O'Mara, Joseph, 1906-1977, Jesuit priest

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O'Mara, Joseph, 1906-1977, Jesuit priest

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  • Joey O'Mara

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04 March 1906-11 February 1977


Born: 04 March 1906, Maida Vale, London, England
Entered: 14 August 1924, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 24 August 1935, Leuven, Belgium
Final Vows: 15 August 1941, Holy Spirit Seminary, Aberdeen, Hong Kong
Died: 11 February 1977, St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin

Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death

Cousin of Patrick (Pom) O’Mara - RIP 1969

Entered Tullabeg 31 August 1922; LEFT 1923 and Re-entered 1924 at Tullabeg;

◆ Fr Francis Finegan : Admissions 1859-1948 - LEFT twice on account of health having entered 31 August 1922. Finally Reentered 14 August 1924

by 1933 at Leuven, Belgium (BELG) studying
by 1937 at Valkenburg, Limburg, Netherlands (GER I) making Tertianship
by 1938 at St Beuno’s, Wales (ANG) making Tertianship

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 6th Year No 1 1931
Brussels Congress :
Fr. Rector (John Coyne) and Fr. J. O'Meara (Louvain) represented the College at the First International Gongress of Catholic Secondary Education, held at Brussels July 28 . August 2. Fr, O'Meara read a paper on State Aid in Irish Secondary Education. Our Irish Jesuit Colleges were well represented in the Exhibition organised by Fr. Corcoran S. J.

Irish Province News 8th Year No 4 1933

Father T. Corcoran's labours in connection with the examinations for the Higher Diploma had scarcely concluded when he had to betake himself to Holland to preside at the second International Congress of Catholic Secondary Education. The meetings of the Congress took place at the Hague each day from 31st .July to 5th August.
Their Excellencies, the Bishops of Holland, were patrons of the Congress, which was attended by some 350 delegates representing the leading Catholic countries. Among the delegates were about 45 members of the Society from lands outside Holland. Prominent among the visitors were the Provincial of the Paris Province, with various Rectors and Prefects of Studies from our French Colleges. Père Yoes de la Brière, the Rectors of Brussels, Namur, Liege and other Belgian Colleges, Fathers Errandonea, Herrera and others from Spain,the French Oratorian Sabatier and various distinguished lay-men from Germany and Italy.
Cardinal Pacelli, in the name of the Holy Father, sent a long and cordial telegram of good wishes to the Congress , also the Nuncio Apostolic in Holland, who was prevented by serious illness from attending in person.
In the absence of the Nuncio the final allocution was delivered by the Bishop of Haarlem, after the Rector Magnificus of the University of Nijmegen and Father Corcoran, as President of the Congress had already spoken. Mr. J. O'Meara from Louvain Messrs. B. Lawler and C. Lonergan from Valkenburg acted as assistants to Father Corcoran at the Hague.
A splendid paper on “The Present Condition of Secondary Education in Ireland” was read by Dr. John McQuaid, the President of Blackrock College. All accounts agree in stating that the Congress was a brilliant success.
As the proceedings at the Hague coincided with the Biennial Conference of the World Federation of Education Associations, Father Corcoran was unable to be present at the functions in Dublin, but an important paper from his pen was read by Mrs McCarville, Lecturer in English in University College, Dublin. This paper expounded the Catholic philosophy of Education.

Irish Province News 22nd Year No 1 1947
Frs. Bourke and John O'Meara returned from Hong Kong on 25th November for a reşt. Fr. Joseph O'Mara, who had returned to the Mission some time ago after a stay in Ireland, was forced by ill-health to come back to the Province. He reached Dublin on 13th January, and is now teaching philosophy at Tullabeg.

Irish Province News 22nd Year No 1 1947

Departures for Mission Fields in 1946 :
4th January : Frs. P. J. O'Brien and Walsh, to North Rhodesia
25th January: Frs. C. Egan, Foley, Garland, Howatson, Morahan, Sheridan, Turner, to Hong Kong
25th July: Fr. Dermot Donnelly, to Calcutta Mission
5th August: Frs, J. Collins, T. FitzGerald, Gallagher, D. Lawler, Moran, J. O'Mara, Pelly, Toner, to Hong Kong Mid-August (from Cairo, where he was demobilised from the Army): Fr. Cronin, to Hong Kong
6th November: Frs. Harris, Jer. McCarthy, H. O'Brien, to Hong Kong

Irish Province News 52nd Year No 2 1977

Milltown Park
Since the last issue of the Province News, the community has been saddened by the loss of Father Joe O’Mara. He entered St Vincent's Hospital on Thursday 27th January, and passed away just after midnight on the morning of Friday 11th February. His unfailing cheerfulness and buoyancy to the end were a great example to us all. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam!

