Type of entity
Authorized form of name
Gallagher, Michael Paul, 1939-2015, Jesuit priest
Parallel form(s) of name
Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules
Other form(s) of name
- Gallagher, Michael P
Identifiers for corporate bodies
Dates of existence
25 August 1939-06 November 2015
Born: 25 August 1939, Collooney, County Sligo
Entered: 08 October 1961, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 23 June 1972, Gonzaga College SJ, Dublin
Professed; 02 February 1978, University Hall SJ, Dublin
Died: 06 November 2015, St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin
Part of the Loyola, Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1964 at Campion Hall, Oxford (ANG) studying
by 1966 at Heythrop, Oxford (ANG) studying
by 1969 at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore MD, USA - studying
by 1986 at Toronto, Canada (CAN S) Sabbatical
by 1991 at Bellarmino, Rome, Italy (DIR) Sec to Congregation for Unbelief
by 2001 at Gesù, Rome, Italy (DIR) teaching at Gregorian
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/death-of-fr-michael-paul-gallagher-sj/
Death of Michael Paul Gallagher SJ
Fr Michael Paul Gallagher SJ died last night (Friday 6 November) in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, just after the anointing of the sick and prayers with three Jesuit friends. He had been ill for some months. He was a native of Colooney, Co.Sligo. He received his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College. After joining the Jesuits he did special studies in Renaissance literature in Oxford, Michael Paul was a renowned lecturer and author of books on faith and contemporary culture. He lectured in English in UCD for over ten years in the 1970s and 80s before going to Rome, where he lectured in theology in the Gregorian University. He was also a valued contributor, for many years, to the well-known Jesuit publication The Sacred Heart Messenger. His latest article on ‘The Prospect of Dying’ is in the current issue. Shortly before his death he recorded a series of short videos for the Jesuit Guide to Making Good Decisions. He also wrote the text for an online Advent Retreat, shortly to be published on the Jesuit prayer website Sacred Space and on the Pray-As-You-Go podcast prayer website of the Jesuits in Britain. His book Into Extra Time, an account of his path of faith through illness, will soon be published by Darton, Longman and Todd/Messenger Publications. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
‘The long learning of love’
Jesuits, family and friends have been paying tribute to Michael Paul Gallagher SJ, who passed away on Friday 6 November. His friend and fellow Jesuit Donal Neary presided at the reception of his remains in Milltown Park Chapel on Monday evening. He spoke of the contribution Michael Paul made to the many people with whom he came in contact including the students he taught in University College Dublin who felt free enough to call in for coffee and a chat with him. So too did their parents who were often concerned that their beloved children were losing their faith. Michael Paul, he said, would reassure them that the love and concern they had for their adult children was the real lasting kind of support their children needed as they struggled with important questions of doubt and faith. He said his first book Help My Unbelief, published in 1983, made a real impact on the cultural landscape as a substantial contribution to the understanding of issues of faith in modern times. On Tuesday at 11am a large number of people filled the pews in Milltown Chapel, where Michael Paul had requested his funeral mass take place. (Listen to the mass here). They were invited by the main celebrant Jim Culliton SJ to “engage in celebrating the life of an extraordinary man, a man of great intellect, heart and warmth”. He said even inevitable death, (for Michael Paul was terminally ill and knew he was dying) was awful, raising many troubling questions. But the answers came, he said, when he thought about the kind of life Michael Paul lived, the reflections he offered in his writings and lectures, the impact he made in the courses and retreats he gave. “He was a fiercely loyal servant of all those whom he loved, fiercely proud of his Sligo roots, and proud of being an Irish Jesuit.”
In the homily Bruce Bradley SJ, spoke of the man he first met in 1962. He said he was someone who was gifted in “intuiting and imagining the horizons of others, inviting them in turn to share his”. He said the renowned author “did not take himself too seriously but he was aware and quietly proud of some of his own gifts and accomplishments”, adding with a smile, “Perhaps with just some of the small harmless vanity you occasionally meet with in an only child”. He said Michael Paul was impressive in how he faced his impending death with “clear-eyed courage and a lack of self-absorption”.
