Born: 15 May 1944, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1962, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 21 June 1974, Gonzaga College SJ, Dublin
Final vows: 31 May 1979, Crescent College Comprehensive, Dooradoyle, Limerick
Died: 27 December 2008, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin
Part of the Loyola, Sandford Road, Dublin community at the time of death
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
John Dunne SJ RIP
Fr John Dunne SJ died peacefully at 10:30 am on the morning of 27 December 2008, the Feast of John the Evangelist. He was commended to the Lord by the prayers of his sister, Anne, Jesuit colleagues and nursing staff.
John Dunne SJ
15 May 1944 – 27 December 2008
John’s early education was in Trim and Coláiste na Rinne, Dungarvan. After secondary school in Clongowes Wood College he entered the Society of Jesus on 7 September 1962 at Emo. After First Vows, John went to Rathfarnham and studied Arts at ucd and later Philosophy at Milltown Park. He taught at the Sacred Heart College in Limerick before returning to Milltown in 1971 to study theology.
After ordination on 21 June 1974, he studied guidance counselling at Mater Dei and went as teacher and guidance counsellor to Crescent College Comprehensive where he remained until 1981. During this time he made Tertianship in Tullabeg and took his Final Vows on 31 May 1979. While in Limerick he studied computing and continued this interest, later beginning LayJay bulletin, forerunner to today’s AMDG.ie. He served in Galway from 1981 to 1987 as Rector, teacher, guidance counsellor and chair of the board of management. In 1987 John was appointed to Gonzaga where he was to spend the next fourteen years in roles as various as pastoral co-ordinator, guidance counsellor, teacher, librarian and Rector.
Following a year’s sabbatical, during which John spent some time at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California, and travelling in Asia and Africa, he moved to Loyola House in 2002 where he became Superior and Socius (Assistant Provincial).
John was admitted to Cherryfield Lodge on 19 December following a short illness which was diagnosed at the beginning of October. He died peacefully on the morning of Saturday 27 December, feast of Saint John the Evangelist.
May he rest in the peace of Christ
John Dunne SJ: funeral homily
The death of Fr John Dunne has drawn condolences from near and far, including, from Zambia-Malawi, Declan Murray SJ and Provincial Peter Bwanali. Also, there have been
numerous requests for the text of the homily which Brian Grogan SJ gave at the funeral mass in Gonzaga Chapel. Brian spoke warmly of John’s life and character, concentrating on three areas – the “three E’s”: the Enterprise of John’s life, his Endurance, and his Everlasting joy. Read the full homily below :
It’s impossible to capture a person’s life fully and I shall not try. But John loved photography: he lost 18 volumes of snapshots in the fire on Good Friday 2007! So I too shall be content with snapshots. I also note that at the Vigil we held for him last evening, friend after friend came up to the microphone and each gave us a distinct snapshot of how John had impacted on their lives. And the stories will go on and on. So I shall focus just on three areas:
The Enterprise of John’s life – this is the longer bit! His Endurance. His Everlasting joy. Three “Es” so you will know when I’m coming in to land!
- The Enterprise of John’s Life
We celebrate a good man. Now that may seem obvious: but I believe that one should try to write a homily with the bible in one hand and the Irish Times in the other – which makes it hard to do any writing, but there you are! Now there are two things to note about today’s Irish Times: first, those of you who are worried about your stocks and shares should take my advice and not invest in Pringles (= a form of potato crisps), because the value of these shares has plummeted since John lost his appetite!
Next, the paper is full, as always, of the wrongdoings of many people: violence, deception, murder, rape, domination – the unsavoury side of humankind. Measure John’s life against that picture. True, his life was ordinary: he taught for 25 years, but many of you have taught for much longer. He was a Superior for 18 years, but that was nothing special. We had a famous man, a scripture scholar, who was once asked if he’d like to be a Superior. ‘No’, he said finally, ‘but I’d like to live like one!’ But in fact it’s an ordinary job of service, just as being the assistant to the Provincial is. An ordinary man: John was not an academic; he liked the quip: ‘You can tell an intellectual but you can’t tell him much!’
An ordinary man. A good man. 46 yrs of service as a Jesuit. His story is ours. We can relate to him: I speak to the ordinary among you – please remain seated! The others can stand!