Obituary :

Fr Joseph O’Mara (1906-1977)

One Wednesday norning in late January this year, Joe O’Mara gave a lecture in Milltown Park on Immanuel Kant. He was to have followed up with lectures on Maurice Blondel and J P Sartre. On the same Wednesday evening he went to St Vincent's, Elm Park, for what had become his habitual check-up and clean-up: a recurrent necessity because of his grievous emphysema and painful difficulty with breathing. That same evening he suffered what seems to have been a severe brain haemorrhage and his heart stopped beating.
There were many of us who wished he had been struck down before going to hospital. Joe would most likely have died quickly and been spared the long days in intensive care whose loneliness not even the traditionally splendid Vincent’s nursing could eliminate. We suffered with him. We did not want Joe to suffer any more. He was a man we cared for deeply: a man whose death makes a great gap in life. He was, in short, well loved.
We were happy for him then when he died on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was a Friday. Joe said, in his last days, that his parents had died on a Friday and he thought he just might do likewise. Is it necessary to say that, in Vincent’s, he was beloved by nurses and patients, that he entrusted himself completely to his doctors and that he never complained? He died at ten past midnight: causing the minimum of inconvenience to those who were with him. The Lord allowed him to be a gentleman to the last. He was nearly seventy-one years of age.
A potted biography of Joe O'Mara tells us only very little about the man. However, it tells us something :
He went to school at Hodder, Stonyhurst and Belvedere. I remember someone pointing out to me once how remarkable Joe was in that, coming from a background of considerable wealth, his personal religious poverty was so simple and natural. For example he never possessed anything better than a battered set of unmatched golf clubs. I do not remember seeing him with even one precious keepsake from his family. Yet he was a devoted family man.
Give or take a month or so, Joe made two noviceships because of ill-health. I was not aware that, between the two periods in Tullabeg, he took First Science in UCD. Joe would usually be taken as a professional philosopher with a literary and artistic turn. This he was. The early injection of science however explains certain qualities and dimensions in his later pbilosophy. After the double noviceship there was latin, french and history in UCD. Then came the usual three year Milltown - Tullabeg philosophy. There was of course no LPH. or Bacc Phil in those days; only ens ut sic. However, putting aside the latin nonsence (Joe O’Mara spoke latin very well) and remembering the precious third year, it was perhaps as good an introduction to philosophy as has ever been devised. Then Joe went to Louvain.
There have been many great periods in the splendid history of Louvain. Joe was there in a great one (1932-37). He was in time to fall under the influence of Joseph Maréchal. Even those who only met Maréchal through his books and (like Bernard Longergan) through hearsay can never escape from the experience. Joe O’Mara sat under Maréchal and always spoke of that period as an awakening to a new understanding of reality. From Maréchal came Joe’s lifelong interest in and dedication to the philosophies of Kant and Blondel. Thence too came the natural facility with which he seized on the key-ideas of Bernard Lonergan and found himself at home. Because of the Maréchallien liberation from prejudice and conventional stagnation, Joe could give hearty approval to the reform of thought and practice in Vatican II and as well (though he sometimes pulled a wry face as we all do) to the many attempts in recent years to rethink Jesuit spirituality for our day. Louvain taught minds to be clear and open.
After tertianship in St. Beuno's came Hong Kong. It was Hong Kong at war and eventually occupied by the Japanese (1938-46). I wish I knew about this period because I am sure there are stories to be told. Joe however (at least to me) spoke hardly at all about war time Hong Kong. I must leave it then and the story of philosophy taught at the Regional Seminary to someone better qualified.
Joe came back from the East in bad helath. Some thought he was finished. However, it was then began his sixteen years in Tullabeg as professor of philosophy and as rector for the last three years. Joe always spoke of these years as very happy ones. But the cross was on the way and I use the word 'cross deliberately having examined my conscience to see if the word here is free from the pious naivety that uses “cross” for every insignificant pain or ache. Indeed it was the cross that came and Joe was to be asked to suffer deeply because his faith in obedience was absolute.