He book-ended his tribute with a moving story about his final meeting with Michael Paul just two weeks previously to the day. Having spent some precious time together and as he was leaving, he accompanied Michael Paul to the community chapel at mass time. Michael Paul dipped his hand in the holy water font and made the sign of the cross on his own forehead. “Then in a spontaneous gesture I will never forget, the made the same sign of the cross on my forehead too.” And he quoted from some of his final writings or ‘fragments’ as he called them, published in The Sacred Heart Messenger, where Michael Paul described his life as “The long learning of love”, adding, “ When I am close to death there may be weakness and distress. But I hope then to have the freedom to surrender into the arms of God so dying can be a prayerful letting go.” His three Jesuit friends (Donal Neary, Jim Culliton and Liam O’Connell) who were with him when he died peacefully at 11 pm on Friday, all attest that this is exactly what they witnessed, a dying that was indeed ‘a prayerful letting go’.
Messenger of wonder and wonderful messenger
Early in his rich and varied teaching career, the gifted Irish Jesuit, Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher, who died last Friday (6th November 2015) at the age of 76, used to give an introductory course to students of English literature in University College Dublin. At a certain point, he liked to write these three intriguing words on the blackboard: “ha”, “aha”, and “ah”. He made his students sit up and think by claiming that these three strange sounds stood not only for the three basic approaches toward literature, but also for the three fundamental stances toward human life as a whole. He asked them not to fall into the trap of arriving too quickly at judgments, to be careful not to rush hastily into uttering a smug and even contemptuous “ha”, before they even took the trouble to experience and understand things properly. He then pronounced the second sound – “aha” – with a rising rhythm, to make audible the moment when we understand something. He told them how college was meant to be full of these “aha” moments, as they learned new things and discovered new insights. But, then, looking solemnly at his audience, Fr. Michael Paul would warn them not to become so excited by their “aha” moments that they ended up stifling the deepest and most central experience of all – the experience of wonder, the “ah” experience. Michael Paul Gallagher brought a liberating “ah” of fresh air to individual Irish people, to the Irish Church, and, later, through his work in the Vatican and at the Pontifical Gregorian University, to countless students and Catholics from around the world. He was a messenger of wonder and a wonderful messenger of God. He had an uncanny gift for helping people to reach the threshold of wonder in their lives, to get in touch with their deepest hungers and desires. He invited them to open new doors into the mystery of themselves, and to discover a God who was much more loving than they had dared imagine.
Born in 1939 in the village of Collooney, County Sligo, he credited it with shaping his feelings and imagination, and was always grateful for the stability and roots this village world gave him. Precisely because it was such a reassuring anchor, it gave him the leeway to broaden his horizons as time went on. At the age of twelve he was sent to the Jesuit boarding school Clongowes. From there he went to UCD, and after finishing his degree in English and French literature, was awarded a grant from the French government to study at the University of Caen Normandy from 1960 to 1961. The year in France was a turning point in his life. Although the Second Vatican Council would only open in 1962, there was already great excitement and new life palpable in French Catholicism. Michael Paul met young French Catholics who were passionate about their faith, who read the Bible, prayed in nearby monasteries, and invited notable French philosophers and theologians to address them. He also met significant numbers of agnostics and atheists for the first time in his life. Over the course of many long conversations that went on late into the night, he found he had a gift for explaining faith in a new and fresh language, not the technical jargon of abstract arguments, but the living poetry of personal discovery.
After returning from Caen, he entered the Jesuits, with a sense that he was being called to help people discover the wonder of faith in a world where unbelief was in the ascendant. When he completed his two- year novitiate, he was sent to Oxford to study Renaissance literature. While there, he began to realize that despite the distance some of his fellow students felt from faith, the language of poetry opened up for them an avenue into wonder and their inner experience. Over the years ahead, he began to form the conviction that doctrine alone was not enough to speak to people; like Jesus, who used parables, Michael Paul found himself drawn to an imaginative presentation of faith, drawing on the resources of literature.