There’s a book of short stories by Flannery O’Connor: A Good man is Hard to Find. Good people are hard to find, and would that our world had more of them. Don’t take the faithful servant for granted! God doesn’t: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’
About 50 years ago John made a decision as an adolescent: not to do his own thing, not to win public approval or to make lots of money. He chose a life of love and service. He would serve the world! ‘In all things to love and serve’ is an Ignatian phrase. It sounds fine, but he took it seriously and lived it out, year after plodding year, until Dec 19 of this year to be exact, after the end- of -year office lunch. He then went home and spruced up for a Christmas meal given by Anne, his sister. That evening he gave in and went to Cherryfield. Two days earlier he had summoned up enough energy to go to Dundrum and do his Christmas shopping. Many of the gifts have yet to be given out.
To serve the world, through the Jesuit Order. This was his enterprise, and he fulfilled it. It wasn’t easy. He loved the Society & the Province & the community, and he loved his family and friends. A loyal servant, he was ‘Ready for everything’ – It’s an Ignatian phrase, and he lived it. He did all that was asked of him, especially when made Assistant to the Provincial 6 yrs ago. Punctual, organised. He was out to work by 08.00, home for 6 p.m. day after day, not knowing what demands each day would bring.
In mid-Oct the doctors told him he could go home – ‘But no work!’ We were so amazed at his going back to work after hospital in mid-Oct that we thought he hadn’t understood that he was terminally ill. Only accidentally did I learn that on his discharge he had told the hospital chaplain that he ‘was going home to die.’
A Good Man is hard to find. Good people – ordinary good folk – change the world. This world of ours has been the better for John’s presence, for his carrying out his freely chosen enterprise.
As the second reading emphasised, our enterprises must be loving ones. Perhaps each of us is asked by God to reflect to the world a particular facet of the divine? So God asks one person to reflect energy, another justice, a third compassion, a fourth good administration and so on. I suggest John’s task was to reflect lovableness! That’s what I’ve heard most emphasised over these days. He loved his family and his friends and his Jesuit brethren, and in return he was well loved.
He was amazed at the outpouring of concern, care, prayer, compassion, love, for himself when sick. He couldn’t see why this should be. He was humble. He never knew over the last days that many of the Jesuits in Cherryfield had said that they would cheerfully have taken his place – they were retired and ill, whereas he had still so much potential. That’s a nice tribute, to find others willing to lay down their lives for you! Check it out!! Don’t get me wrong: his loving was of the unique Dunne brand! He could be gruff; he could get mad with you! But the squall passed and blue skies returned.
John was uniquely present to reality. If he was eating, that’s what he was engaged in. If he was sorting out a mess created by someone, that’s what he was doing. He got to appreciate Buddhism during his sabbatical in 2001. He had Buddhist qualities: that of being full present to reality. He could also, like Buddha, enjoy life to the full, whether it was TV, DVDS, recliners, holidays, good company....In Jewish folklore, the single question that God will ask as we approach the pearly gates is: Did you enjoy my creation? ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ must have been John’s answer the other morning! Most obviously at table: the feast of flowing wine etc... – And the pouring cream! John enjoyed it all. I sometimes fantasised, as he put on more weight and several chairs gave way, that perhaps he was becoming a reincarnation of the Buddha...
It was hard to stay mad with him for long. In our little community of four we divide time into BC – before the conflagration – and AD, after the disaster. Well, when we got into our new house after much work on John’s part, we found that there were two en-suite and two plain bedrooms. I proposed in best Ignatian fashion that we should do a discernment in order to choose who got what. ‘Fine’, said John as he ambled up the stairs, ‘I’ll take the en-suite on the left and you boys can discern about the other three!’ But the same man would give his time and ability endlessly to sort out my computer problems after a long day in the office.
It was because he was so massively present that his death creates a massive loss. Others of us are more peripherally present to what we do. For John, his Yes was Yes, and his No was No! He could be devastatingly honest. I felt he used to contradict me a lot, and I said one day: ‘There isn’t a single statement that one could make in this house that won’t be contradicted.’ Immediately John shot back: ‘That’s not true!’
It’s time to move on.
- His Endurance
Chardin wrote a book about the divinising of our activities and of our passivities. He divided life thus into two: what we do and what happens to us. For him, what happens to us is about 80% of our life experience, and his concern was how we respond.
