Hehir, Noel, 1898-1947, Jesuit priest
- IE IJA J/1438
- 20 December 1898-10 June 1947
Born: 20 December 1898, Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Entered: 11 March 1917, Loyola Greenwich, Australia (HIB)
Ordained: 31 July 1929, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final vows: 15 August 1939
Died: 10 June 1947, Holy Name Seminary, Christchurch, New Zealand - Australiae Province (ASL)
Transcribed HIB to ASL : 05 April 1931
Younger brother of Thomas (Tom) - RIP 1955
by 1923 at Leuven Belgium (BELG) studying
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Noel Hehir was a meticulous scholar with a profound respect for humane learning. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and at Xavier College. He entered the Society 11 March 1917, studied in Dublin, gaining first class honors in Greek and Latin. He studied philosophy in Louvain, spent a year teaching at Clongowes, and read theology at Milltown Park, Dublin, where he showed a special taste for Greek petrology. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1929. He also gained an MA in classics during this time, specialising in the history of Roman colonisation.
After tertianship at St Beuno's, Wales, Hehir's first appointment was minister of juniors at Loyola, Greenwich and Watsonia, 1931-36. He directed the first group of Australian scholastics who did their humanities studies at home, either internally or at the university. He had very high ideals about the meaning of education, and was very strict in applying the Ratio Studiorum. He strongly fostered intellectual life, giving the scholastics an appreciation of current Catholic culture. To this end he built up the college library with Catholic literature, and kept the scholastics in contact with the literary side of Catholic Action.
Hehir spent 1937 as prefect of studies at Xavier College before serving two years as rector of St Aloysius' College. He was appointed rector of Riverview, 1940-45. He spent one year,
1946, as a lecturer of fundamental theology at Canisius College, Pymble, as well as lecturer in scholastic philosophy at St John's and Sancta Sophia Colleges, University of Sydney, before his last appointment as rector of the Holy Name Seminar Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1947. He died of cancer that year after a brief illness .
Other Jesuits described Hehir as a good religious, a classical scholar, hard on himself and others, and setting an example of Jesuit life as he had experienced it in Ireland and Belgium. His early death was a disappointment to many He was a highly respected lecturer, teacher, preacher and retreat-giver, as well as administrator and educator. The headmaster of Shore, L.C. Robson, in a tribute in the “Sydney Morning Herald” wrote of the respect and affection of the Headmasters Conference for him. He admired Hehir's scholarship and wise counsel, and the influence of his personal character and outlook on education, shown through his spiritual quality and resoluteness in standing for his conviction, but not less by his tolerance and breadth of sympathy. They enjoyed Hehir's company and conversation.
It was while he was rector of the two Sydney colleges that Hehir made his mark in education. He was a very active and influential member of educational organisations. He was instrumental in reviving the Classical Society of NSW, and was its president for two years, being a powerful advocate of the importance of the classics in secondary education. He was prominent on the Catholic Secondary Teachers Association, the NSW Teachers' Guild, and the Headmasters Conference. His colleagues appreciated his geniality and simplicity, his power of sympathy and his utter unselfishness.
During his short stay at St Aloysius' College, Hehir was totally involved in the life of the college, especially by teaching and coaching sport. He purchased property at East Willoughby
for the college sporting ground. As headmaster he was involved with every aspect of the boys education. He taught senior classes and coached junior boys' sport. Some found him over severe in his discipline procedures and even unjust. He had no secretary, and the administration of the college was generally done late at night. Yet this did not interfere with his strict religious regime. Prayer was very important for him.
Six years at Riverview made it possible for Hehir to have an influence on the college. He was probably the most scholarly-minded rector since Patrick Keating, and combined intellectual gifts with practical wisdom. He coached cricket and football, taught English and arithmetic to the lower grades, and tutored boys privately outside class. The number of day boys at the college increased during these years and he wiped out the college debt in 1943-a remarkable achievement.
In educational discourses he stressed the importance of character training and good discipline He warned students to beware of self-indulgence, and the need to practice self-sacrifice. Hehir wanted education to extend to the wider population, not just to the upper social classes. For this reason he introduced technical and rural subjects into the curriculum at Riverview. He believed that “happiness is an essential means for all truly effective education”.
Hehir was a scholar who thought deeply about how to make important Christian values and Jesuit ideals relevant. Non-Jesuits praised him for being a good companion, for his charm, goodness and learning. Some Jesuits found him less friendly and even austere, but nevertheless respected his spirit, intellect and hard work. They praised him for his personal charm, his amazing industry, and great readiness to be of service to anyone at any time. Many priests and religious appreciated him for the zeal and asceticism that he showed in his retreats. Hehir was a sound educationalist who expressed his ideas clearly and forcefully His style of leadership was fundamentally one of example-he expected people to do as he did. Ultimately, his gifts of nature and grace were considerable, and his influence during his short life was substantial.
Note from Tom Hehir Entry
He was devoted to his younger brother, Noel, and after his death, Tom seemed to lose his own grip on life.
Note from Johnny Meagher Entry
As Vice-Provincial he clashed with the Rector of Riverview, Noel Hehir, over his expulsion of members of the Meagher clan. Meagher overruled Hehir, an action Hehir never forgot. When the latter was dying he did not want to see Meagher.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 7th Year No 2 1932
Fr. N. Hehir and Br. V. Moran (scholastic novice) sailed for Australia towards the end of last year. An interesting experience was waiting for them at Naples, which we tell in Fr. Hehir's own words “We found ourselves booked to take part in a remarkable ceremony at Naples. A printed programme announced that I was to say Mass in the Gesù coram Cardinali. Fortunately the boat was late. The Provincial said the Mass. On arriving, the two of us were led down the Church (in white soutanes) in the middle of a stirring sermon delivered by the Cardinal Archbishop. Then came a sermon by one of the two scholastics who were being farewelled. Then an embarrassing ceremony - a Neapolitan tradition - apparently followed. All the clergy, led by the Cardinal, kissed the feet of the four missionaries. Lunch followed in the novitiate. Finally we were raced back to catch our boat just before sailing hour.
