Born: 21 January 1933, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1950, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 24 May 1964, Clongowes Wood College SJ, County Kildare
Final Vows: 02 February 1968, Catholic Workers College, Dublin
Died: 01 June 2014, Blackrock Clinic, Dublin
Part of the Manresa House, Dollymount, Dublin community at the time of death.
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
Father Provincial of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus : 01 September 1980-1986
by 2003 at Mwangaza Nairobi, Kenya (AOR) working
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Joe Dargan: vision and task
It is rare for us to mourn such a servant of the Irish Jesuits as Joe Dargan. His looks were unremarkable: small, bespectacled, usually smiling. He was sturdy, a wing forward on Clongowes cup teams. His friends would describe Joe’s style of rugby as robust. It showed the steely determination hidden under a mild façade.
Wherever he went, he was landed with responsibility: starting with Third Line Prefect in Clongowes (he commented ”In 1958 when I volunteered to go to Zambia, I was told that my Zambia was to be Third Line prefect in Clongowes.”). He went on to be Director of the Province Social Survey, Rector of Emo, of Manresa (twice), of Clongowes, of Gonzaga, and of Belvedere. He was Master of Novices, Instructor of Tertians, Pastoral planning Consultant to the Irish Bishops, and also to the Major Religious Superiors (CMRS), director of the Manresa Centre of Spirituality, Socius to the Provincial, and Provincial. They never made him General, though it’s said that they thought of thrusting a bishopric on him.
You’d imagine that a man with such a gift for administration might be a nerdy type, with rows of secretaries ticking boxes for him. Joe was indeed a methodical man, who consulted wisely, prayed before making decisions, and stayed on the job till it was complete. For instance, he not merely designed the tertianship house in Manresa, but visited the site every day, made friends with the workmen, and so created a beautiful, functional building.
When, as rector of Belvedere, he had to raise funds for a school building, he showed his ability to balance the short-term and the long-term issues. As he put it to groups which he addressed: “A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision with a task is the hope for the future.” Parents were constantly reminded that education was the greatest gift they could leave to their children. With this vision before them, Joe and his collaborators worked on a 30-year plan. Part of the process entailed winning over all the constituents of the college: the Jesuit community, boys, teachers past and present, and past pupils. The target was four million pounds, and Belvedere passed it. If it has received generously, it also gives generously. Between their various projects Belvedere boys raise about a quarter of a million euro annually for charity. It is that vision of men for others, rather than lists of figures, that made these years a stimulating time for Joe Dargan rather than a begging bowl nightmare.
What people remember of Joe, however, is not so much his administrative ability as his kindness, and his readiness to give his time lavishly. He was every inch a priest, with a special gift for being with those in their last illness. It was probably this ease in his priestly role, coupled with his passion for sport, that underlay his friendship with Alex Ferguson of Manchester United.
When he was told some very few months ago that his illness was terminal, Joe was immediately filled with consolation and gratitude for the key people in his life – those he had met and loved, in his family, in the Society, in those extraordinarily rich friendships that he so enjoyed with such beloved friends, male andfemale. As the doctor actually spoke to him, those people’s names and images passed before his inner eye and he was filled with joy and gratitude. Most of us would have sunk at such a moment: not Joe, because the gratitude was to God and to those who were God’s hands and eyes and ears for him in this life.
A friend remarked that Joe was the most extraordinary of ordinary men, unthreatening, affable, and open to the Lord, who achieved great things through him.
Interfuse No 157 : Autumn 2014
Fr Joe Dargan (1933-2014)