In 1962, Fr Jack McMahon, the Visitor from the USA, closed the philosophate in Tullabeg. It had been thirty years in existence and was a pontifical faculty. Personally my own relations with Fr McMahon were good: I liked the man. Nevertheless it is as well to recall that he was known far and wide as “Jack-the-Knife” even by people who had never heard of Brecht. I have no reason to believe that the severing of philosophy from Tullabeg was performed very gently. Surgery was relatively rough in those days. Joe O'Mara, the rector, was the one who had to resist, suffer and obey. There was no better man. I was in Tullabeg shortly after the mortal decision had been taken and Joe was, to all appearances, his usual gentlemanly, warmhearted, smiling self. Real suffering is too sacred a thing to flaunt.
There followed for Joe a short period of oscillation. He started the retreat house in Tullabeg. He came to the CIR. He was in the Milltown retreat house. But soon (’68) he came to Milltown and found his place in the faculty of philosophy. Here, I think in great happiness, he spent the rest of his life. He was in on the early days of the Milltown Institute, on the successful end of the long labours to have pontifical faculties extended, on the aborted affair with the NCEA, which died at the stroke of a ministerial pen. He was dean of philosophy from 1970-72 and became senior professor. His subjects were mostly the history of philosophy and his favourite moderns: Kant, Hegel, Blondel, Bergson, Sartre.
Something must be said of Joe as a writer. He wrote I think too little. This is a fault common to Irish Jesuits which is not entirely due to laziness or inability. We seem, for example, (and Joe was no exception) to be more concerned about pedagogy then about print.
Among his papers was a slim folder containing three articles from Studies: “Kierkegaard revealed” (Dec. 1949), “Death and the existententialist” Dec. 1950) and “The meaning and value of existentialism” (March 1951), In Ireland these articles were more than a little ahead of their time. The article on death begins with the sentence “There is an irrational quality about death which is frightening”. Also in the folder there are a public lecture “Existentialism and the christian vision” (undated) and an inaugural lecture for the Milltown Institute called “Maurice Blondel: christian philosopher?” (1973). Were these his favourites? Perhaps. I rather think however that they were kept because they were useful in seminars and in class. Joe was not one to cling to splendid relics of his past without good additional reasons. These few pieces are enough to show that Joe knew about English prose. They are elegant, polished, witty, interesting and strong. The style is the man.
Joe could handle language; as his ordinary conversation showed. His precise enunciation was part of his personality: the result of long training and practice; born of a desire (as politeness ever is) to make no unnecessary difficulties for his audience. After his first stroke he was concerned, “I hope” he said “my speech is sufficiently distinct”. Every final p and t was still clear as a whip-crack.
It could be forgotten that Joe O’Mara was a musician and the son of a distinguished musician, Joe told me once that his father had thought highly of his voice but would never entertain for a moment the idea of allowing his son to expose himself to the jungle of professional singing. What the O’Mara Opera Company lost anyone who heard Joe sing in his heyday at a Milltown ordination will know. His pure, true, powerful and trained tenor voice was professional: a sound to be heard. Joe’s musical knowledge and culture was wider than singing and opera. He knew a great deal about classical and modern concert music. When, once or twice a season, he used the community tickets for an RTESO concert (usually in the company of Jim FitzGerald or Billy Kelly) it was clear from his subsequent remarks that he not merely appreciated the music and the performance but that he knew the music intimately. He had a deadly ear for false notes!
It was in these last eight years, working in the Milltown Institute, that I came to know Joe O'Mara well. I consider it a privilege and a grace to have been able to do so.
It is good then to read some of the many tributes that have been paid to him. We read of his eloquence in the pulpit, his zeal as a missionary, his kindness and understanding. That good friend of the Jesuits, Mary Purcell, sent a card:
“He was a real Jesuit - first things first always - and it was a pleasure to hear him preach on special occasions in Gardiner Street, he came across as utterly sincere and dedicated”.
The spontaneous quiet grief of some lay-friends at his funeral was very moving.
