Born: 12 April 1879, Parnell Square, Dublin
Entered: 05 January 1898, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 27 July 1913, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 02 February 1916
Died: 25 June 1958, Belvedere College SJ, Dublin
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1902 at Pressburg Hungary (Bratlslava, Slovakia) (ASR) studying
by 1911 at Leuven Belgium (BELG) studying
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 33rd Year No 4 1958
Fr John M O’Connor (1879-1958)
The death of Fr. John Mary O'Connor has taken from us one of the heroic-sized figures of the Province. He was one around whom a legend was bound to grow. His emphatic way of speaking, his oft-repeated “Do you follow?”, his delight in purple ink, his championing of unusual causes, his infinite capacity for interviewing were all peculiarities that lent themselves to many a tale. Born in 1879, the youngest son of his father, Fr. John seems to have been his father's chosen companion in his childhood. Those were the exciting years of the Home Rule Party with Parnell at its head and Mr. O'Connor as Lord Mayor of Dublin playing his part in the politics of the day. Hence would seem to spring Fr. O'Connor's life-long interest in debating which he put to good use in Clongowes, Belvedere and University Hall. His parents lived on Parnell Square, or Rutland Square as it was then called, and sent him to school to Belvedere which was so close to home. However, it was found difficult to control the activities of John outside school and he was transferred to Clongowes to encourage him to study. There he remained till he passed the First Arts examination of the old Royal University, so that he did study even if his out-of-class activities grey greater than ever.
When he finally left Clongowes, he wished to join the Society but found two obstacles confronting him, he was a ward in Chancery and he had lost an index-finger. Ways and means were discovered for surmounting both these impediments and he entered the noviceship in 1898. At the end of his noviceship and juniorate in Tullabeg, he went to Pressburg for philosophy and then began his magisterium in Clongowes. After a few years as Line Prefect, he was sent to Belvedere where he spent the remaining years of his teaching. He studied theology first in Louvain, where Fr. General was then attending the University, and later in Milltown Park where he was ordained in 1913. His tertianship was made in Tullabeg and after it he went in 1915 to Clongowes as Higher Line Prefect. In 1921, he returned to Belvedere as Prefect of Games, a post he held until 1930 when he was appointed for the first time as Head of University Hall. He was made Rector of Belvedere in 1936 and when he had finished his term of office in 1942, he returned to University Hall. During this second period in the Hall, a nervous breakdown slowly developed from which he was never to fully recover. He spent a short time in Milltown Park before returning to Belvedere in 1947 to which house he was attached till his death in June, 1958.
As will be noted, Fr. O'Connor's work was for the most part with boys and adolescents for both of whom he possessed traits of character which gave him a marked ascendancy over them. His interest in sport and gifts as a trainer appealed to the athletic and his supreme conviction of the importance of everything he was doing attracted to him adolescents uncertain of themselves. There was, of course, much more than this to his influence over young people. Probably his greatest single asset was his interest in everybody. He could not pass a long railway journey, he could not stay for a short time in a hotel without falling into conversation with his neighbour and getting to know him. This was far from the countryman's spirit of inquisitiveness but marked a very genuine interest in his fellowmen. When boys and University students met him, it was a revelation to many of them that a priest could take the interest in them that Fr, O'Connor obviously did. Hence sprang their devotion to him and their habit of making him the confidant of their ambitions and disappointments. When University College Rugby Club required a trainer, they paid him a remarkable tribute by turning to him in their need and asking him to undertake the difficult task. Mr. Sarsfield Hogan's eulogy of him at a recent meeting of the L.B.I.R.F.U. is a fair indication of the success he made of it. The students had many a story to tell about him but there was no mockery behind the stories, they told them about one for whom they had the highest regard. The gold chalice presented to him when he became Rector of Belvedere was a touching tribute from so notoriously impecunious a body of young men.
Fr. O'Connor was not a person who liked to take his ease - those who went on villa with him often found to their dismay that he fitted a minor mission into tho holiday. Safety first was never his motto, nor is it a Jesuit motto. He undertook many things, some of which were a great success, others the reverse, but the balance was very much in his favour.
Probably his years in Clongowes would appear to many as the least successful, for apart from founding one of the Debating Societies as a Scholastic, he was responsible for no permanent change there. However his influence with the boys was beyond denial and their devotion to him then and afterwards.
