know but would have the answer for the questioner the next day, and he invariably had. It also stood out in the pupil's memory that the classes were interesting as well as informative; and that if somebody became giddy, as happened from time to time, it was sufficient for the distinctive, drawling Sweetman voice to be raised a pitch, with a nuance of impatience, for the culprit to subside.
As with other scholastics of the period, Michael's spare time was devoted to training school rugby teams in the winter, to coaching tennis and athletics in the spring and early summer, and to bicycle trips in May, June, and September. It was the era of the bicycle renaissance, for scarcity of petrol due to the war had driven virtually all motor vehicles off the road. And the experience of the war in this respect, and in that of the rationing of food and clothing, was more clearly felt in a city school than in the self contained world of boarding college and farm. Michael, and the boys who accompanied him, enjoyed journeys to scenic areas such as Dromore Lake and the Clare Glens where they swam and picnicked. Following a full year of teaching, and sporting and recreational activity, and having made some enduring friendships, he left the Crescent and moved to Milltown Park for his final period of training before ordination.
Theology and Tertianship
The years of disciplined study from 1943 to his ordination in 1945 were years of much effort and some strain, compounded by his being appointed beadle of his year. The longed-for day of ordination at last arrived, and he was fortunate to have present both his parents and many members of the extended family. The final year of theology was a busy time, for study was now interspersed with duties as a priest - hearing confessions and saying Mass at weekends in various parts of Dublin city and county. These were joyous and fulfilling occasions; for such he had been ordained and undergone a long preparation.
The following year he embarked on his tertianship at Rathfarnham. He had hoped earlier to be assigned to the foreign missions in Hong Kong or Zambia, but his bouts of illness ruled that out; and his second choice of teaching was excluded because of his leg and the difficulties he would experience in standing for protracted periods. Accordingly, at the end of tertianship, 1948, he found himself assigned to church work at Gardiner Street,
1 Dictionary of National Biography, vol. LV
2 Archbishop Carpenter-Sweetman, 23 Feb. 1774, Reportorium Novum, vol. 1, no.2, 1956, p. 400
3 DNB. vol, LV
4 B. Ó Cathaoir. “Fr. Sweetman and Mount St. Benedict”, Irish Times, 16 Sept. 1981.
5 Roger Sweetman's memo to his daughter, Joan, undated but written in the 1940s.
6 AMDG - A Publication of the Irish Jesuits, 1991, p. 19.
Interfuse No 133 : Special Issue September 2007
A LIBERATING AND EMPOWERING PRIEST (2) : FR MICHAEL SWEWETMAN
Thomas J Morrissey
This is the second of a three-part “obituary” written by our Province Historian, Todd Morrissey. The first part appeared in the Summer, 2007, issue #132; the final part is ready for issue #134. Much of the information on Michael's family life has come from his own recollections and those of his sisters, Joan and Brigid; and on his later life, from his recollections and those of various Jesuits and friends. His recollections are contained in some ten tapes of recorded interviews, two with Gay Byrne and Mike Murphy for Radio Éireann during the 1980s, and the remainder by John Dardis and Jesuit colleagues of Michael at the start of the 1990s. There was also an interview by Máirín de Búrca in the Sunday Tribune in 1987. Michael's own published writings, though not extensive, are also very informative. Michael asked the author to write an account of his life, and much of the text was read to him for comment while he was still able to concentrate!
At the end of the tertianship, 1948, Michael found himself assigned to church work at Gardiner Street, Dublin, where, in addition to the normal rota of masses and confessions, he was placed in charge of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin; and of the St. Francis Xavier Sodality for men. At that time, these were relatively large groupings which demanded considerable attention. He also embarked on retreat work.
First Years as Priest: Work and Illness
He had come to his assignment feeling tired, without having had any holiday. Before long the tiredness seemed to increase, and he had to drive himself to keep going. After ten months it was found that he had tuberculosis. Much of the next year was spent between St.Vincent's hospital and Tullabeg. In the last, he lived apart in a separate wing.
There, however, he was well enough to read through the forty volumes of Pastor's History of the Popes and a good part of the writings of John Henry Newman, and he also found enjoyment, as well as food for thought, in the novels of Sigrid Unsted. The radio and records of classical music, especially the music of Schubert, to which he had been introduced by his mother, also helped to fill the hours during his illnesses. In the decade following his ordination there were, indeed, three bouts of tuberculosis, interspersed with stretches of active work.
