Casey, John, 1873-1954, Jesuit priest

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Casey, John, 1873-1954, Jesuit priest

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20 November 1873-5 June 1954

History

Born: 20 November 1873, London, England
Entered: 6 September 1890, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 30 July 1905, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final vows: 2 February 1910
Died: 5 June 1954, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly

by 1900 at Leuven Belgium (BELG) studying
by 1901 at Stonyhurst England (ANG) studying

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 29th Year No 4 1954

Obituary :
Father John Casey
Father John Casey was born in London in 1873, son of the late Patrick Casey, merchant, formerly of Labasheeda, Co. Clare. He was educated in Mungret College and entered the Society at Tullabeg in 1890. After two years' Juniorate in Milltown Park, he studied philosophy at Louvain and Stonyhurst. A gifted mathematician, he taught for six years at the Crescent, Limerick, and at Clongowes before going to Theology at Milltown Park, where he was ordained priest in 1905.
The following year he began his long association with Mungret College, where, from 1906 to 1919, and again from 1927 to 1933, he held appointments as prefect of studies and professor of mathematics and physics. He performed the same duties during the years 1921 to 1926 at St. Ignatius' College, Galway.
In 1933, Father Casey was transferred to Tullabeg, where he taught the philosophers mathematics and teaching methods to within a few years of his death, and was besides Spiritual Father to the Community.
To write an adequate obituary notice of a man who spent over 60. years in the Society, seems at first sight a well nigh impossible task, for almost inevitably the writer belongs to the older generation that knew him best in his prime or to the younger generation that knew him only in his later and declining years.
As one belonging to the former category, I shall try to give an appreciation of Father Casey's earlier years in the Society and supplement it by an account written for his Golden Jubilee by one who knew him, after his ordination, during his long teaching career in the colleges, and conclude with some extracts from the younger generation who knew him well past middle age or, perhaps, only in the sere and yellow leaf.
Those who were boys at Clongowes during the closing years of the last century or the opening years of the present one can call to mind a very unique set of scholastics who helped to mould their spiritual, intellectual and physical outlook on life. But among them all there was none for whom they entertained such a combined hero-worship and holy fear as Mister Casey, the powerful Clareman from Labasheeda.
Spiritually, they knew him or rather took him for granted for what he was : a holy man without any of the external trappings that are so frequently associated with the pedestal. Prayers before and after class, the Angelus at 12, but no “holy talk” in between.
Intellectually, he was par excellence the teacher of Euclid (as it was called in those days) which one was expected to demonstrate intelligibly on the blackboard or be sent for “twice nine” in default. Nor would it suffice to repeat a proposition “by heart”, as one unhappy victim tried to do until he was bidden to change the letters ABC to XYZ, with the result that he was reduced to impotent silence and found himself sentenced forthwith to the inevitable penalty.
Physically, he was the hero of playday walks, who always took a bee-line course, no matter what obstacles were in the way, and expected every boy to follow the leader at the risk of perishing in the attempt, 'or else be left shame-facedly behind nursing his wounds.
Not much of the “delicate” man was apparent in those days, and yet some years after his ordination he had to undergo an emergency operation, his life for a time had been in grave danger, and he survived only to become a comparative valetudinarian. But his spirit was not broken, nor his power of hard work, and he continued for over thirty years teaching mathematics, perhaps the first “Magister Perpetuus” in the Colleges.
Let another old pupil of Father Casey's give his impressions of him when, after his ordination, he fulfilled the dual function of Prefect of Studies and Professor of Mathematics for so many years :
“Looking back over a lapse of more than thirty years, one can see as clearly now as then how he dominated (it is the only word) the scene of activity in class or study hall. Other memories there are, indeed, of masters and boys and affairs, but it.can be safely said that of all who passed through Mungret at that time, there is no one who cannot conjure up at a moment's notice the vision of Father Casey striding swiftly along the stone corridor or appearing as Prefect of Studies at the head of a classroom without seeming, somehow, to, have come in by the door. And what a change was there when he did come! In the most restless gathering ensued a silence which could be heard, the hardiest spirit was reduced to his lowest dimension, and any vulgar fraction of humanity who might have incontinently strayed into a Mungret classroom instantly became a minus quantity.
Many of Father Casey's pupils who have since been called upon themselves to exercise authority of one kind or another, must have wondered enviously how he did it. For he used the physical and adventitious aids to pedagogy rather less than most Prefects of his time. Yet somehow he conveyed by a manner which, if we had had the wit to realise it, must have been sustained by a continuous effort, that if affairs did not progress with the speed and exactitude of a proposition in Euclid, and in the manner he indicated with precision, that then the sky would fall or the end of the world would come, or some dreadful Nemesis of the kind would await the unfortunate who lagged upon the road. ....
I doubt if Mungret has ever had or will ever have a greater teacher of Mathematics than Father John Casey. It is one thing to be a great mathematician and another thing to be a great teacher of mathematics; the combination of the two, as in Father Casey's case, must be very rare indeed. Without pretending to know much about it, it has always seemed to the writer that an expert in any subject was usually a poor teacher at least to elementary students. He knows so much that it is difficult for him to realise how little his pupils know, and it must be heart-breaking to find that there are some to whom the very rudiments of his science are inexplicable. At all events, Father Casey was the best mathematician and the best teacher we ever knew. Here again the achievement was psychological rather than physical ; we got a certain amount of work to do, carefully explained and well within our capabilities; it was conveyed to us as a first axiom that that work had to be done ; the question of trying to dodge it simply never entered our heads ; ergo the work was done and we passed our exams. One could almost hear Father Casey saying Q.E.D. when we got the results.
The greatest achievement of a master, however, is not to be found by measuring the results of examinations ; it is in the amount of respect he earns from his pupils. Father Casey carried away with him not only our profound respect as a teacher but our enduring affection as a man. For if boys recognise weakness and trade upon it, they also know strength and understand the proper and unerring use of it. We know that here was a man who had been given certain work to do and intended to do it for that reason alone....”