21 January 1933: Bom in Dublin.
Early education at Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin, Belvedere, Rockwell College and Clongowes Wood College
7 September 1950: Entered the Society at Emo
8 September 1952 First Vows at Emo
1952 - 1955: Rathfarnham - Studied Arts at UCD
1955 - 1958: Tullabeg - Studied Philosophy
1958 - 1961: Clongowes – Third Line Prefect: Teacher
1961 - 1965: Milltown Park - Studied Theology
24 May 1964: Ordained at Clongowes Wood College
1965 - 1966: Rathfarnham – Tertianship
1966 - 1968: CIR – Director of Province Social Survey
2nd February 1968: Final Vows at CIR
1968 - 1969: Emo - Rector & Master of Novices
1969 - 1974: Manresa House – Rector and Master of Novices
1974 - 1977: Manresa - Rector; Director Centre of Spirituality
1977 - 1979: Clongowes - Rector; Asst. Provincial (visitor)
1979 - 1980: Socius to Provincial
1980 - 1986: Loyola House - Provincial
1986 - 1987: Loyola House - Sabbatical, assisted CMRS
1987 - 1993: Gonzaga - Rector & CMRS General Secretary
1993 - 2002: Belvedere - Rector; Consultant to Bishops on Pastoral Planning; Belvedere – Rector; Consultant to Bishops on Pastoral Planning (until 1997) Chair of Boards of Management of Manresa and Belvedere College.
2005 - 2014: Manresa – Vice-Rector; Tertian Director
2006 - 2012: Manresa Rector; Tertian Director
2012 - 2014: Vice-Rector and Tertian Director
Joe was not feeling well for some weeks and went into the Blackrock Clinic on March 23rd. Tests revealed extensive cancer. He accepted the results and the prognosis with grace and faith, continuing to reach out to people over the following weeks. There was a gradual decline in his condition and he died peacefully on Ascension Sunday morning. May he rest in the Peace of Christ
Since Fr Joseph Dargan, or just Joe (as I came to know him), passed away on the day we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension, he has been pointing not to himself but to the God he loved. In the manner of his dying, down to the very timing, and at his funeral, he was asking us to grapple with the question in the first reading at the funeral Mass from Deutero-Isaiah: “Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges: can you not see it?” He was inviting us to listen to the message of hope and encouraging us to live out of that hope. The words of St. Patrick's Breastplate have been reverberating in my mind these past days:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me.
These words represent the key to understanding what Joe desired, and the reality to which he pointed in all his interactions with us, when talking of God or mammon (in the form of Manchester United) - and everything in between.
The American Poet, Mary Oliver, in Honey Locust, describes a tree, native to North America, in blossom and the bees seeking the nectar:
The bees circle the tree and dive into it.
They are crazy with gratitude,
They are working like farmers.
They are as happy as saints.
I am going to frame my words around these lines.
The bees circle the tree and dive into it
This is the disposition that Fr. Joe brought to everything he did. He engaged fully. He dived into life, in whatever circumstances: in Manresa, in the then CMRS, in Gonzaga, Clongowes and Belvedere, in Mwangaza, in Loyola. And in whatever role, from Provincial to spiritual director, from Chair of the Board to lover of family, and so on.
And how he loved bis family: while I name only his brother Michael (or Mick) and his beloved sister Mairéad, they stand for all the family, those who have gone before Joe, those here present including the 18 nieces and grandnieces - not forgetting the nephews, including Joe the younger. He also enjoyed the deepest of friendships. And I have often thought that his great gift of being able to relate with women was modelled on the way that Jesus himself related to women in the Gospels, Joe engaged with all persons in the fullest way possible.
The bees are crazy with gratitude
Joe had almost zero concern for the material things of this world. As a. novice, I remember a fellow novice speculating one day that he thought that Joe had only one pair of shoes: in fact, watching thereafter, we never saw him in other than that one sturdy, black pair. That's not to deny that he didn't enjoy being able to stream the big football game - say Man U at home to Liverpool this season! But when challenged about such a worldly use of the computer, Joe would say simply, that the computer is merely an apostolic aid!' He was truly indifferent to worldly possessions. Given that significant business people who came to know him well, even to depend on him in some measure, would say that had Joe chosen a different path, that he would undoubtedly have been a very successful businessperson, we might ask ourselves, what is the source of his indifference to worldly goods?
The answer in significant part lies in the reading from Deutero Isaiah. Like the exiled Jewish people in Babylonia, so Joe needed to hear - and did hear at the deepest level of his being - those words from God through the prophet:
“I regard you as precious, since you are honoured and I love you. Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you. No need to remember past events. Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges: can you not see it?”