We’re talking about the things that happen to us and how we respond. We’re talking about the sanctification of the ordinary, about the tradition in Christian spirituality that unavoidable suffering, patiently endured, is graced. We’re talking about the simple Morning Offering.
For John, as for all of us, there were the times he lived in: Post-war world. Dev’s Ireland. Economic development. Vatican 2. GC 31 – the Jesuit effort at genuine renewal. Subsequent turmoil in the Church and in the Society. Assassination of JFK and MLK. Communism and its fall. Northern Ireland Conflict. Rwanda. Palestine. Kosovo. Decline in vocations. The loss of many things cherished. The Celtic Tiger and its demise. Scandals and tribunals. Child Sexual Abuse.... The list continues. We can ignore it, get depressed at it, become cynical about it, or we can entrust our battered world to God and pray and do what we can about our troubled times. Ignatius speaks of ‘courage in difficult enterprises’ and John had that.
Moving along in this area of the things endured: Close to his heart was the death of his sister Margot. Last year there was the fire and the loss of everything. This year: His knee replacement; End of use of motorbike. It was hard for him but no complaining. Then his incipient deafness humbly acknowledged.
Then in October, his final illness. He was so massively practical about it: ‘The news is bad!’ ‘I’m going home to die!’ ‘This is how it is. We’ll see.’ He had in consequence to let go of his trip to the Holy Land in October, though he sneaked a trip to Fatima in early December!
You know the novel by P J Kavanagh: The Perfect Stranger? Well, over the past three months, John was the perfect patient. One morning at breakfast recently I said to him: ‘ You’re very patient.’ He replied: ‘What else can one do?’ ‘Well’ I said, ferreting around in my own feelings, ‘you could choose depression or rage or self-pity? ‘I’d hate that’ he said.’ Days before his death a visitor asked him how he was feeling? ‘Smashing!’ was the reply.
Sickness is no less a gift than health – so said Ignatius rather tersely. Perhaps I’m beginning to see the meaning of that. There’s so much to be learnt from him on how to face sickness. And I have been struck by all the good that has come out of this mess, this mess of sickness and of dying, which is not the way God intends things to be; I mean the love and care from others, in Cherryfield and right across the world. I think I believe more than before that God brings good out of evil, and that’s a blessing.
- His Everlasting Joy
So much for the outer side of his life. But as the fox said to the Little Prince, ‘The things that are essential are invisible to the eye.’ At the end of all his letters as Assistant to the Provincial, John had: Working for God on earth may not pay much, but the retirement plan is out of this world! It took some faith to write that!
What’s the Retirement Plan? For those of us who see our pension schemes fall apart, it would be good to know that there is one that won’t fail! Another John Donne, 1572 – 1631, (died at 59) to help us catch the mystery of how it is with him now: it’s from the Holy Sonnets, since not all his sonnets were such!
Death, be not proud: though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...
For those whom thou thinkst thou dost overthrow Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
And soonest our best men with thee do go...
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more: death, thou shalt die.
So what do we wake to? Firstly, there’s God, a God who is pleased with him and loves him. There’s the welcome and congratulations as he staggered over the line on the 27th, the feast, of course, of St John the Evangelist! The loveableness he was entrusted with is now perfected. The Lover gives all to the beloved! So says Ignatius at his mystic best... What is that like? Multiple overwhelmings... Later in this Mass we acknowledge: ‘We shall become like him, for we shall see him as he is.’
Next, I can imagine John looking around to see where the banquet is set! Then there’s the unalloyed joy of great companionship. Then agility of body. John’s body was worn out at the end: now Hopkins line comes into play: “This jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood/Immortal diamond/Is immortal diamond.” Then insights into the mysteries of God: his imagination caught.
Then a commissioning ceremony: asked by God to be caring still: to be a solid presence to the rest of us until we meet him again. ‘Placed over many things!’
John loved celebrations: he is now celebrating what we celebrate here: that Jesus Christ by dying destroys our death, and by rising restores our life. He is all Joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in St John’s gospel: ‘I will see you again and Your hearts will rejoice, And no one will take your joy from you’ (16:22).
May it be so for us all. Amen.