From his Jesuit formation, Michael Paul learned how to find and trust the hidden poetry in himself, and this skill enabled him in his turn to help others to liberate their human depths. He realised that his surface self was driven toward performing and being successful. From childhood onwards, he had wanted to do well and make his parents proud of him, and so excelled in academic studies as well as drama and debating. But as well as this “performer” side to himself, at a deeper level he felt at home with the wonder of being a “child”, he was happy to trust his feelings, to allow himself to be playful, and to reach out to others without pushing himself to perform in order that they would like him. He made a sustained and conscious effort to live out of the deeper level of himself. When he became aware of surface desires and immature responses, he knew he was out of tune with himself. He picked up the warning signs through a certain sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness. He countered this gnawing surface self by re-tuning into the deeper and more serene wavelength inside, where he lived from a satisfying rootedness together with a great openness of vision. Because his experience of prayer and discernment taught him to be aware of the dangers of this false, performing, “impressing everyone” side to himself, he was particularly well equipped to help others go beyond the surface self and find that deeper peace to help them negotiate the challenges of life.
Michael Paul was ordained to the priesthood in 1972. Afterwards he continued to lecture in English at UCD, and also researched the phenomenon of atheism and how churches and pastoral workers were responding to it. As a result of this research he became the first Roman Catholic ever to be awarded a doctorate in theology by Queen’s University, Belfast.
In 1974 he published a controversial article, “Atheism Irish Style”. At a time when the general consensus held that Irish Catholicism was in a thoroughly healthy state, Fr. Michael Paul alarmed many by suggesting that it was actually dying a slow death. He claimed that Irish Catholics (most of all young Irish Catholics) were becoming increasingly disillusioned with many of the externals of church life – religion taught impersonally or in an authoritarian manner in school, dull Sunday rituals, and boring sermons. Although a huge emphasis was placed upon attendance at Mass, the actual practice of it was spiritually impoverished with little prayerfulness, no sense of living worship, and no real attempt to create a human community. The article and subsequent talks and interviews generated huge discussion and debate.
Less than 10 years later, in 1983, he published his first, and most famous book, Help My Unbelief, aimed at readers who were bewildered at why God was becoming so unreal for them. His focus was not on intellectual arguments for or against God, because he did not believe this was where the real story was. He concentrated instead on dispositions and basic attitudes. He was wise enough to know that people do not make decisions about faith upon purely rational grounds. Our decisions for or against faith generally involve a strong sense of how we feel about ourselves and life. He gave the example of a college student who came into his office to discuss an essay, but suddenly announced in an aggressive tone, “I’m an atheist, you know.” When Michael Paul ignored this declaration, and continued to give him feedback on his essay, the student asked, “Isn’t it your job to convert me?” Michael Paul responded, “I wouldn’t dream of converting anyone in that tone of voice”, and went on to say that faith was so precious to him that he would not even consider indulging in a useless argument about it. But if the student were willing to listen, he would be more than happy at some other time to explain what faith meant for him. Sure enough, the student returned a few days later. He spoke about this and that for a while, before suddenly announcing, “I suffer from asthma.” And then he went on to share how asthma had destroyed his childhood because it had cut him off from other people, made him ashamed, and angry at God and at life. This story taught Michael Paul something crucial: behind many aggressive denials of faith (“I’m an atheist”) there can be a much less aggressive reality of hurt and disenchantment (“I suffer from asthma”).
In 1990, Michael Paul was invited to work in the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non- Believers. Five years later he began teaching theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he later became Dean of Theology as well as Rector of the large “Bellarmino” community of Jesuit graduate students. Despite his teaching and the big burden of administration, he somehow found time to write, give talks, and listen to many young individuals, helping them to enter into a space of freedom they often did not know they had. In terms of his own writing, he began to see himself more and more as a “translator”, translating the insights of major theologians into a language that honest, educated, non-specialised searchers could understand. Michael Paul read through countless books in a way that was faithful to those who hadn’t the time or energy to read such books. He tried to carry out his academic work in tune with Christ’s compassion for all seekers and searchers.