These words were heard as being addressed to him - and to each of us! It intrigued Joe that the reading ends with a big question: “Can you, can we, not see it?” In the Ascension, God did something new with Jesus and it emerges that there is hope and that hope is grounded in the death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. And, in his dying on the Feast of the Ascension, God did something new in Joseph. Can you not see it?
Out of this was born the person that Joe became: a most grateful person.
When he was told some very few months ago that his illness was terminal, Joe was immediately filled with consolation and gratitude for the key people in his life - those he had met and loved, in his family, in the Society, in those extraordinarily rich friendships that he so enjoyed with such beloved friends, male and female. As the doctor actually spoke to him, those people's names and images passed before his inner eye and he was filled with joy and gratitude.
Most of us would have sunk at such a moment: not Joe, because the gratitude was to God and to those who were God's hands and eyes and ears for him in this life.
But, to be clear, Joe was not like a plastic or alabaster statue. As a young Jesuit student in Rathfarnham and Tullabeg and Milltown, he would come from his room, football boots in his hands, pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on the way to the pitch, pray intensely out of gratitude to God - and then go out on the pitch and hack down anyone who dared to try and pass him, leaving his opponent sprawling on the ground, with Joe standing over him, full of concern!
And in the spirit of consolation that sustained him in recent weeks, on being visited by Mr. Gerard Foley, currently headmaster of Belvedere, Joe's mischievous sense of humour enabled him to whisper, Thank God you came in to Belvedere when you did: that other fellow left an awful mess!'
Gratitude and grace - the latter understood as relationship with God - and consolation - but never without bite, never without humour!
The bees around the honey locust are working like farmers
Out of that spirit of gratitude, I suspect that unlike most of us, Joe wasted very few moments during his 81+ years. He gave his all to every project and to every person: in his presence, one never felt that Joe had to be elsewhere - you got his undivided attention.
From sticking faithfully to a physiotherapist's instructions, to thorough engagement with the Irish Province social survey in response to Vatican II back in the 1960's, to the meticulous attention to detail in the planning document, Our Mission in Ireland drawn up during his time as Provincial - strategic planning was a prominent feature of every work that he engaged in, not least with the CMRS - down to the legacy that is the tertianship today, co-created with his Dutch colleague Fr. Jan van de Poll - in all of that, the focus was always on the mission, to bring the love of Christ to the other.
Who knows how many lives he saved - I mean that in the deepest sense - through his love-enriched, Christ-focused interaction with so many people, bom of the Spiritual Exercises, of his love of the poor - witness his work in Africa, his work on the bursary programme in Belvedere, his reception of the orphans from Africa every summer - and of his love of the Church?
In the Letter to the Ephesians, read like Deutero-Isaiah at his funeral, St Paul prays for his “hidden self to grow strong”. Richard Rohr says somewhere that “the True Self is that part of you who knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously. Your False Self is just who you think you are - but thinking doesn't make it so”. Throughout his life, Joe took the risk of going deeper, below the ego, to discern “who and whose” we are. Joe lived the self-reflective prayer of Ignatius known as the Examen. He truly devoted himself to prayer and reflection. And so his “hidden self” grew out of and into God, into Jesus Christ, enriched greatly through his love of Mary, the Mother of God, and of the Church, and of the Society of Jesus.
Everything he did was to try to get us on the same path, knowing it was the way to genuine inner peace and contentment for each of us. In the prayerful words of the late Pedro Arrupe S), former General of the Society:
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything with new eyes,
To discern and test the spirits
That help me read the signs of the times,
To relish the things that are yours
and to communicate them to others.
Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave Ignatius'.
This became Joe's own prayer.
In a wonderful little piece, Leonard Cohen asks, “what is a saint?”:
A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos....but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have amongst us such (persons), such balancing monsters of love.
Joe was just such a person, filled with the energy of love and with that balance. He knew, of course, that it is in Christ that an ever deeper hope resides.