Joe could relax. He had the great selfless sense of humour: a wit, a tough reasonableness, that was always kind. As long as he could play he was a great believer in golf at which he was “useful” or a little better. He loved TV. He loved the cinema too and rejoiced that his old-age card let him in at reduced price. He was a bridge player when Jesuits used to play bridge. But perhaps above all he was a wizard at crosswords. While Joe was alive the Times daily crossward was always removed from the paper with collaboration from Brendan Lawler. That was understood. Joe worked a puzzle at lightning speed and even understood and solved Ximenes. He was no highbrow, someone said. That is true. Neither however was he that other sad thing (using Virginia Woolf's terminology) a middlebrow. He was an authentic man who knew what he liked to do and did it when possible: whether it was Beethoven's string quartet in C sharp minor or the currently popular TV comic. Above all I think he liked the Sunday evening 'crack in Milltown with the community. Fortified by a glass and a half but no more) of whiskey he was very content to listen and radiate friendship.
But there was a depth in this pleasant, indeed delightful, man. It was a depth I have found in those Jesuits I have most admired: Eddie Coyle, Arthur Little, Paddy Joy, Morty Glynn - to mention a few and omit many. “A real Jesuit” Mary Purcell wrote. Joe was a rounded man, a balanced man; not following the new because it was novel nor clinging to the old because it was there; not exaggerating piety to a ludicrous degree like one of Moliére's faux dévots, not thinking for a moment that his direct apostolate of retreat-giving brought him nearer to God than teaching or administration. Joe was a free inan. He understood that Ignatian indifference is the capacity to love everything. As Chesterton said of Francis of Assisi, he had left everything and returned to love everything. Like Teilhard de Chardin, he could have dedicated a book “To those who love the world”. Joe is my idea of a holy man.
I am convinced he was a man of deep, silent, personal prayer. This was evident in the quality of his stillness at concelebrated Mass. deep prayer is the only final explanation of his continued success with priests at Pia Unio meetings, of the continuous demands made on him by sisters and brothers. He had no difficulty in dealing with contemplatives: he gave retreats to Cistercians and often to Carmelite sisters. I am sure he was contemplative in action. The great Lord God had given him the kind of contemplative apostolic prayer Ignatius wished for Jesuits: the kind of constant prayer that genuine work does not interrupt. One could talk to Joe about this but it was best done tête-at-tête or with one or two people. He was more reticent in public. So were all the great ones. While dying, his prayers were vocal and very simple. His devotion to Gerard Manley Hopkins's “O God, I love thee, I love thee” - is known. Shortly before his last illness, he drew my attention to a poem in volume 2 of the new breviary (p. 625) which he said he always used at night prayer or compline: it was John Donne's “Hymn to God the Father” which begins “Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun ...”
His complete forgetfulness of self was perhaps his great virtue: the source of his charm, affability, peace, generosity. If he could, he would have been present at all the exhausting meetings we have – out of respect for whoever called the meeting. Ambition for him was confined to becoming a better christian. He never seemed to feel slighted or ignored. He would heartily support shared prayer meetings or penance services to help the brethren even though these techniques were of small importance to him personally. He might not attend but he would defend vigorously the right to pray like this.
Some modern questions “are you lonely?”, “are you fulfilled?” “are you satisfied with community conditions and life?”) had little or no meaning for Joe. For him the only question was “am I doing with all my heart the main job I have been given on the status?” Because for Joe, as for us all, that is the nearest approximation we shall ever arrive at to knowing what is the will of God.
I must finish with a word about his loyalty to the Society of Jesus. It was absolute. The only times I have seen him angry was when rather reactionary Jesuits criticized in public a brother Jesuit (or Jesuit institution) who was taking the dangerous but necessary risk of trying to push Catholic thought and practice forward. The fact that some of the critics were rather ill-informed was of no importance to Joe. This was just something not to be done ever. “I love the Society” he said dying “and I love the brethren”. At that moment the Society for him meant, in the first place, Milltown Park. After Milltown, it meant the whole Province and Jesuits everywhere. This was the theme of his last homily on the feast of the Epiphany this year. We are grateful
Joe's last semiconscious words were 'I shall not surrender'. It is impossible to guess what he was referring to but, as an expression of a general sentiment, it is – one may say - satisfactory.
The Lord has given him rest beside the quiet waters of life. May we be like him when our time comes.
J C Kelly SJ


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

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O'Mara, Joseph, 1906-1977, Jesuit priest

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