When Michael Paul was hit by cancer for the second time in January 2015, he was faithful to his lifelong practice of applying the lessons he learned from his own struggles for the benefit of others. He reflected upon his illness and wrote down his reflections. His final book, about his own journey through cancer, Into Extra Time, is due to be published soon. In this month’s Sacred Heart Messenger, he has an article called “The Prospect of Dying”. Its final paragraph encapsulates the graced imagination that always enabled Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher to see seeds of hope in what at first looks like a burnt-out desert:
“The outer process of dying may be frightening, but do I really want to stay here forever? If I listen to my heart, I know I am made for more life than I can imagine. When God’s promise overcomes my fears, what St. Paul calls the ‘last enemy’ becomes an unexpected friend.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
This article was published in The Irish Catholic, 12th November, 2015
Wisdom at the Crossroads
Author: Thomas G. Casey SJ Publisher: Messenger Publications
Wisdom at the Crossroads: The Life and Thought of Michael Paul Gallagher SJ follows the journey of this gifted Jesuit priest, theologian, author and educator from the simplicity of an Irish rural childhood to the more complex world he soon encountered. That changing world prompted him to think deeply about the question of faith in our times, the effects of a shifting culture on our perceptions, and the challenge of unbelief and atheism as it manifests itself today. It illuminates Michael Paul’s rare gift – both in personal conversation and in the written word – of helping people to move from a detached consideration of faith to an awareness of what was deepest in their own hearts, for it was from that hidden layer of wonder that he believed the journey of faith could unfold.
The early part of the book covers the first forty years of Michael Paul’s life. This includes a description of his hometown of Collooney in Co. Sligo which the Jesuit was able to recall most vividly upon a return visit with Italian friends many years later. He attended Clongowes Wood College SJ in his early years and studied at UCD and in Caen, France, as a university student. After entering the Jesuit novitiate, Michael Paul studied poetry in Oxford and philosophy in London. Some of his other key experiences during these years included lecturing and further studies; the Charismatic Renewal; work in Kolkata; and the formation of young Jesuits.
Later, Fr Gallagher’s direct dealing with unbelief is explored culminating in the Jesuit’s first and most famous book, Help My Unbelief, aimed at readers who were bewildered at why God was becoming so unreal for them. He continued to write many books including Faith Maps which outlined how three dimensions of faith – the institutional, the critical, and the mystical – correspond to the three ages in life – childhood, youth, and adulthood. He pondered where people were at in terms of the dimensions and ages, encouraging them to ask searching and critical questions about their faith.
Michael Paul loved the culture of the theatre and cinema, but more importantly he appreciated culture as ‘the set of meanings and values that informs a way of life’. In this regard, he spent a year in Latin America where he befriended a seminarian named Eliseo who showed him that faith was not a private matter between God and himself; it was something that was alive in a shared way. Furthermore, although Michael Paul didn’t personally experience Irish Catholicism as repressive, he was aware that for many people of his generation it was associated with a petty vision, confined largely to external rules and narrow moralism. He was in touch with the culture of the people.
Of the seven chapters in this book, it would be worth referring to the sense of wonder in chapter five. Michael Paul loved to communicate the experience of wonder, the ‘ah’ experience to his many students. The author notes that he had a disarming gift for helping people to reach the threshold of wonder in their lives. On one occasion, Fr Gallagher spoke with a former student who struggled to believe in a God who was out of touch with his new passion for science. As the conversation continued, the former student began to think that he wasn’t as far away from faith as he had imagined. He began to wonder about faith in a fresh way, a on to others.