Eventually, he underwent surgery at St. Mary's sanitorium, Phoenix Park, Dublin, and thereafter had no further problems with the disease. The illnesses, however, even with their periods of loneliness and dejection, proved a deepening and widening experience, not only in terms of reading, musical enjoyment, and reflection, but also in terms of sel£-reliance, and in leading him into a form of quiet, non-emotional prayer which gave inner strength and peace - “a silent, blank presence of God”.
On his recuperation from the first bout of tuberculosis, he was appointed to Rathfarnham as spiritual director to the Juniors - the Jesuit scholastics attending the university, and as assistant to the director of the Rathfarnham Retreat House. This last involved him mainly at weekends. As spiritual director, he brought to the position an openness and empathy which was of great assistance to the Juniors. His position also required him to give domestic exhortations to the combined community of priests, brothers, and scholastics. As he was the youngest priest in the permanent community, the task of preaching to the assembled group was a daunting one, especially as he brought a fresh and individual point of view to many of the subjects treated. He had read a number of works critical of the Society, such as those of the ex-Jesuit Boyd Barret, which were not readily available in the province, and was prepared to acknowledge the validity of some of the criticisms. He took great care in preparing his talks both as to content and style, and his younger listeners long remembered the freedom and originality which he brought to well-worn topics such as religious vows and “particular friendships”, as well as to a range of less obvious themes. Some of the older listeners, however, were less well disposed. Subsequently, when he sought to have the lectures published, the province censor of the time deemed them too criticial of traditional views. He was never accused, nevertheless, of being sensational in his approach, or unorthodox in his views. His sincerity and genuineness was evident; and, in time, many of his views and criticisms became accepted.
At weekends, as indicated, he was occupied with retreats, which were mainly to working men. They arrived on a Friday evening and continued in silence till Monday morning. There were sometimes up to 80 men, some of whom came fortified by alcohol, to face the ordeal. It was an intensive weekend of lectures, prayer, Masses, confessions and counselling, but Michael found it stimulating to be of help to so many different men from different occupations and backgrounds. Forty years later, men of the Lay Retreat Association still recalled his talks and assistance.
During his decade in Rathfarnham he found that for many hours in the week he had time on his hands. Wondering how he might best use this time, he consulted a member of the community, the elderly Fr. Richard Devane. The latter was a man of strong, independent personality, with a social conscience. Among the causes he championed was that of unmarried mothers. He sought financial assistance for them, and was known to stand outside Dail Eireann making their case to the deputies. He was termed, as a result, “the Father of the Unmarried Mothers”. He had also launched a sucessful campaign against the popular British press, which he accused of undermining moral values in Ireland; and at the close of the 1940s he wrote an attack on capitalism and laissez faire philosophy in a well-reviewed book entitled, The Failure of Individualism. Devane's recommendation changed Michael's life. He urged him to attend the Children's Courts and see the social and personal needs reflected there.
A Radical Apostolic Challenge to Social Commitment
The judge of the Children's Courts at that time was Henry McCarthy. Michael approached him and he agreed to his sitting in on the cases. “Sometimes I would go down every day of the week”, Michael recalled. “It opened to me the whole stream of deprivation in the city, and when I visited some of the children I met in the courts. I saw for myself the effects of poverty and bad housing”. His attendance at the courts also led him to Marlborough House, Glasnevin, the then rather chaotic detention centre for young boys in Dublin. Before visiting there, he took care to inform the local parish priest, Fr. Gleeson, who, fortunately, had previously been stationed in Glendalough. He did so as a partial insurance against the ever vigilant eye of the omniscient Archbishop McQuade. At Marlborough House, “he first encountered members of the Dunne family”, who were associated with crime in the popular mind. “I first met Christy Dunne”, he informed Mairín de Búrca in 1987, “and he was very young and very friendly and his family circumstances were the usual horror story”. He was, in fact, sixteen years of age; and very big, a man among boys. He was the eldest of sixteen children. As a result of the friendship, Michael was later involved in baptising many of the Dunne children, and he attended a number of family gatherings. When Christy came to get married, Michael provided the wedding ring, his mother's ring which had been left to Sister Joan. Thereafter, he was a support to Christy's wife and family in times of strain. Much of Christy's life was spent in gaol. But Michael stood by him consistently, and in court and written reference praised his good points. Many of Christy's children turned to him as a trusted friend and with them, he averred, he used hold long and serious conversations on a range of topics. His gift for seeing the good in people, his treatment of them with both directness and respect, and his absolute fearlessness, won. their regard.
