Kavanagh, Joseph, 1913-1982, Jesuit priest

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Kavanagh, Joseph, 1913-1982, Jesuit priest

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  • Joe Kavanagh

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05 February 1913-27 May 1982


Born: 05 February 1913, Dublin
Entered: 11 September 1931, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1946
Professed: 02 February 1949
Died: 27 May 1982, County Wicklow (in a car accident)

Part of the Gonzaga College, Ranelagh, Dublin community at the time of death

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 57th Year No 3 1982

A phone-call about midnight of 27th/28th May brought us the tragic news of the death of our colleague, Fr Joe Kavanagh, What exactly happened is not entirely clear, but it appears that Fr Joe was involved in a hit-and-run accident while travelling on his Honda motor-cycle at about 11 pm near the Glen of the Downs, co. Wicklow. He was buried from St Kevin’s church, Harrington street, where he had been a curate for the past two years, and he got a send-off that he must have appreciated from his lofty position. A very large number of concelebrants, both Jesuit and diocesan, joined Fr Rector in the requiem Mass; the music was provided by Our Lady's Choral Society, of which Joe had long been a zealous and active member; two Bishops presided, the Most Rev Joseph A Carroll and the Most Rev Donal Murray; and among the congregation were the Lord Mayor (an old pupil) and Mr John Wilson (government minister and an old teaching colleague). We miss Joe very much. Though working in a parish he was always very much a member of the Gonzaga community, in reality as well as in spirit. He joined us as often as his duties would allow and was always a welcome, refreshing, peaceable presence. May he rest in peace.


Fr Joseph Kavanagh (1913-1931-1982)

In the last issue of the Province News the editor had a few interesting words to say about the commissioning of obituary notices. In asking me to present a pen- picture of Joe Kavanagh he didn't have to do any serious arm-twisting: I, am more than glad to be able to pay my tribute to a man who was my companion for many years and whom I, among many others, will sadly miss now that he is gone.
Let us start with the timetable, as it were, of Joe's life. He was at school in Belvedere, entered the noviceship in Emo in 1931. This was followed by Juniorate in Rathfarnham where he pursued a French course with considerable success: philosophy in Tullabeg from 1937-1940, and from these years arises a clear memory of Joe working out, with marvellous patience and good humour, a quartet from Gilbert and Sullivan that was somewhat beyond the vocal range of those whom he was directing. The regency years were spent at Mungret (1940-42) where he was obviously very happy and very successful, but the exigencies of the time demanded that he move to Clongowes for his third year, to get his Certificate in Education. From 1943 to 1947 he was in Milltown for theology, and from those days too I can picture him at the piano preparing a motley caste for a brief season of operetta, or playing at centre-forward on the soccer pitch where he was no mean performer, and many of his contemporaries will remember that deft flick of his that was productive both of goals and serrated shinbones.
After tertianship in Rathfarnham Joe spent a year in Clongowes, followed by three years in the Crescent and then, in 1952, he came to Gonzaga where he was to remain until 1971. After this long period of teaching the rest of his days were to be passed working for the "Diocese' - seven years in the Blackrock area, where he was chaplain to Obelisk Park and also taught in the Blackrock Technical school, three years in East Wall and his last two years as a curate in Harrington street.
When Joe's remains were brought to St Kevin's Church on the evening of 29th May, his parish priest, Fr Dermot O'Neill spoke a few words and described Joe as “a nice, quiet, unassuming, hard working priest”, and most would agree that that is a very fair description. He always had this air of quiet about him; perhaps “serenity” would be a better word, or even “unflappability”. In my mind’s eye I can see him, good humoured and unperturbed, surrounded by a mob of unruly schoolboys or refereeing an under-10 rugby match with tremendous aplomb. There was an occasion when, in the act of refereeing, Joe fell backwards over a stray mongrel that had wandered onto the pitch: except physically he wasn't the slightest bit upset. Teaching, I suspect, was always a little against the grain for Joe. but he applied himself to this task over many years with admirable patience and dedication, and must have passed on much of his own great enthusiasm for the French language: certainly many of his pupils remember him with great affection and while they may beat their breasts a little for the merry dance they sometimes led him in the classroom they recall with gratitude his quiet tolerance and inspiration.
There was a period when Gonzaga took its cricket seriously, and this was one game that Joe particularly enjoyed. I remember him playing in the Staff versus Boys matches, tying up the opposition with a mixture of slow googlies and chinamen; and at other times he could be seen umpiring at square leg or behind the wicket, always perched upon a shooting stick.
When at last his teaching days came to an end and he moved out into the “Diocese” he brought the same calmness and application to his new duties. I know that as a curate he undertook very seriously the job of visiting his parishioners. But all the time - from 1971 - that Joe was working as a curate he remained a member of the Gonzaga community and this he was both in fact and in spirit; for hardly a week passed that he didn't join his brethren there, and they will now miss his quiet presence, his informed conversation and his generally optimistic view of world affairs.
Joe seems to have suffered from some sort of a chronic ulcer. Certainly, over the years he was taking something for this ailment or observing a mild diet. And yet I always regarded him as a man of rude health, a man who not all that long ago put-putted his way on his motor bike all the way from Dublin to some place north of Rome where the machine “packed up”, unable any longer to match the vigour of its rider. It was on his motor-cycle, in his 69th year, that he met his sudden tragic death, (27th May 1982), the victim, apparently, of a hit and-run accident around 11 pm in the Glen of the Downs, though the exact circumstances may never be known. .
For his funeral Joe got a great send off. St Kevin's Church, Harrington' street, was packed for the requiem Mass concelebrated by a very large number of both Jesuit and diocesan priests and presided over by two bishops. But what must have given him, watching from above, especial satisfaction, was the fact that the Gardaí spontaneously provided a cycle escort to expedite the funeral cortège to Glasnevin (he had worked with them in the parish), and that the music was provided by Our Lady's Choral Society of which he had long been an active and zealous member. His love for music had always been conspicuous. He was always the choir master, the organist, the musical director of shows and entertainments from novice to tertian, and even after. Nothing he liked better than to be seated a a piano when he displayed the extraordinarily wide range of his musical interests, at one time fingering a Beethoven sonata, at another belting out something straight from Tin Pan Alley.
There can be no doubt but that now he is a member, perhaps even the director, of a celestial choir and that he will continue to make sweet music to the Lord for all eternity.