Losing John Dunne
In the consciousness of Irish Jesuits, the dominant mood this Epiphany is of loss. It is just a week since we buried John Dunne, who had been Socius (companion, secretary,
counsellor, support) to the last two Provincials, a cheerful, competent, selfless presence at the heart of the administration. Conscious of his terminal state with galloping cancer, he worked until he dropped, a good model of Winnicott’s prayer: ‘May I be alive when I die’. He had served Galway, Gonzaga, Eglinton Road and Sandford Road as superior; and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors as their president for many years. A crowd of friends, from all the chapters of his life, packed Gonzaga chapel to overflowing in a memorable funeral Mass, and responded warmly to Brian Grogan’s affectionate homily. It was a good send-off, one which John would relish. But the loss is heavy, most of all for his sister Anne.
Interfuse No 139 : Easter 2009
Fr John A Dunne (1944-2008)
15th May 1944: Born in Dublin
Early education at Mercy Convent and CBS, Trim; Ring College, Dungarvan; Clongowes Wood College
7th September 1962: Entered the Society at Emo
8th September 1964: First Vows at Emo
1964 - 1967: Rathfarnham - Studied Arts
1967 - 1969: Studied Philosophy at Milltown Institute
1969 - 1971: Dooradoyle - Teacher at Crescent Comprehensive
1971 - 1974: Milltown Park - Studied Theology
21st June 1974: Ordained at Gonzaga College Chapel
1974 - 1975: John Austin House - Studied Guidance and Counselling at Mater Dei Institute, Dublin
1975 - 1981: Teacher, Guidance Counsellor
1977 - 1980: University of Limerick - Computer Studies
1977 - 1978: Tertianship at Tullabeg
31st May 1979: Final Vows at Crescent College Comprehensive, Dooradoyle
1981 - 1987: Galway - Rector; Teacher; Guidance Counsellor, Chair, Board of Management
1987 - 2001: Gonzaga -
1987 - 1993: Pastoral Care Co-ordinator; Teacher, Guidance Counsellor
1993 - 1998: Rector
1996 - 1998: Guidance Counsellor; Teacher
1998 - 2001: Information Technology Co-ordinator; College Librarian; Assistant Pastoral Counsellor; Teacher of Computer Studies
2000 - 2001: Minister; ECDL Course
2001 - 2002: Sabbatical
2002 - 2008: Loyola House - Socius, Superior; Province Consultor; Provincial's Admonitor; Provincial Team
27th December 2008: Died in Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin
Brian Grogan writes:
An Ordinary Man
John was born in Dublin, but the family lived in Summerhill, near Trim in Co. Meath, so he received his early education at the local Mercy Convent, and then at the CBS. His father was an army man, and he had two older sisters, Anne and Margot. He spent some time in Colaiste na Rinne, Dungarvan, and then went to Clongowes. He entered the Society at Emo in 1962, immediately after school, then studied arts, including archaeology, at UCD, 1964-1967. He studied philosophy at Milltown 1967-1969, when the Institute was just beginning. Following two years teaching at Crescent College Comprehensive, and three years of Theology again at Milltown, he was ordained on 21 June 1974, and spent the following year at Mater Dei, studying Guidance Counselling, which became a lifelong interest: he was later President of the Association of Guidance Counsellors in Ireland. He taught again in Limerick for the next six years, and took up a part-time course in Computer Studies in 1977: computers were to fascinate him for the remainder of his life. He was Rector in Galway from 1981-1987, and in Gonzaga 1993-1998 where he spent fourteen years in all: he was Superior in Loyola and Socius to the Provincial from 2002-2008.
All told, he taught for twenty-eight years and was a Superior for seventeen. He enjoyed a well-earned sabbatical in Berkeley, Thailand and Nepal in 2001-2002, where he developed an interest in Buddhism. He left behind several photos titled “The Buddha and I', and his gastronomic exploits made one wonder if he might become a reincarnation of the Buddha. His hobbies were photography and computers; he read no newspapers or serious novels, but was well informed on current affairs, and had a sharp mind and a good memory, as well as a sound knowledge of the Irish Province. He liked TV and DVDs, and his preferred mode of travel was the motorbike, which he relinquished only after a knee operation in May 2008.
After forty-six years of Jesuit service, he died at sixty-four, having been diagnosed with cancer in early October 2008. He spent a little over a week in Cherryfield, and was the first to die in the new building. He died, appropriately, on the Feast of St John the Evangelist, after whom he was named. He saw himself as an ordinary man: he was not an academic, and liked the quip: "You can tell an intellectual, but you can't tell him much!' But about fifty years ago he had made a decision: not to do his own thing, not to win public approval or to make lots of money. He chose a life of love and service: he would serve the world through the Jesuit Order. This was his enterprise, and he fulfilled it in the demanding times in which he lived.