He was prepared to go far to help these friends. This was shown very strikingly in the case of Christy Dunne, when Michael was superior at the Jesuit retreat house, Manresa, 1960-61. One day, it seems, Christy turned up and stated that he was on the run and wished to stay at Manresa, “Very well, stay on for a week”, Michael declared. He stayed on week after week, much to the consternation of many of the Jesuit community. Michael, indeed, is said to have allowed him use the house van, the community's means of transport, which was crashed more than once. During his stay at the house, Christy wrote a book on his life, with Michael's assistance. They tried to have it published. Two firms expressed an interest, and then pulled back. Some of it was subsequently published in a book called Smack. Christy, however, was said to have refrained from any involvement in drug traffic out of regard for “Fr.Sweetman”. After a number of months, Christy decided that to be on the run was too unsettling. They went to visit Mr.Haughey, the Minister for Justice, it seems, who was kind to Christy and joked, allegedly, about six months in a retreat house being a form of sentence. The attorney-general, however, not surprisingly, is reputed to have taken a very serious stance with Michael: “You know you have committed a crime by harbouring a man who was wanted by the police”. To which the snap, inadequate reply was: “I probably have, but it's better to keep him out of trouble than to get him into it”.
Christy did well for a long time after that. He set up as a contractor until a slump came and forced him out. Then he went into the taxi business for a while, a friend of Michael from his days in Limerick providing the financial backing for the car. Eventually, Christy was back in prison; unjustly, in Michael's view. He continued to visit him while his health permitted.
Loyalty to friends and those dependent on him had long been a . feature of Michael's behaviour. Most of the young offenders he met were unstable and volatile. Many were emotionally scarred, isolated, without any family ties. They were almost fated to go from offence to offence. He developed a line of advice to mitigate their behaviour. He used to counsel these wayward young friends: “Don't rob. But if you do, don't rob handbags or steal from old people; rob big places, which are likely to be covered by insurance!”
As well as Marlborough House, he also visited and made friends at the Centres in Daingean and Letterfrack. He tried to develop such positive talents as the boys had. A few settled down in jobs and never lapsed into crime. To one young lad with considerable potential as an artist, he gave great encouragement: providing materials, sponsorship, and other opportunities. For others he found jobs, sometimes in Jesuit houses. But again and again he was let down. Sometimes he exploded in anger out of frustration, but then was usually quick to apologise. As a priestly apostolate, it was one of the most difficult and tantalizing imaginable. There was little visible effect from one's efforts. Yet, he believed it was a truly Christ-like type of work. In a radio interview, referring to teenage boys who had burned a girl with an aerosol can, he commented: “People who do that...are in desperate straits themselves. Christ talked of going after the one sheep that strays... He came to heal the sick...Who are sicker than such persons?" So, he stayed with this work, and with such clients. Discipline, reliablility was alien to them. In many, violence was endemic. He had no illusions about them. But he would never give up on a friend. "Never write people oft", was a phrase of his which stayed with his sister, Joan. And he could be humorous at times about his chosen work. When Dr. McGreil of Maynooth, in a sociological survey, suggested that the people likely to be most successful with the deprived and unstable were those who were themselves neurotic, Michael observed wryly: “There was no need for a survey for that. I could have told him that”.
It was a life of intense pressure. Although he usually had other duties in church or parish or retreat house, he tried to be always available to people in difficulty. Often he had little sleep. There seemed to be always someone looking for something. Whenever money was available - and he begged unashamedly from family and friends for his clients - he gave unstintingly, but the greatest gift was of himself and his time, and in this he left himself open also to the intrusive tyranny of the phone. His relief through it all was his love of music, occasional days out with relatives and friends, and visits to the cinema - which he enjoyed as an art form to the point of contributing to the Furrow as film critic.
