Thompson, Robert, 1918-1995, Jesuit priest

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Thompson, Robert, 1918-1995, Jesuit priest

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  • Bob Thompson

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Dates of existence

25 April 1918-09 September 1995


Born: 25 April 1918, Mallow, County Cork
Entered: 07 September 1936, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1949, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1952, Canisius College, Chikuni, Zambia
Died: 09 September 1995, St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin

Part of the Clongowes Wood College, Naas, County Kildare community at the time of death.

Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ

by 1952 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, N Rhodesia (POL Mi) working - fourth wave of Zambian Missioners
by 1962 at Loyola, Lusaka, N Rhodesia (POL Mi) working

◆ Companions in Mission1880- Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Obituaries :
‘He was radical, he had vision and he made things happen. He was single-minded and, not least, he was stubborn as a donkey’. These words were spoken by Mr P J Kirby, chairman of Clane Community Council at the graveside of Fr Thompson on 12 September 1995.

Fr Bob was born in Mallow, Co Cork in 1918, went to school with the Patrician Brothers and then on to Clongowes Wood College. He entered the Society at Emo Park in 1936 and after studies and ordination in 1949 and then tertianship, he straightaway went to Northern Rhodesia where he stayed for 12 years. While there at Chikuni, he was involved in general teaching, in teacher training, scouting and teaching of religion. He moved to Lusaka and was editor of a newspaper "The Leader" which advocated independence, was very pro-UNIP and was critical of the colonial government. With Fr Paddy Walsh he became friends with Dr Kenneth Kaunda and other leaders at the Interracial Club. This was all during Federation days. In fact, the then Federal Prime Minister Roy Welensky wrote to Fr Bob's brother who was a doctor in Rhodesia, ‘Tell that Jesuit brother of yours he is causing me a lot of trouble’. At Independence in 1964, Kaunda brought Fr Bob back from Ireland for the occasion.

Fr Bob was very intelligent, had plenty of ideas in a very active mind and would 'take up the cudgels' as it were, for worthy causes. Many did not see eye to eye with him and often it was mutual, yet he got things done and was never shy of speaking out.

When he returned to Ireland in 1963, he was on the Mission circuits for five years, traveling throughout Ireland and then stayed on retreat work at Rathfarnham and Tullabeg for seven years. In 1977, he was transferred to Clongowes Wood College and became assistant curate in the parish of Clane, a nearby village. For ten years he took part in the life of the parish and the local community: primary schools, the restoration of the old Abbey, renovation of Mainham cemetery, projects for tidy towns, negotiation for a site for a new business enterprise centre and a memorial to Fr John Sullivan S.J. ‘He made things happen’. After leaving Clane for Moycullen in Co Galway, he was called back for the unveiling of a plaque at the restored Abbey which read: “This plaque is erected to the tremendous contribution of life in the locality by Rev R Thompson S.J. during the years 1977 to 1987”.

Bob's remark about this tribute was that he was the first Irishman to have a plaque erected to him before he died. A business centre was built and opened in 1996 after Bob's death and is called the Thompson Business and Enterprise Centre.

In 1987 he retired to Moycullen, Co Galway, for the quiet life as assistant curate and a bit of fishing. The word 'retire' does not really apply to him as his active mind soon saw him involved with concern for the environment, the collapse of the sea trout stocks and the rod license dispute, being on the side of the fishermen. He helped in the Church and stayed there for four years up to 1991. He returned to Clongowes and Clane and four years later he died in Dublin on 9 of September 1995.

He was a man of big ideas he had ‘a remarkable ability of having a new idea every day’ yet he never praised himself for his achievements. He was a devoted confessor. There was nothing artificial in his dealings with parishioners and he was always so sympathetic to those going through hard times. He looked after poor people in a sensitive and low key way that protected their dignity. He had an abiding interest in encouraging young people to use their talents and had total confidence in their ability to improve on what the last generation had done. He motivated those around him, especially the young people. Nobody got preferential treatment, least of all those who believed they deserved it!

‘He was single-minded and tireless’.