Irish Province News 58th Year No 2 1983

Fr Joe Kavanagh
Further light has been thrown on the circumstances surrounding the accident that ended in the tragic death of Fr Joe Kavanagh at Glen o’ the Downs on the night of 27th May 1982. The following reconstruction is based on the evidence presented in Bray district court on 7th January, at the hearing of the prose cutions brought under the Road Traffic Act against the two motorists involved in Fr Kavanagh's death.

The first impact
A woman was driving south in this area around 11 pm. There was a heavy drizzle. Some distance behind her was another car driven by a Mr Fiach McDonagh of Wexford, who thus described the whole occurrence. As he came around a bend on to a straight stretch of road he saw sparks come from under the car in front of him. The car appeared to be on the correct side of the road at the time, then swerved over to the right-hand side of the road and carried on some distance ending up in a ditch. It wasn't until he came level with a helmet which he spotted lying on the road that he realised that an accident had taken place. He turned his car round towards Dublin and stopped on the Dublin-bound carriageway, with his light shining full on the motor-cyclist, who was positioned with his entire body lying on the hard shoulder except for his head, which was on the roadway. A car came from the direction of Dublin: he stopped it and asked the driver to get help. Then he spoke to the priest on the ground and told him he was sending for help.
The car that he had seen sparks come from had travelled weil over a hundred yards down the road. He noticed some body get out, walk around the car, look and get in again; then it slowly began to drive away.

The second and fatal impact
Ms McDonagh went back to his own car and saw at the same time a car travelling from the Wicklow direction, This car kept coming even when it was in full view of the car stopped in the middle of the road. At the last minute it swerved suddenly to the inside of the stopped car on to the hard shoulder. Here it struck the bike and the man on the ground, swerved to the right-hand side of the road and ended up in the ditch on the opposite side. The impact had flipped the priest right up in the air and over, reversing his position. Two men got out of the car, both as it transpired ambulance men. When they saw the priest on the ground they went back to their car, took out a first-aid kit to do whatever they could, but found no pulse.


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

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


Kavanagh, Joseph, 1913-1982, Jesuit priest

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IE IJA J/197

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