Setbacks and Humiliation
The singleminded dedication to his young offenders was not always appreciated by his Jesuit colleagues.. This first appeared on his appointment to Miltown Park, 1959, as minister to the large community, and director of the retreat house. Before long, disquiet was expressed at the presence of his proteges on the house staff. He was changed after a year, but in an upward move. In 1960 he was appointed rector of Manresa Retreat House, Dollymount. There, as noted, he harboured Christy Dunne for six months and gave him the use of the community van, and had a number of other transient young men on the staff. Not surprisingly, members of the community feared for the reputation and security of the house, which at best was struggling to survive financially, and felt aggrieved that they had not been consulted. In the circumstances, anomalies in his behaviour were noted. Michael, on one occasion, walked into the vegetable garden and orchard, on which the house depended for part of its income, and saw some youths raiding the apple trees. He gave chase in indignation, and as the last boy clambered over the external wall he caught one of his legs only to get the other leg in the face, shattering his glasses. His indignation against such minor theft was viewed by some of his brethren in ironic contrast to his harbouring and defence of far more serious delinquents. His community were not in a position to realize that Michael was possibly responding to an ancestral drum, to the seriousness with which his father had regarded raids on the orchard! When the Jesuit provincial made his annual visitation to Manresa, members expressed their fears and grievances to him. He, presumably, passed them on to Michael with certain recommendations, but he does not appear to have given him any indication that he might be moved from office.
One member of the community recalls standing behind Michael at the community notice board on the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, the date on which the provincial status, or appointments, was customarily posted, and perceiving the surprise with which Michael noted that he had been moved to another house, and his comment - “And it's not even a record!” Apparently, there was some other instance of a shorter reign as rector, or superior, in the province's history. The half-humorous, seemingly detached remark, covered a deep sense of hurt and humiliation. He later remarked how he had paced the nearby Bull Wall, a well known promontory in Dublin bay, trying to come to grips with the pain and sense of injustice at the way he had been treated.
He was moved back to Miltown Park, this time as spiritual father to the theology students and assistant-director of the retreat house. His arrival was welcomed by the theologians, most of whom had warm memories of him as spiritual director in Rathfarnham. There had been tension at Miltown, as the ordination of some men had been deferred, and Michael's advice and steadying influence was greatly appreciated. He remained in his new position from 1961 to 1965, and then was changed to church work in Gardiner Street. This marked the start of a long period characterized by dedicated service in the church, and by a further expansion in his social awareness and in his practical commitment to people neglected by society.
Interfuse No 134 : Christmas 2007
A LIBERATING AND EMPOWERING PRIEST (3) : FR MICHAEL SWEWETMAN
Thomas J Morrissey
This is the third and final part of an "obituary" written by our Province Historian. The first part appeared in the Summer, 2007, issue #132, the second in #133, and this is the final part. Much of the information on Michael's family life has come from his own recollections and those of his sisters, Joan and Brigid; and from his recollections and those of various Jesuits and friends. His recollections are contained in some ten tapes of recorded interviews, two with Gay Byrne and Mike Murphy for Radio Éireann during the 1980s, and the remainder by John Dardis and Jesuit colleagues of Michael at the start of the 1990s. There was also an interview by Máirín de Búrca in the Sunday Tribune in 1987. Michael's own published writings, though not extensive, are also very informative. Michael asked Todd to write an account of his life, and much of the text was read to him for comment while he was still able to concentrate!
Church Preacher and Confessor.
At Milltown, as previously at Rathfarnham, Michael gave exhortations to the community from time to time, and, as in the past, these were polished, well thought-out presentations which left an impression on his hearers. In Gardiner Street, however, the occasions for exhortations and sermons were much more frequent, and the audience much different. But, again, the impact was immediate. The beauty of language, joined to stark realism, held the attention of all, and nearly always there seemed to be an aside, or an incident recounted, which stayed with his listeners.
At Gardiner Street, however, his main work was centred on the confessional. Many people came to him, from all ranks of society, attracted by his humanity and patience, and the thoughtful and original quality of his advice. In the confusion and turmoil which followed the publication of Humanae Vitae, after a period when the idea of contraception seemed to have been accepted, he displayed an empathy for people's difficulties which, it is said, kept many practising their religion who would otherwise have abandoned it. To one Jesuit friend at that time he confided that he regarded his work as a confessor as his “most important apostolate”. Long after he left Gardiner Street, the confessional which he had occupied was still called “Fr.Sweetman's Box”.