His association with Belvedere was very long and Belvedere has much to thank him for. As & scholastic he founded the Rhetoric Debating Society in 1908 and organised the Swimming Gala so well that it was the chief event of the season of the Leinster Swimming World, he was also instrumental in having the Sports Ground at Jones's Road purchased. When he returned as a priest in 1921 he revived the Debating Society, set the College in the front ranks of the Leinster schools for Rugby and Cricket and just before his appointment to University Hall founded a commercial school. Then as Rector be galvanised into new life the Union, founded the Musical Society and got the Old Boys' Rugby Club admitted to Senior ranks, as one of his helpers amongst the Past said at the time rather ruefully, “Being an O.B, is a full-time occupation. nowadays”. No Old Belvederian was allowed to hide his light under a bushel, and heaven and earth was canvassed for the beatification of Dom Columba Marmion. As regards the school itself, he revived the study of German, inaugurated the Philosophy year, the annual mothers' meeting and the interviewing by the Rector of all boys in the final school-year. Even on his return to Belvedere in broken health, he showed he had lost none of his interest in the College. School matches had to be played over again. in his room and changes in the school order of time brought to his notice.
Some think that Fr. O'Connor's finest work was done in University Hall. It was certainly a most difficult assignment. He had to deal with some sixty young men with no great spirit of reverence and very resentful of any attempt to drive them. Yet in a remarkably short space of time, he had established over them an ascendancy which none would have expected. He attributed his success to the prayers he had offered up in so many convents for his charges. On the natural level, the transformation was due to his energetic interest in every aspect of student life. He put before them an ideal to which they promptly responded. They should be leaders in every department of student life. They should be on the College teams, they should be prominent in the Debating Societies and Honours men in the different University faculties. When the students saw that he believed in what he preached and that University Hall was no place for idlers, they came to realise that he had the right scale of values and adopted it themselves. There resulted that high regard for the Hall which still holds in College circles ard that brilliant series of results obtained by Hall students which is not likely to be ever surpassed. Fr. O'Connor left the Hall a house of which University College and the Province itself might well be proud. The work Fr. O'Connor himself preferred was that of guiding souls, He was in constant demand by young men and women who wished for advice on the question of vocation. Moreover he never missed an opportunity of giving a retreat. He had not a very attractive style as a lecturer but retreatants forgot that once they had been to confession to him and experienced his great patience and devotion. His sympathy was genuine and souls in, distress were sure of a kindly hearing. The many nuns at his funeral in Gardiner St. reminded us that his constant labours for them were sincerely appreciated. When his crippling illness made it impossible for him to continue his apostolate of the spoken word he turned to that of the written word. His correspondence directed to the four quarters of the globe was voluminous. Old boys of Belvedere and Clongowes, past students of University Hall, Jesuits who had lived with him and were now continents away, former servants, people he had met on holidays, nuns turned to him in their trouble and were sure of an answer to any petition for help. Those who doubt the value of all this letter-writing should have heard the appreciative comments of the people to whom he wrote. When he grew very ill and was no longer able to write, letters were received from his correspondents saying how much they missed hearing from him.
Fr. O'Connor was a very good “Community man”. He enjoyed the give and take of Community life and a Community was happier for his presence. He was guide, philosopher and friend to many generations of scholastics and put at their disposal his great experience as Games master and President of Debates. When he was present, recreations were seldom dull, often uproarious and, for most of us, great fun. As was said at the beginning of this article, Fr. O'Connor is a fit subject for a legend, but if it is to reflect the truth in any way it must pay tribute to his essential kindliness, essential zeal, and his fidelity to the motto of every Jesuit-Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.
There was nothing small about him and his reward must surely be correspondingly great.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father John Mary O’Connor 1879-1958
Fr John Mary O’Connor was one of those Jesuits around whom legends grow. His emphatic way of speaking, his oft-repeated :do you follow me?”, his delight in purple ink, his championing of unusual causes, his infinite capacity for interviewing, were all peculiarities that lent themselves to many a tale.
Born in Dublin in 1879 at Parnell Square, his father was an active Irish Party man and Lord Mayor of Dublin in his day. John was educated at Belvedere and Clongowes. When he wished to enter the Society, he had two obstacles in his way, he was a Ward in Chancery, and he had lost an index finger.. He loved to tell the story of how his mother took him to the Pope, Leo XIII, and personally got a dispensation from the Second impediment.
The two outstanding purple patches in his life as a Jesuit, besides the purple ink, were his period as First prefect in Clongowes, and secondly his reign as Rector in Belvedere. He had a rare gift of direction of young men and boys, and his prowess in the athletic field lent him no small influence with them. Some think that Fr O’Connor’s finest work was done at University Hall as Principal. It is certainly a most difficult assignment, and the fact that so notoriously impecunious a body as University students presented him with a gold chalice on his appointment to Belvedere as Rector, is no small tribute to his power of striking enthusiasm out of young men with no great spirit of reverence, and resentful of any attempt to drive them.
Fr O’Connor undertook many projects, some of which were a great success, others the reverse, but the balance was much in his favour. Safety first was never his motto.
However, his favourite work was the direction of souls, and when ill health prevented him from active work, he took to the pen, and purple ink, with even more energy than usual.
He was an excellent community man. Recreation was never dull in his presence. In a word, there was nothing small about John Mary O’Connor, and for his good heart alone and his sympathy, he surely went straight to heaven when he died on June 25th 1958.