File 304 - Fr Gerard P Nolan SJ

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IE IJA J/304


Fr Gerard P Nolan SJ


  • 1931-1972 (Creation)

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21 items

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(21 November 1912-08 June 1972)

Biographical history

Born: 21 November 1912, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1931, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1944, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 03 February 1947, Belvedere College SJ, Dublin
Died: 08 June 1972, St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin

Brother of Tony Nolan - LEFT 1938

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 47th Year No 3 1972
Obituary :
Fr Gerard Nolan SJ (1912-1972)

Gerard Paul Nolan was born on 21st November, 1912, one of the younger members of a fairly large Dublin family. He and the other three boys were educated at Belvedere, and Tony preceded him into the Society, but left shortly before ordination. Two, at least, of his sisters became Loreto nuns.
He came to Emo in 1931 at a time when there were about 50 novices in the house, which had been opened the year before. Fr John Coyne was our master of novices, and Fr Robert Tyndall the socius. The regime then was exacting, but a fair and basically humane one. “Particular friendships” were conventionally taboo, but in fact deep friendships began in Emo and lasted through the forty years since. It did not take long to see that Gerry had a wide, dangerously wide, range of emotions and moods. He had an exhilarating taste for the fantastic and ludicrous, (I suppose we all remember him stalking the puzzled bullocks behind leafy branches during the Long Retreat). He also had a terrible capacity for distress, desperation and suffering.
During his period as a junior in Rathfarnham there began, I think, a certain feeling of frustration that dogged him, and mildly. exasperated his friends, for the rest of his life. He was a perfectionist, he felt that the Society demanded even more than he was capable of, strove to accommodate and yet always believed that he fell short. Being a complicated character he evoked uncertain attitudes in superiors. He often quoted one as asking the question “Is Nolan an angel or a devil?”
A further three years in the rarefied atmosphere of "the Bog" accentuated characteristics bred of an introspective temperament. Yet there were times of expansive freedom -- like the Villas in Roundstone. Times too when Gerry came into his own as an entertainer. No one, rather to Gerry's embarrassment, over forgot his performance as conductor of the fabulous McNamara's band that did the round one Christmas. He had an exquisite stage sense and vein of comedy which could bring the house down when he let himself go. But he was suspicious of his talent and repressed it. He thought that in later life he was appointed director to the Catholic Stage Guild partly as a result of his reputation among his contemporaries as an actor. He deprecated this. During these first eight years in the Society we were fortunate to have benign regimes in Emo, in Rathfarnham and in Tullabeg. Gerry would, perhaps, with his hyper-sensitive nature, have wilted under harsher or cruder treatment at that stage. I did not see him in action during his period in Belvedere as a scholastic or later as a priest. He was an effective teacher with a flair for unearthing and stimulating potential talent in his charges, and, more precious, a capacity to exert influence, not merely pedagogic, that persisted advantageously into adult years. He acted as director of fringe activities such as debating society and musical performances with éclat. After ordination in 1944 and tertianship in Rathfarnham came his second period in Belvedere. By all accounts it was the time when Gerry himself felt he was doing his best work; it gave him at once the opportunity to do well-regulated, exact work, and scope for his generous, enterprising temperament. The adventure of his climb along the foot board of the French train while it swept through the countryside near Paris was one of the episodes that enlivened this period.

Then came his transfer to Gardiner Street and his years as director of the Catholic Stage Guild, and the Theatre and Cinema Workers' Sodality. These were in a way difficult years when an instinctive and withal thoughtful generosity made him most appreciated, but without giving him any sense of achievement along the lines he thought he should be working.
While remaining in Gardiner Street Gerry took up teaching in Bolton Street in 1962. He was well informed in modern “apologetics” and theology and in literature, yet he had here again, to my mind, an excessive diffidence and so his work and its obligations weighed heavily on him. He had a great grasp of life's essential values, a tremendous flow of language; could tell or concoct a story well, and make an exploit out of the humdrum. But most of the time he thought he should be doing something else and doing it perfectly. This inhibited him from retreat giving, lecturing etc., and made even ordinary preaching a discomfort. He was extremely adverse to any theoretical criticism of established structures and over-suspicions of innovation in Church and State. He was a man, then, tumultuously inclined, who ultimately attained an enviable degree of calm and serenity. Always capable of the most lavish and tactful generosity, he had towards the end also become immune to the need for equally generous response. All his life he was the kind of man who would “give you the shirt off his back”, always he remained at his most resourceful in times of crisis. Perhaps, partly as a result of a great deal of suffering from arthritis and other ailments, he developed a spirit that seemed . emancipated from self-interest and requiring no reward. This - I am sure I can say without any improper breach of confidence - became clear to us who did the group course with him in Clongowes last year. He spoke of being “finished” in a cheerfully pessimistic way; he was in fact finished in another sense, he was completed to a rich maturity that came from a penetrating love of Christ and faith in Him and in His people. He had style in everything he did: in the deepest things he had the style of a fully christian man. We in Gardiner Street suddenly lost a loved companion and a stalwart of the community; many other hearts were wrenched at his going. May all his hopes be now fulfilled and may we come to share his life with him again. His obit. Occurred June 8th.

◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1972
Father Gerard Nolan (’31)
Fr Nolan taught in Belvedere for two years as a scholastic and returned as a priest in ‘47 to teach until he moved to Gardiner St in ‘54. The rest of his life was spent doing church work. As the numbers at his funeral made clear he possessed the gift of making friends and of keeping them. During the last two years he had been suffering acutely from arthritis and God alone knows the suffering a visit to the parlour entailed yet he would not disappoint a friend. His death through sudden was a merciful release.

◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1973
Father Gerard Paul Nolan (OB 1925-1931)

Gerry Nolan came to Belvedere, one of a family of several Belvederian brothers, at the age of twelve and after six years in the school entered the Jesuit noviceship at Emo Park: in 1931. His companions here fell into two groups : those who knew him vaguely as a reserved, quiet, polite boy not very prominent in games or studies, and the small number who even then saw something of the richness and depth of his character and his most remarkable artistic, musical and dramatic gifts. Among the latter were a privileged few who were fortunate to win the real friendship of a very affectionate but exceedingly diffident boy, Two in particular became his constant companions and it was not long before the trio was nick-named, by the insensitive schoolboy mob, “He, she and it”. Gerry was the “He” of the little band.

During his schooldays the great era of Gilbert and Sullivan operas began under the direction of Father Mortimer Glynn. Gerry came of a family which possessed very remarkable musical talents and Father Glynn's most exacting standards and constant struggle for perfection appealed to all the perfectionist in him. Thus began a quest for the highest in everything that was to lead to much inspiring work, but which also became a considerable handicap to him. If ever the saying, “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien” was verified, it was in Gerry's case.

After the usual studies in the Society he returned to Belvedere in 1939 and spent two years as a scholastic here. Next came Theology and the Tertianship and 1946 saw him return for a further nine years of teaching.

These years brought him into contact with many boys and his capacity for friendship widened with the formal relations in class and many informal ones outside. La Fontaine's remark about schoolboys is only too true : “Cet age est sans pitié”. But their merciless characteristics are balanced by an extraordinary perception and recognition of real goodness. Here they had an outstanding example of that before them, and they could also divine his ceaseless industry on their behalf and the deep original sense of humour and the humourous devilment that balanced his diffidence and the moods of black depression that overcame him when he thought he was failing to achieve the impossibly high standards he set for himself. Once again however, these standards were a disadvantage. His Latin classes would have been more successful had he not overwhelmed indifferent pupils with a wealth of detailed erudition that would have stimulated university students. But in teaching English he did communicate to gifted boys his enthusiasm for the best and left a permanent mark upon them.

In 1952 he left Belvedere to become, at the request of the Archbishop, Dr McQuaid, chaplain of the Catholic Stage Guild. Again his diffidence was a handicap, but he made numerous friends and helped many people. To this work was later added that of the Theatre and Cinema Workers' Sodality. After some years in this apostolate he became, while still living in Gardiner St, chaplain and teacher of Religion in the Technical Institution in Bolton St.

The good he did in his life is known to God alone. By pure chance the writer has heard of one or two of his acts of heroic generosity and self-sacrifice. His closer friends are perhaps aware of more. But he did good by stealth and never let his left hand know what his right was doing or about to do. The very antithesis of that obnoxious modern phenomenon, the headline hunter, he was most Christian in this. At his funeral on 10th June, 1972, numerous people unknown to his everyday friends and unknown to each other, were overwhelmed with grief.

Obituaries are always difficult and unsatisfactory. A few bald and conventional paragraphs can never recall a bright and loving spirit. When one comes to a man like Gerry, an amalgam of Jimmy O'Dea and Jack Point, of St Vincent de Paul and St John of the Cross, the task is one of despair. But he was a very holy man, and like all saints, an original. May his noble soul rest in peace with God.

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Material relating to Fr Gerard P Nolan SJ, including catalogue entry, correspondence regarding his entry into the Society, correspondence with Irish Fr Provincials and biographical information.

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