Irish Province News 22nd Year No 3 1947
Fr. Noel Hehir (1898-1917-1947)
Fr. Hehir was born in Melbourne and received his secondary education at Xavier College, Kew. He entered the Society in 1917 and made his noviceship in Loyola, Greenwich. He then proceeded to Ireland, where he took his M.A. degree in Classics at the National University. He pursued his philosophical studies at Louvain, and then returned to Ireland, where he taught at Clongowes Wood College, Theological studies followed at Milltown Park, where he was ordained in 1929, and then tertianship in St. Beuno's. Returning to Australia after tertianship, his first appointment was that of Master of Juniors attending Melbourne University from “Loyola”, Watsonia. From there he went to Sydney to be Rector of St. Aloysius' College 1938 and 1939, after a year at St. Ignatius'. From 1940 to 1945 he was Rector of Riverview. For many years Fr. Hehir was Director of Retreats in New South Wales and Queensland. Last year he lectured in philosophy to students of Sancta Sophia College and St. John's College, within the University of Sydney.
Fr. Hehir possessed outstanding scholastic attainments, and, besides the sphere of education, was prominent in contributing papers to conferences, schools, etc. He was at one stage president of the Teachers' Guild of New South Wales and the Classical Association. For a period he was a member of the standing committee of the Headmasters' Conference of Australia, and was a leading member of various educational bodies.
Last year Fr. Hehir was professor of dogma in Pymble. Early this year he was appointed Rector of the newly-established National Minor Seminary (Holy Name Seminary) at Riccarton, Christchurch, New Zealand, which the Hierarchy decided to confide to the Society, and which was opened by His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate, Dr. Panico, on February 2nd.
Fr. Hehir died in New Zealand on June 11th. . The following tribute was paid to Fr. Hehir in a letter to the secular press by Mr. L. C. Robson, Headmaster of Sydney Church of England Grammar School :
“It would be a pity if the death of the Very Rev. Noel Hehir, S.J., were to pass without a public record of his great services. . . He was a man of the most rare quality, and few have won as deep respect and affection. He is best known here as a former Rector of St. Aloysius' and as Rector from 1940 to 1945 of St. Ignatius' College, Riverview. Two years ago he was appointed to Canisius College, Pymble, and last year was translated to take charge of the new College, known as the Holy Name Seminary, then being founded at Riccarton,
As a headmaster, he left his mark on each of his schools in New South Wales. However, by his high scholarship and wise counsel and above all, by his personal character and outlook, he influenced educational life far beyond the limits of the Order to which he belonged.
Those who were associated with him in the Teachers' Guild, in the Classical Association, in public committees, in the headmasters conference and in the general life of the Great Public Schools were profoundly impressed and influenced by his spiritual quality and by his resoluteness in standing for his convictions, but not less by his tolerance and breadth of sympathy. Withal, he was a most delightful and stimulating companion, whether at a meeting of a learned society or at a football match or boat race.
It is difficult to do justice to the influence of such a man upon his contemporaries. It is certain that his old boys and his educational colleagues will feel the most profound sense of loss.
Fr. T. Mulcahy Kindly contributed the following appreciation :
“Fr. Noel Hehir had the unusual privilege of being escorted to Ireland by his master of novices, Fr. George Byrne, who was returning home to assume the same responsible post here, The route travelled was also perhaps unusual because it included the U.S.A. On his arrival in Rathfarnham, Noel Hehir was welcomed with the customary invitation to have a swim in the lake. He always said afterwards that he thought he would never come up alive from that plunge, so great and so unexpected was the difference in temperature between the water of the lake and the warm waters of his native Australia.
But he did come to the top. It was a habit he had and which he developed assiduously. Whether it was a question of a new language to be learned, a new subject to be fathomed or a new position to be filled, he had a way of winning through - not just surviving, but coming out on top. In the acquisition of human wisdom, as in the science of the saints, Noel Hehir worked hard, and no one merited success more.
He had the gift of ‘fitting in’ easily. No Junior was more popular in Rathfarnham, no philosopher was more popular in Louvain, no chaplain to the Royal Hospital for Incurables, Donnybrook, showed more understanding of the temperaments of the patients. His Belgian contemporaries at Louvain will sorely miss him. With them his cheer fulness, his diligence and his love of metaphysics were proverbial. Indeed, speaking from a natural point of view, I suspect that, for one with such a flair for philosophy, it must have been a trial that the calls of obedience summoned Noel in after years to tasks other than the keeping of essence and existence in order.
Like most Australians he was good at games. One recalls in particular his prowess at tennis. He was also very fond of walking. In his company the present writer has explored the Dublin bills and tramped across the plains around Louvain discussing the years that were yet to be. And should the walks on occasions be not too far but only to join parties at Sruthan or Glendhu, Noel Hehir with accustomed self-sacrifice would always be the first to stack up the fire or ‘lay the table’.
It was a privilege to have known one who was so admirable in religious observance and so loyal a friend. He died when not so old, but he has accomplished much for God and Australia.
May he rest in peace”.