But this is not to go back to the alabaster statue. A Jesuit friend and I went out to dinner one night, in a restaurant very close to Manresa. (I remember it well because I paid!) This mutual friend put a little idea into our heads: why not call in to visit Joe on the way home, but not tell him why we were there together, leaving him with the impression that the Provincial had given us a very important task, on behalf of the Province, which we were not free to talk about! We didn't have to travel far into Manresa: there was Joe walking the upper path, rosary beads in hand. At every opportunity, for months after, indeed for the past couple of years, Joe never missed an opportunity to try to find out what was going on. He was innately curious. He loved to know what was going on.
A Board colleague of the time reminded me of a Board meeting in Belvedere in the days when Belvedere was well run!) when, as headmaster, I conveyed some information about an issue to do with rugby (of all things!). Joe, sitting next to me, rounded on me and asked if I was informing the Board of this matter or asking their opinion. A bit perplexed, I - allegedly - floundered and said I supposed I was informing the Board. Joe's two hands stretched out, in a familiar gesture of his and said: “Fine, fine, that's fine - because if you were asking us, I wouldn't agree with you!” Saintly, but as cute as a fox, wise as the serpent, simple as the dove.
Like his fellow Jesuits, he knew himself to be a sinner yet loved by Jesus: on his sick-bed he acknowledged that he had made mistakes in his life, but that these were forgotten and forgiven.
Those bees are as happy as saints
The integrity, the consistency of the spoken word and gesture, and the manner of his dying, confirm for us that Joe meant what he said, and said what he meant.
He understood himself and each one of us to be a new creation, and that in life and in death we give witness to the Resurrection. All this in faith and in hope. He made as his own Pedro Arrupe's prayer in his own illness:
Now more than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.
But now there is a difference:
The initiative is entirely with God.
It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
To know and feel myself so totally in God's hands!
In recent times, Joe was unable to celebrate Mass: a Sister friend suggested to me the other evening that this was his time to be, like Pierre Teillhard de Chardin SJ, offering his “Mass on the world”. Once, when in China, Teillhard had no bread or wine with which to celebrate Mass. He expressed his deep love for the Eucharist in his essay of that name, which begins:
Since once again, Lord .... I have neither bread nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.
Joe chose the funeral Mass reading from Matthew's Gospel because the words, “This is My body - this is My blood”, were the centre-piece of his vocation. These, he said as he faced death, are the most important words to say at that hour.
In the final lines of Honey Locust, Mary Oliver writes:
So it is if the heart has devoted itself to love,
There is not a single inch of emptiness.
Gladness gleams all the way to the grave.
A fitting epitaph for Joe, as God in him and throughout his life, says to us: “Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges: can you not see it?!”
Joe Dargan: Three Memories
During my first year theology in Milltown, Joe asked me to come to Manresa on Sunday mornings and introduce the novices to literature. So I'd cross the city on my Honda 50, with Saul Bellow, Ayn Rand, James Joyce and Co., in tow. The rhetoric of fiction was closer to my existential concerns than the theological questions we were being fed. In fact, the fare was all answers to issues and battles fought long before our time. So the answers were stale. The waves of Vatican Two were approaching, however, onto Irish shores, and Milltown, broadly speaking, was receptive and open to the experiential and empirical. So Joe's invitation was a Godsend, and at the end of our two-hour sessions he would hand me a ten pound note, saying “that's for petrol”! (Less than two would fill the tank!)
I'm about to go on Tertianship. Joe calls. He had been at a function in The Red House, where Dermot Ryan had complained about all the Religious going abroad to be trained for formation work Particularly the USA. Joe, Head of CORI, told him he had someone at home now who had trained in London. So the idea of Loreto House was born, and I was asked to set it up and get it going with two Sisters. And the rest is history!
We are in Rome for a month's Conference on the Spiritual Exercises, attended by 101 people, mostly Jesuits, but also other religious and lay collaborators from 40 countries. The approach is mostly academic: content orientated; lecture style; dense and heavy. Starting with Fr General, the lecturers were all stately, formal figures from the Greg. After three long mornings, Joe raised his hand, and asked a question. A huge burst of applause broke out! Only Joe would have got away with it, as there was no offense heard, but the feedback hit the nail on the head. The fact of his being a previous Provincial probably helped too, and the talks and afternoon sessions became more experiential and participative.