A Good Man
There's a book of short stories by Flannery O'Connor: A Good man is Hard to Find. As the media make clear in giving us our daily dose of bad news, good people do seem hard to find, and God doesn't take them for granted. The gospel text for his requiem was: 'Well done, good and faithful servant!' People who spoke at the Vigil in Gonzaga Chapel the night before his funeral said over and over: He was a good man! Ordinary good people change the world, and many testified that their world was so much the better for John's presence, for his carrying out his freely chosen enterprise.
John came across as a good man because of his love. He loved family and friends, but especially he loved the Society and more concretely the members of the Irish Province. Being a Jesuit was a fulltime reality for him, and it came across. A loyal servant, he was “ready for everything” as Ignatius would have wished. He did all that was asked of him, especially when made Assistant to the Provincial six years ago. Punctual and organised, he was at his desk early and working his way through the myriad mundane tasks that fall to a Socius - fifty per day, according to a survey! When the curia moved to Sandyford after the fire, he prepared his lunch daily from the leftovers of the previous evening meal and set off before 8 am, and was a genial Office Manager, with an inimitable style. “Carry on the good work!” was his usual phrase to encourage the staff in their labours.
When his diagnosis was confirmed in mid-October the doctors told him he could go home - “But no work!” In the community we were so amazed at his going back to work immediately that we thought he hadn't understood that he was terminally ill. Only accidentally did we learn that on his discharge he had told the hospital chaplain that “he was going home to die”. But instead he went home to serve out the remaining weeks of his life to the full. “In all things to love and serve” is an Ignatian phrase which sounds fine, but he took it seriously year after plodding year, until December 2008 - to be exact. After the end-of-year office lunch in the IMI he went home to spruce up for a Christmas meal given by his sister Anne. That evening he gave in and went to Cherryfield. Two days earlier he had summoned up enough energy to go to Dundrum Shopping Centre to do his Christmas shopping. He never had the joy of distributing most of the gifts, which were found after his death. Many of us, I suggest, if we were told at his age that we had three months to live would leaf through A Thousand Places to See Before You Die and ask for an open credit card. Nothing wrong there, but John's loyalty and tenacity brought him in another direction.
Living to the Full
John enjoyed living. He was welcoming and hospitable, believing that enjoyment was to be shared. He engaged fully in whatever he was doing, whether it was a good meal, a sabbatical, a glass of brandy, an administrative issue, a DVD, a discussion, a computer problem, a rugby match on TV, a holiday with his sister Anne. It is said that part of Jewish belief is that eternal judgement will consist in a single question from God: 'Did you enjoy my creation?' To this John would have given a resounding Yes! This quality of complete engagement gave him a certain magnificent simplicity. His Yes was Yes, and his No was a definite No: he had little space for indecision, and would engage in robust discussion to bring things to conclusions. At his funeral Mass the Provincial, John Dardis, told of times when he himself would return enthusiastically from Rome with a bright idea on how to move Province affairs forward, If John didn't like it he'd bark out: “That's ridiculous! Won't work!” Yet he was open to persuasion and then embrace the project wholeheartedly.
Clearing his plate meant not only enjoying good food to the last bite: it also meant that he liked to delegate. When commissioned to get something done his strategy was to delegate rather than to do the job alone. So in early October last when Fr Jack Donovan died in London, John, who was in hospital at the time, was assigned to see to arrangements, and I got a call: “Will you take this over?” - after which John presumably moved on to the next task. He enjoyed this style of management, somewhat more, perhaps, than those at the receiving end of his phone calls! But it was hard to stay mad with him for long. When after the fire we got into our new house - due to much work on John's part, we found that there were two en-suite and two plain bedrooms. It was proposed in best Ignatian fashion that we should do a discernment to choose who got what. “Fine”, said John as he ambled up the stairs, “I'll take the en-suite on the left and you boys can discern about the other three!” But the same man would give his time and ability endlessly to sort out someone's computer problems after a long day in the office.