Social Challenge: the Association of Priests
His experience with the Children's Courts and the houses of detention had brought him into close contact with the families of many of the boys and the squalor and poverty in which most of them lived. The need for more housing, and improved housing, was evident. The awareness of that need led him to participate in the picket organized by the Dublin Housing Action Committee in 1968. Prior to that, however, his sense that as a minister of Jesus Christ he should be closely identified with the poor, led him to join with a number of radically-minded priests, who termed themselves the Association of Irish Priests. It was a completely unofficial body, and some of the members subsequently left the priesthood.
After a number of meetings, it was decided that four of them would live formally with the poor. Michael was one of the four. The others were Fr. Ray Maher of the Holy Ghost congregation, Fr. O'Flanagan of Maynooth, and a Fr, Byrne. Michael, with his provincial's knowledge, and Ray Maher went to live in Benburb Street, one of Dublin's most deprived areas. They shared a flat, meant to be for a caretaker, and for much of the time Michael was there on his own, as Fr. Maher was a chaplain and was frequently away giving retreats. Michael stayed there at night, and went each day up the hill on his bicycle to work at Gardiner Street church. Soon, however, he could not say the early Masses. There were many late nights, and some sleepless ones, at the flat, “There were appalling conditions in Benburb Street”, he reminisced, “the worst conditions in the city”. The officials from the Housing Department had visited the scene, but nothing was done. “The people that were there had no washing facilities, practically, no cooking facilities, just a fire in the room. They had very little bedding”. His flat, having been the caretaker's, was, he remarked, “the only place where there was a bath, and I remember the delight of the kids coming in their droves to have a bath”. Despite the conditions, “there were very good people in the street”, he observed, and “extraordinarily clean”, though there were others not so good and some quite slovenly. “There was one woman; we used to take a cup of tea from her in a filthy old cup, but you would have to take it as an act of faith”.
Eventually, exasperation at the inactivity of the Corporation, and the contemporary international climate of restlessness and revolt, led the residents to stage a strike. “They put barricades across the streets," Michael recalled. "They said they wanted me on the committee because I lived in the area. That was a great compliment to me. We didn't do anything very drastic, but we did barricade the area and made it difficult for people to come in”.
He became active on the housing issue at this time on many fronts. The Dublin Housing Action Committee asked him to speak at a public protest meeting concerning the arrest of one of their members, Denis Dennehy. As he explained: “I had to make a quick decision and I agreed to speak. It has always been my instinct not to give into fear, and, although I felt a fool getting up to speak, that was good for me”. He spoke with vehemence, asking, in words that were widely quoted: “How the hell can a family begin without a home?”
By this, the newspapers and television were interested in him and in the housing situation. On January 29, 1968, the Newsbeat television programme featured “Dublin Housing”, and a year later, on February 4, 1969, the Seven Days programme focused on “Housing Problems in Dublin”. This last centred on the story of Denis Dennehy, who was evicted, with his wife and family, from 20 Mountjoy Square where they squatted. A protest meeting at the General Post Office, Dublin, addressed by Michael, was filmed, as well as a sit-down on O'Connell Bridge and scuffles with the Gardai. Michael recalled going to Limerick, and while there his "face appeared on T.V. in the course of the O'Connell Street riot". He spoke on a number of occasions from the back of lorries.
Many fellow Jesuits were puzzled at his association with political extremists; and he felt a bit guilty at times, as he returned to Gardiner Street, lest he offend older men whom he admired. But he did not experience any criticism. People recognised his genuineness and basic orthodoxy, and he had a self-deprecatory sense of humour which dissolved any notion of fanaticism and distanced him from any image of taking himself too seriously or being judgmental of others. Indeed, he had an appreciation of the pluralism of the Society which not only kept him from identifying himself with attacks on its fee-paying schools but enabled him to serve happily during the 1970's on the Board of Governors of his old school, Clongowes Wood College,
He figured on television again, and in the newspapers, when he participated with students in a squatting campaign against inadequate housing, and he made the headlines with the stark reminder that - “People were entitled to take the necessities of life, if they could not be provided any other way, and that it was perfectly right to do something illegal as long as it was not immoral”. The campaign evoked from the Fianna Fáil Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, who was the focal point of the protests, his celebrated attack on “gullible priests and so-called clerics” aimed at the Association of Irish Priests, and in particular, Michael Sweetman, whose family name was associated with the main opposition party, Fine Gael. Michael was amused at the notion that someone who had spent 16 years in preparation for ordination could be described as a “so-called cleric”, Some of his fellow Jesuits, however, were embarrassed rather than amused by the squatting episode.