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 86 : July 1996


Fr Robert (Bob) Thompson (1918-1995)

25th April 1918: Born at Mallow, Co. Cork
Education; Clongowes Wood College
7th Sept. 1936: Entered Society at Emo
8th Sept. 1938: First Vows at Emo
1938 - 1941: Rathfarnham, Arts at UCD
1941 - 1944: Tullabeg, Philosophy
1944 - 1946: Clongowes Wood College, Regency
1946 - 1950; Milltown Park, Theology
31st July 1949; Ordained Priest at Milltown Park
1950 - 1951: Tertianship, Rathfarnham
1951 - 1963: Zambia: Learning the language, Teaching in Chikuni Boarding School, Secretary to Bishops Conference, Teacher of Religion, Scouts Trainer, Minor Seminary teacher, Editor, “The Leader” magazine
2nd Feb. 1952: Final Vows, Chikuni College
1964 - 1969: Crescent College, Limerick, Teacher
1969 - 1970; Tullabeg - Missioner Rathfarnham - Assistant Director, Retreat House
1970 - 1976: Tullabeg - Director of Retreat House
1976 - 1977; Tullabeg - Superior
1977 - 1987: Clongowes - Assistant Curate, Clane Parish
1987 - 1991: Galway - Assistant Curate, Moycullen
1991 - 1995: Clongowes - Coordinator EC Leader Programme, Clane Community Council
9th Sept. 1995: Died unexpectedly at St. Vincent's Private Nursing Home

When leaving Clongowes in his last year Bob Thompson proved himself a very good all rounder, academically as well. Seldom if ever did he praise himself, for example, as a member of the Irish Mission staff doing the length and breadth of Ireland. He was never heard to criticise others on a mission or quietly hint that he was really the number one on the team.

In many ways he was lucky in having Fr. Donal O'Sullivan as Rector of Scholastics in Tullabeg. Bob had little time for piffling matters and could take a hard knock when it was just and due. As a Junior at UCD and Philosopher he had a good sense of humour and greatly benefited from a full house of scholastics. Having six men about the home in Mallow had its own advantage in growth points which no doubt was a definite help in his life.

His years as a young priest in Africa gave him a good deal of experience which he used with amazing courage and which sometimes might have benefited with just that touch of a little prudence and patience. He was always proud of Kenneth Kaunda, especially when Zambia came of age. On the occasion when the country was officially opened, Bob received an invitation here in Ireland to the real opening ceremony out in Zambia, so many miles away. It showed an appreciation and gratitude on the part of the New President of the time when Kaunda, his wife and eight children needed and received practical assistance while he waited in the wings in gaol for many a long day.

When Bob was sent to Tullabeg for a few years, he proved to be a man with big ideas, when finances were a serious matter for the running of retreats. He initiated an annual "Field Day" for Co. Offaly on such a gigantic scale, one wonders now at those vast undertakings. He had a huge army of backers, reminding us of things to come in Clane that was beyond ordinary Jesuit reckoning.

The ten years when Bob acted as assistant curate in Clane parish were blessed for him by having local priests who encouraged him and gave him his head. The seeds that started to grow in Africa now came into fruition due to his intellectual capacity. The next three qualities he had, are seldom seen in the one person, he was radical, he had vision and he made things happen. Not everyone grasped the deep compassion in his make up for those in trouble. They certainly saw how he motivated those around him and especially young people. We were all made aware at some stage that nobody got preferential treatment, least of all those who believed they deserved it! He was single-minded and tireless.

Today we see for ourselves the results of his achievements: the modern primary schools with their lovely run in to the village; the restored Abbey; a work of genuine artistic beauty obviously influenced by expert professional advice; the renovation of Mainham Cemetery, the various tidy town and amenity projects, the memorial to Fr. John Sullivan and finally the site for the new Enterprise Centre.