It was because he was so massively present to whatever he was doing, whether looking after others or discussing or relaxing, that his death creates such a massive sense of absence. Others of us are more peripherally present to what we do. Not for him the soft-footed approach: he could be devastatingly honest. I used feel that he used the contradictory mode perhaps a shade too much, and said one day:
“There's not a single statement that one could make in this house that won't be contradicted”. Immediately John shot back: “That's not true!” He could be gruff, “like an angry bear” as someone said “but a teddy-bear beneath it all”. He could get mad with “eejits” but the squall passed and blue skies returned. He travelled unencumbered by the baggage of resentment or self-pity.
Enduring to the End
John not only enjoyed the good things of life: he also endured its painful side patiently. For him there was the post-war Irish scene: firstly de Valera's Ireland, succeeded by economic development, then difficult times, then the Celtic Tiger and its demise. Add into the mix the Northern Ireland conflict, political and financial scandals and endless tribunals. In the religious dimension there was the hope and promise of Vatican Two, and in the Society and the Province the hard-won renewal set in motion by GCs31 and GC32; all of this to be followed by turmoil in the Church and in the Society, and in our relationship with the Vatican, leading to the resignation of Arrupe and its aftermath. Locally there was the spectre of Child Sexual Abuse. The list could continue endlessly. How did John respond to these situations which were not of his making, not part of the plan?
In the seventies a commentator on religious life observed that the contemporary religious would suffer the loss of many things cherished: colleagues, vocations, institutions, thriving apostolic works etc. So it has been, and John's stance was to face the difficulties and diminishments within the Province and the Church honestly, without growing cynical or indifferent. Ignatius speaks of “courage in difficult enterprises” and John had that. He worked energetically against the corporate depression which can accompany diminishing numbers and their consequences. Long before GC35 he promoted the renewal of the Province with a project titled “Sparks Light Fires” and no one who attended Province events over the past decade will have failed to notice John's recurring bidding prayer for an increase in vocations.
Closer to home was the untimely death of his sister Margot. Then on Good Friday 2007 there was the Loyola fire and the loss of everything, including for him eighteen treasured volumes of photos of family, friends, Irish Jesuits etc. (cf the interview he gave to Paul Andrews, shortly after the fire, but not published until one year later - Summer 2008, Interfuse #136) It was his mammoth task with Bill Toner, John Maguire and others, to deal with the curial aftermath of the fire, to find new premises for the community, and to help each member to find appropriate ways of coping. This he did by gathering us regularly for a Revision de vie, followed by a Eucharist and a meal, together with some sessions in post-traumatic stress. He dealt with all of this in a healthy matter-of-fact way, though he used to refer to the fire as the elephant in the corner - something he had not yet fully integrated, despite his dedicated efforts at (retail therapy' on that Good Friday afternoon.
The Perfect Patient
In May 2008 he had a knee replacement; this meant the end of motorcycling, hard for him but there were no complaints. In August his incipient deafness was noticed and humbly acknowledged. In October, out of the blue, began his final illness. He was massively practical about it: “The news is bad!” “I'm going home to die!” “This is how it is. We'll see”. He had to let go of a planned trip to the Holy Land, though he sneaked a “pilgrimage” with his sister to Fatima in early December, and regaled us afterward with tales of the delights of a Lisbon hotel.
John was the perfect patient. One morning at breakfast, weeks before he died, I said to him: “You're very patient”. He replied: “What else can one do?” “Well”, I said, ferreting around in my own feelings and drawing on my Kubler-Ross theories about stages of dying, “you could choose depression or rage or self-pity?” “I'd hate that”, he said. Days before his death, when his breathing had become difficult, a visitor asked him how he was feeling. “Smashing!” was the one-word reply.
Sickness is no less a gift than health: so said Ignatius rather tersely. Perhaps those who were close to him saw something of the meaning of that. “Let them give no less edification in sickness than in health” for there was much to be learnt from him on how to face sickness. And good things came out of this tragedy of his sickness and dying. He was amazed at the outpouring of concern, prayer and compassion for himself. he couldn't see why this should be. But people found him lovable, presumably because they experienced that he loved them. He never knew that in his last days many of the Jesuits in Cherryfield had said that they would cheerfully have taken his place – they were retired and ill, whereas he had still so much potential.