Invitations to speak now poured in. Some of them were not “his style” in terms of location or theme, but, as he commented late in life, they “gave me the opportunity to speak on all sorts of platforms, favourable and unfavourable, and I always said what I had to say, and was a priest. Those were great years”. In those “great years”, it has to be remembered, he was in his late fifties, and all was scrutinized by the ever-vigilant archbishop. “I knew”, he acknowledged, “that I had to be careful not to make any errors of doctrine or John Charles McQuaid would have stepped in”. But His Grace was himself a man with a strong social conscience, “Once or twice”, Michael continued, “he asked who had given me permission, and had I the right permission, but he didn't pursue me. He was friendly to me, in a way. I don't know why. I heard that he sent warnings to me through the provincial...to be careful of such and such a person”.
Concern for the views of the archbishop did not deter him, nevertheless, from signing a public letter with the other fifteen members of the Association of Irish Priests on a matter on which he held firm views, namely, the issue of contraception. Without openly disagreeing with the Pope's stand, they wished to assert that the issue was far from being as clear-cut as those opposing contraception for Catholics made out.
Invitations to Write
As a result of his public prominence in these years, he received requests to write as well as to speak. Some of these provided an opportunity to voice his own independent philosophy, and to demonstrate his receptivity to change, and his distinctive form of lateral thinking.
His most powerful and enduring writing, however, was in the form of a pamphlet, which appeared as part of a “Christianity in Action” series produced by Veritas in 1972. It proved, and remains, a powerful clarion call to the public at large to recognize the individual and social damage that was being done by the shortage of housing, by the inhuman conditions in which families had to live, and by the greater priority given to property, money, and profit, than to people; and recognizing this, to push for an enlightened effort to alleviate the situation. There was not just a . social imperative for action, there was also a Christian imperative. “The Christian intervention in history was essentially to convert man, to change his heart, to make him turn around and face his fellow-men with love instead of hate, fear, and greed”.
Service of Others and Religion : from Benburb Street to Summerhill
As a result of the protests and confrontations, the flats at Benburb Street were finally closed. Michael moved to Summerhill, where he resided for six years, while still working at Gardiner Street Church. Once again, he acted as a mixture of friend and unpaid social worker, always seeking to be available for anyone who needed him. Only now he was no longer largely on his own; his pioneering social work had struck a chord in the Irish Jesuit province, and he had a number of young Jesuits residing with him at Summerhill and working there. These included Peter McVerry, later celebrated for his work for homeless boys, who ran a large workshop for the children of the area, where they did leather work which he marketed; Frank Brady, subsequently prominent in work for drug addicts and in Ballymun parish; John Callanan, a future author, school and university chaplain; and John Sweeney, who, as part of his religious training, was working in a factory in Ballyfermot and was later to be prominent in Catholic social service in Dublin. Some novices also came to stay with them to experience the reality of living amongst Dublin's poor.
The reality was stark, and at times fearsome. There were frequent interruptions and alarms by night. Sometimes callers sought a place to sleep, and for them floor space and mattresses were usually provided; others, whom Michael had befriended, called at 3 or 4 in the morning just wanting to talk and be listened to. Almost continuous disturbance, moreover, came from a very turbulent couple downstairs. It was, as he observed in his later years, “an extraordinary place” - “a great place to be”. It fulfilled his great desire to live with the poor; it brought him out, as he saw it, from living in a fortress removed from people, and it helped him “an awful lot and helped them a bit”. The fact that he was now one of a team was also of great help to him, while some of his companions have remarked on how much his presence meant to them. One man recalled the comfort he experienced when he came home at night after a day coping with problems to find Michael ready to listen and encourage; and if he had made a bad mistake, Michael always seemed disposed to cushion it with a humorous account of an even worse mistake he had once made himself.
From Summerhill to Ballymun
Then, Summerhill, too, was demolished. The Jesuit group discussed a length where to go in order to continue to identify their lives with the poor. They sought the advice of Fr. Peter Lemass, the local parish priest and an outstanding member of the diocesan clergy working among the poor. He recommended that they go to Ballymun. So at the close of 1980, Michael found himself living in Flat 21, McDonagh Towers, Ballymun, Dublin 12, and holding the position of superior to three young Jesuits: John Callanan, Frank Sammon, and John Sweeney. The first night he was on his own, and the flat was broken into and robbed, but not much was taken as there was not much to take!