His health deteriorated for a year or so, prior to his sudden death. This was shown in his step slowing down and the energy slackening. He himself very wisely prepared to hand over to others what needed to be continued and often completed. This is a sign of a real leader who can pass on jobs to others that he would normally do himself. We Jesuits who lived with him admired the way the Lord blessed him with a magnificent base speaking voice, clear diction, so natural in delivery. He was a devoted confessor, nothing artificial in his dealings with parishioners and so sympathetic to those going through hard times. He had a big heart.

His sudden death came as a shock to his family, the Jesuits in Clongowes and to the people of Clane and neighbourhood. Seldom have we seen such a fitting farewell to any Jesuit. The last line was said at his graveside by Mr PJ Kirby in a truly wonderful oration. “The best tribute we can pay Fr. Bob is to try to emulate his example and continue the strong tradition of community and voluntary work. I know the people of Clane will not disappoint him!”

Kieran Hanley SJ

Oration at the graveside of Fr. Bob Thompson S.J. Delivered by Mr. P.J. Kirby, Chairman of Clane Community Council 12th September 1995.

Friends and neighbours,

May I thank Fr. Bob's family and the Jesuit community for providing this opportunity to the people of Clane to honour someone we loved.

I know that some of Fr. Bob's friends from Moycullen are also here today and I hope that what we want to say also reflects how the people of Galway felt about Fr Bob.

Today we are celebrating the life of someone who made an immense contribution to Clane as a priest and a community worker. This happened because Fr. Bob had a number of outstanding personal qualities:

  • He had an intellectual capacity second to none
  • He was radical
  • He had vision
  • He made things happen
  • He was compassionate
  • He motivated those around him
  • He was even-handed; nobody got preferential treatment least of all those who believed they deserved it
  • He was single-minded and tireless and, not least,
  • He was stubborn as a donkey!

These qualities enabled Fr. Bob to achieve things that we can see with our own eyes in Clane today:

  • The modern primary schools
  • The restored Abbey
  • The renovation of Mainham Cemetery
  • Various tidy town and amenity projects
  • The memorial to Fr. John Sullivan; (I will refer again to this later)
  • The site for the new Enterprise Centre

These are all tangible examples of the practical contribution Fr. Bob made to Clane. However, he also made other contributions that were less obvious but are probably of more value than we realise:

  1. He looked after poor people (this was done in a sensitive, low-key way that protected the dignity of the people concerned)

  2. He had an abiding interest in encouraging young people to use their talents and he had total confidence in their ability to improve on what the last generation had done.

  3. He left a legacy of committed community workers to carry on the work; the anticipation of his own departure is always the mark of a great leader.

Each of us will have our own special memories of Fr. Bob. On a personal note, he had a profound influence on my continuing adult education - you could not get this type of learning at any school or university. Some of the community projects I mentioned earlier were concocted late at night in Fr. Bob's house here in Clongowes, very often with spiritual help of the liquid kind.

He had particular insights into the creative and positive use of alcohol. For example, he did not agree with people giving up drink for Lent. I discovered this to my cost one day years ago when he took an abrupt turn in his Fiesta into Manzor's pub car park. The fact that I also came from the Blackwater valley in North Cork did not spare me from a stern lecture on the opportunity for doing good through buying a drink for a friend, a neighbour or a stranger.

I mentioned the memorial to Fr. John Sullivan earlier. Many people in Clane genuinely believe that history has repeated itself. It is remarkable, in the space of two generations, two people of the calibre of Fr. John Sullivan and Fr. Bob Thompson should emerge from the Jesuit order and contribute so much to the welfare of the people of Clane and the surrounding districts. It is a class double act that will be very hard to follow.

Now it's time to say farewell. Someone remarked at the week-end that the last time the people of Clane bid farewell to Fr, Bob he came back! Nothing should be ruled out and I'm sure that he is not gone far away.

The best tribute we can pay Fr. Bob is to try to emulate his example and continue the strong tradition of community and voluntary work. I know the people of Clane will not disappoint him.


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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-


Thompson, Robert, 1918-1995, Jesuit priest

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969 (1946-1969)

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969


Thompson, Robert, 1918-1995, Jesuit priest

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IE IJA J/545

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