So much for the outer side of his life. What about the inside? At the end of all his letters as Assistant to the Provincial, John had the slogan: Working for God on earth may not pay much, but the retirement plan is out of this world! John never got to elaborate on the Retirement Plan, for he was not an eschatological speculator, but perhaps he would have agreed with the earlier John Donne, 1572 - 1631, who wrote:
Death, be not proud: though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so...
And soonest our best men with thee do go...
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more: death, thou shalt die.
So what did he wake to? To the welcome and congratulations of those gone before him, Jesuits and family and friends, as he staggered over the line on December 27th. Then the multiple overwhelming by God: “the Lover gives all to the beloved” as Ignatius says at his mystic and cryptic best. Next, one can imagine John sniffing the air for hints as to where the great banquet might be set! Then there's the unalloyed joy of great companionship, the excitement of the vastness of the world of God, agility of body and so on. Then a commissioning - placed over many things and asked by God to be a caring presence to the rest of us until we meet him again. John loved celebrations: he is now celebrating endlessly on the inside what we celebrate fitfully and in hope. He is all Joy.
Here is another farewell, different, spoken by Jim O'Higgins at John's Month's Mind, and copied as it was forwarded:
Fifty years ago the face of welcome
In his solid frame, from John the delegate
To call my name and he greeted me
To that large Kildare domain
The prefect later on, that John
sent out again to ease the tense
the taut and restrain the mini gangs
John the true disciple of Loyola
Guidance counselled young hope
from west to east and once again
he's called to mediate between
the grief of parents of the suicided child
Or the dumbfounded ire of the mother
of a manslaughtered son and the why
the what of that God of his
and his own priestly purpose
Or ask in whose image we are made
or where was The Virgin in the keep
at Lourdes on that drowning day
John, called to jollify and feast with
with friends, a Friar Tuck, called
Bonzo, Buster or, with bourgeois respectability, Fr. Bun
The love of Table talk in his so communitaire
of duties in an S.J. house or sitting
in a kitchen ,one leg on the bench
and, not quite a keg ,upon the table
Or in the deep affection of his
nieces and proud nephew in Dublin
six, fourteen, or four of Tullamore
And for the many pieces de resistance
He could rely on his beloved Anne to
see him well ensconced in some
exotic Resto or Hotel Excelsior
Or in sweet Silverdale
Or Long Island Sound
John gifted with the rooted gem
of insight in himself so he could discern
what he could do within
what was beyond his reach
he humbled hubris and defaced its mask
in a paradox of earthy tongue
relating us and our mere creaturehood
To Immanence and Who it was we served
Chuckling his falstaffian way
to his next set of minutes or report
John called to be the techie in I.T.
The Socius systems, Sounder out
The teller of the truth without the frills
And yet again being sent on far flung
Flights with postcards from the edge
in misspelt greetings from some land
remembering and reminding us
in that unsure hand of what we are to him
and we know now what he is to us
John who could be nothing but a goodly man
You leave us for a while on the day of your
own feast of John loved Disciple.
Another appreciation, different in style, from Michael Hurley:
The thoughtfulness of the following letter from John is deeply moving; the circumstances make it more so, and the strained light heartedness at the beginning and end makes it still more moving.
May we bury the hatchet for the moment in exchange for prayers for my tryst with the medicos, hopefully from tomorrow. Learnt this morning of liver trouble and bile duct blockage — yellow as a canary, I am. This is by way of communicating!
John A. Dunne, SJ (September 25, 2008 4.51 pm)
The bone of contention between John and myself was my continuing emphasis on communication in the Province, or, rather (as I experienced it), the lack of such communication: in particular between M and the rest of us. I had suggested a Curia Newsletter and sent him a draft of a letter about the matter - which I thought of sending to a Delegate - and later a draft of a few words I might possibly say at a Delegates Friday lunch. He didn't like my drafts, especially a suggestion that if we knew what was happening at IMI we might be less worried about whether our (sic) money was being used responsibly.
Preparations for the visit of the Assistant halted these discussions. What happened next was that Kevin O'Rourke, our Rector, sharing some of my concern, made arrangements for a visit here of three of the delegates; he did so independently but with the knowledge and encouragement of John. This turned out to be a very happy, successful, community event at which I took the liberty of broaching the idea of a Curia Newsletter.
John and I were not at daggers drawn, far from it, but his letter, so remarkably thoughtful, so magnanimous, did enable us, in the time he had left, to communicate not only amicably but affectionately. Which I trust will continue.