From Ballymun he walked each day the long distance to Gardiner Street. He could not stand for long periods, but he could walk forever. As he did so, he prepared his sermons, reflected on people's problems, and meditated. He had developed over the years the frame of mind, inculcated by the founder of his order, namely that of finding God in all things, situations, and people. This is an appropriate point, accordingly, at which to introduce some features of Michael's spirituality. Like many Jesuits, he provided few direct clues to his own inner life. Fortunately, however, he provided a number of indirect ones, and these reflect an almost poetic awareness of God in the world of sense and nature, in sound and sight, and always there is an element of humour, and his own very personal way of reflecting on experience. In this respect some of his brief contributions on Radio Éireann in 1985 in the series “Just a Thought”, are illuminating.
A World Lit by the Spirit
Significantly, he devoted five talks to the subject of trees, “the great sign of life on earth”. They “breathe into the atmosphere”, he remarked in his first talk. “They take in what we call polluted air - carbon monoxide - and exhale oxygen. This is their ubiquitous, quasi-divine activity in the world. We literally cannot live without them”. And after an imaginative consideration of their growth and activity, he concluded: “In the meantime we must be satisfied to be aware of their silent breathing, nourishing in, us the mysterious gift of life”.
The second talk focused on the oak tree and its associations for him. He liked to associate it, in its power and serenity, with the music of Beethoven: “I remember when I was ill for long periods in early manhood, and had to spend endless hours lying in bed, how I used to grasp the end of the flex used as an aerial for the old radio that I had, to increase the volume. I had the sense of Beethoven's great rhythms and dramatic climaxes passing through me into sound; purifying me of despondency and fears of futility. They were like the strong arms of an oak, reassuring: life was worthwhile; something was valuable and permanent; love was possible - again”.
In his third presentation, he linked beech trees to the music of Chopin, and this, in turn, evoked memories of his youth. He had enjoyed the piano notes of Chopin's nocturnes played by a Rubenstein or Clayderman, “but never with such joy, as in memory I hear them rippling off the piano in the summer morning before breakfast, as my sister practised her pieces for the Feis Ceoil many moons ago. Then they floated out through the green-shuttered windows of Derrybawn in Glendalough and sped across the lawn to be received in the ample, yielding, mothering arms of the beech trees; known among foresters as the 'nurse of the wood”. In a subsequent talk “the great forest trees - the firs, pines and spruces” moved him to deplore their massive destruction to produce more and more newsprint. And he reflected how on calm days these great trees whisper and sigh on the gentle breeze, like the still small voice that heralded the approach of God to Elijah who could not discern him “in the earthquake, or the great wind, or the forest fire”.. And, finally, he returned to trees in a more general way, remarking: “A few times in our lives, I suppose, we all come to what you might call the verge of reality, nearly in touch with the heart of things, awe-struck with awareness of the Great Presence. For me this has always happened among trees”.
When, however, it came to selecting for publication from the contributions of the many speakers in the “Just a Thought” series, the one of Michael Sweetman's that was chosen by the editors was of a less imaginative, more humorous nature. It was entitled “The Only Prize-Winner in the Community”, and was structured on the brilliant, witty, and ungainly Fr. Arthur Little, philosopher, poet, and musician. Something of a hero to Michael, he remarked of him: “Life seemed a constant surprise to him and he liked to surprise others...He would offend clerical decorum by putting as frontispiece to the school magazine the prize-winning bull from the college farm - displaying all his considerable attributes - and underneath, the legend ‘The Only Prize-Winner in the Community’”. Michael concluded: “He died of lung cancer in his middle years. I visited him near the end and asked him did he get any pleasure still from music. ‘Ah, no Michael’, he said, ‘all that is gone now - there's only one thing left’, I thank him for his long bony finger and glinting eye, pointing towards the one thing necessary”.
In addition to these indirect insights into his spiritual world, Michael, fortunately, provided a more revealing picture in a brief article in the Jesuit magazine, AMDG, in 1991; written again with his characteristic feeling for imaginative, disciplined language.