To conclude this brief obituary, over to you, Younger Generation :
“Father John Casey died peacefully on June 5th, at the age of 80. During most of his life he had to struggle against ill health. In his last years he was completely blind and so feeble that he had to be assisted to stand. But these infirmities of the body did not subdue his great and courageous spirit. He remained until the end as clear and fresh in mind as those thirty years his junior. His interest in and grasp of events both in the Province and the world in general remained undiminished. Always affable and gay, he was ready at recreation to join in any topic of conversation and the width of his interests was remarkable. Only three days before his death he was expounding the merits of Milton's ‘Samson Agonistes’. It is not surprising that this poem on blindness by a blind man should have made a special impression on him. When, however, Father Casey referred to his own affliction, there was never a trace of self pity. When he did mention it, which was rarely, it was always to note its humorous side.
Three years before his death he asked the Community of Tullabeg to join with him in a Novena that God might spare his eyesight sufficiently to continue to say Mass. But God required what must have been for him the supreme sacrifice. Father Casey quietly accepted. The memory of the calm face of the blind man assisting at Mass each morning will remain always with those who witnessed it.
Father Casey was too reserved and unassuming to wish us to catalogue his virtues. His spiritual children will always cherish his unfailing sympathy and sage and balanced counsel. In fourteen years of closest companionship the writer of these lines never heard him speak an unkind word. May his meek and gentle soul find rest and light at last in the Vision of God”.

◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973

Father John Casey 1873-1954
The name of Fr John Casey is remembered well and with affection and respect by many generations of pupils in our Colleges, especially Mungret, where he spent many years of his life. Born in London in 1873, and raised in County Clare, his life was no bed of silk.

He underwent a severe operation shortly after ordination which rendered him a veritable invalid all his life. In spite of his bad health, he gave a long life of valuable service to the Society, as teacher, Prefect of Studies, and Spiritual Father. For this last office he had a special aptitude – a clear judgement, an insight into character and a high standard of religious observance. A rector of Tullabeg once said, that as long as Fr Casey was Spiritual Father, he himself had no anxiety about the spiritual condition of the Philosophers.

For the last three years of his life he was totally blind and could not say Mass. This cross, as well as his long life of ill health he accepted cheerfully, as from the Hand of God. Fidelity to duty, thoroughness in work, courtesy to others, these qualities sum up the man.

He died on June 5th 1954 a model in many ways to succeeding generations of Jesuits.

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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