Early Education at Collooney NS, Sligo; Clongowes Wood College SJ; UCD
1963-1965 Oxford, UK - Studying for B Litt at Campion Hall
1965-1967 Chipping Norton, UK - Studying Philosophy at Heythrop College
1967-1968 Loyola - Regency : Lecturer in English at UCD
1968-1969 Baltimore, MD, USA - Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University
1969-1975 Milltown Park - Studying Theology
1973 Lecturer in English at UCD; Doctoral Studies in Theology at QUB
1975-1978 University Hall - Vice Superior; Lecturer in English at UCD
1976 Tertianship in Bangalore, India
1978-1986 John Sullivan, Monkstown - Doctoral Studies; Co-ordinator for Atheism; Lecturer in English at UCD
1981 Province Consultor; Assists in Tabor
1986-1987 Sabbatical in Latin America
1987-1990 Rutilio Grande - Superior; Lecturer in English at UCD; Formation Delegate; Co-ordinator for Atheism
1990-1992 Bellarmino, Rome, Italy - Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers
1992-1993 Parish of San Saba, Rome, Italy - Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers
1993-1995 Gesù, Rome, Italy - Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers
1995-1999 Leeson St - Faith & Culture Apostolate; Writer; Lecturer in Theology at Gregorian, Rome (Sem I)
1999-2000 Loyola - Faith & Culture Apostolate; Writer; Lecturer in Theology at Gregorian, Rome (Sem I)
2000-2009 Rome, Italy - Writer; Professor of Fundamental Theology at Gregorian University
2005 Dean of Theology at Gregorian University
2009-2015 Bellarmino, Rome, Italy - Rector; Emeritus Professor of Fundamental Theology at Gregorian University
2015-2015 Loyola - Writer
Into Extra Time
Author: Michael Paul Gallagher SJ
Publisher: Messenger Publications
Michael Paul Gallagher’s book, ‘Into Extra Time – Jottings Along The Way’, is an account of his path of faith through illness and facing death. In Michael Paul’s own words from the preface:-
“The opening words of the Introduction spoke of my path towards death as highly probable. Now several months later death is certain, a question of months. The story of treatment, remission and then return of more than one zone of cancer is told in the second section of this book. As time has gone on, I often wondered why I was publishing such a personal narrative. It started as a diary for myself, trying to explore my experience of illness. Then I began to think it could be of help to others. But I also fear it could inflate my own fairly ordinary adventure, and I ask forgiveness from those who may find it too self-centred or too pious. It tries to tell the story of a believer going through stages of cancer. If it offers some spiritual light on others in such times of struggle, that justifies it for me. ”
Michael Paul Gallagher SJ died on 6 November 2015.
Functions, occupations and activities
Mandates/sources of authority
Identifier of related entity
Category of relationship
Type of relationship
Gallagher, Michael Paul, 1939-2015, Jesuit priest
Dates of relationship
Description of relationship
Access points area
Subject access points
Place access points
- County Laois (Queen's) » Emo » St Mary's (Emo)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park » Loyola House (Milltown Park)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Elm Park » St Vincent's University Hospital, 1970-
- England » Oxfordshire » Oxford » Campion Hall
- England » Oxfordshire » Chipping Norton » Heythrop College
- Canada » Ontario » Toronto
- Italy » Rome » Chiesa del Gesù
- County Sligo » Collooney
- Italy » Rome » Via del Seminario » Collegio San Roberto Bellarmino
- United States of America » Maryland » Baltimore » Johns Hopkins University
- County Kildare » Clane » Clongowes Wood College SJ
- County Dublin » Dublin City » St Stephen's Green (Dublin) » University College, Dublin
- Italy » Rome » Università Gregoriana
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Ranelagh » Gonzaga College SJ
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Hatch Street Lower » University Hall SJ
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Eglinton Road » Loyola House (Eglinton Road)
- County Dublin » Monkstown » Longford Terrace » John Sullivan House
- South America
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Lower Leeson Street » St Ignatius House of Writers
- India » Karnataka » Bangalore
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park » Tabor House
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Ballymun » Sillogue Road » Rutilio Grande Community SJ
- County Sligo » Collooney » River View (Collooney) » Churchview » St Paul's National School
- France » Caen » Esplanade de la Paix » Caen-Normandy University
- County Antrim » Belfast » University Road (Belfast) » Queen's University Belfast
- Italy » Rome » Piazza Gian Lorenzo Bernini » Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non- Believers
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