Following the Christ of the Spiritual Exercises
Musing on what the Jesuit provincial had said to him on his 75th birthday - “You are no saint, but you are a good Jesuit” - Michael conveyed something of his deep faith and of the inner significance for him of being a Jesuit. “For the last twelve years I have done an annual eight day retreat, usually in Rocky Valley. We have a small cottage there, under the Sugar Loaf Mountain. In this lovely situation in Co. Wicklow, my native county, I can easily get in touch with God, alone. There, looking after my own meals, at my own time, walking about the foothills, working in the garden, basking in the sun if it is summer-time, getting a fire going if it is autumn, the sense of God's presence becomes second nature to me. There, the turmoil, the frustrations, joys and excitements of my life settle down and become the subject of reflection, the material for meditation, and fall into shape”.
“I will further consider the divine plan whereby this same Lord wants to give me all that is in His power to give”. “This phrase from Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises is really overwhelming, once you get beyond the formal language! God gives me everything, so that I can only feel grateful to him 'always and everywhere as the prefaces of the Mass so constantly tell us. Earlier in the retreat I would have tried to commit myself again to the following of Christ. This comes down, ultimately, to loving other people as he has loved us, not so much everyone, which is easy enough, but anyone, which can really push you to the pin of your collar! But all seems possible in Rocky Valley”!
“In recent years the great experience has been of camping on the Continent with some of my Jesuit friends. These were the times that vital decisions ripened: to go to the help of the homeless or delinquent; to try to find Christ where He said He was to be found, in the poorest and most difficult, the least of the brethren.... I have come to the conclusion: if you are playing any kind of part, putting on any kind of an act, you are not being true to yourself, which at its best is Christ in you. And so a frequent prayer now is, ‘May what is false within me before Your truth give way’. “When I am blank and dull, and even cantankerous and off putting, I try to remember to rejoice in the people I serve. This comes easily enough as I give, by my own word, the Body of Christ to them and feel the Word is made flesh in them”.
“Cardinal Martini touched a chord in me once by his description of desolation: ‘fear of facing certain situations, certain kinds of painful and prolonged fatigue, certain forms of ill humour, a certain inability to pray, in short not knowing how to be happy...’ This becomes all important as one begins to fade gently into the evening of life and then into the dark. I do not want to leave my good friends with a bad taste in their mouths”.
Struggling with Impatience and Desolation
“When I am blank and dull, and even cantankerous and off putting...” Michael, for all his great strengths, could be very difficult. A friend who experienced this on a few occasions, as when for example a change was made suddenly in a time-table, observed that he just stubbornly refused to cooperate, then later apologised. He once remarked to the same friend: “I can be very unreasonable. When I am, people should ignore me”. But it was not easy to ignore someone with Michael's physical size and strength of personality. And always, as noted earlier in relation to This time as a teacher, there was a sense of a volcano being restrained beneath a calm exterior. He remarked, indeed, that the patience he exhibited in the confessional and in frequent consultations was often exercised with great difficulty.
The latent impatience was to make life difficult for others as well as himself during his illnesses in his later years, though the impatience was mainly directed at his own failing mobility and memory. The “desolation” to which he had referred had become a squatter in his house; and he seemed to feel obliged, in the name of honesty and being true to oneself, to vigorously express his low spirits to others. One visiting Jesuit who solicitously enquired how he was, was taken aback by a vehement one word reply - “Lousy!”
The Years at Ballymun
Ballymun was Michael's final posting in terms of a mobile apostolate. Within a short time of his arrival, the Jesuits were offered a parish there. So there were now two residences, one in the towers and one at the presbytery, and by 1984 there were seven Jesuit priests and one brother living in Ballymun. The following year, Michael's church apostolate was moved from Gardiner Street to Shangan Road, Ballymun, and he took up residence in the presbytery. Before long he was running a cooperative in the parish. The 1980s, indeed, were a time of renewed public prominence for him. Apart from the "Just a Thought" presentations, there were two highly regarded in-depth radio interviews with Gay Byme and Mike Murphy respectively. And in -1987, at the age of seventy three, he received the rare honour of being appointed a consultor of the province - one of four men who meet regularly with the provincial to advise on policy, planning, the disposition of manpower, and so on.
In that year, too, there took place the long interview in the Sunday Tribune, conducted by his former colleague in the Housing Action days, Má