With the most prominent Jesuit of all coming to town next week it was apt that other key Jesuits figured in the media last week.
On Wednesday of last week, Nationwide (RTÉ1) explored some of the more essential aspects of the life and work of Blessed Fr John Sullivan. That familiar black and white drawing of Fr John used in the beatification ceremony acted as a unifying image throughout.
He came from a privileged background, the child of a mixed marriage. It being the practice of the time he was brought up in the Church of Ireland as that was the religion of his father (the girls followed the religion of the mother).
I couldn’t quite get a handle on what brought him to the Catholic Church and the priesthood – there was mention of him engaging with the monks of Mount Athos when on his travels in Greece, and references to the devastating effect of the death of his father.
Fr Donal Neary SJ spoke of him going from best-dressed bachelor to worst-dressed priest as he concerned himself with the poor and sick, e.g. spending hours with the patients in the Harold’s Cross hospice. We learned how he preached and practiced real compassion and how he was also hugely popular with the students in Clongowes Wood College where he taught.
There were reports of healings and miracles before and after his death and he was described as being “still like a magnet”, drawing people to God. There was an ecumenical aspect as well because of his original connection to the Church of Ireland – there was a contribution from Rev. Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.
Last Sunday on EWTN there was a tribute to another famous Jesuit, Fr William J Doyle, an army chaplain who died in the First World War. Bravery Under Fire was a docudrama that told the fascinating story of this brave, cheerful and gentle Jesuit and I was surprised by the similarities with the Fr Sullivan story.
The two priests knew each other, were ordained together and both taught at Clongowes. Fr Doyle was also from a well-off background, a home where religious faith was important and central.
The film concentrated mostly on his service during the war and how he took so many brave risks to be with his men, giving them the sacraments, especially the last rites, and even dragging them to safety under fire. As chaplain he could have had a more comfortable experience but was uneasy when away from the men in his regiment.
While the film barely dealt with the political issues and the moral status of the war, it was stressed that Fr Doyle wasn’t there to support the war effort per se but to support the men during the conflict, in what was often their final moments.
There were examples also of his helping soldiers who weren’t Catholic and also German soldiers, who didn’t always get much sympathy when captured. I’m not a great fan of docudramas, but the short dramatic segments did at least offer a variety of approach, the horrors of that war were more than hinted at, and there were some touching scenes, e.g. Fr Doyle ministering to a woman in an English jail the day before she was to be executed, and his father receiving the awful news of his death tending to the wounded on the battlefield.
Brian Milligan did a good job in the lead role, while Patrick Kenny (editor of a book about Fr Doyle, To Raise the Fallen) and others did well at outlining various aspects of his life. I’d like to have seen more exploration of his desire for sanctity and even martyrdom, and the role of physical mortifications and how that can be understood in the context of today’s sensibilities.
Finally, on last Sunday’s Songs of Praise it was good to hear about a Catholic retreat centre at Alton Castle in England, where young people engage in sports activities along with reflection and worship. One young woman, part of the course staff, spoke of a special experience she had on a school retreat, which brought her from atheism back to her religious Faith and a relationship with God.
The music last Sunday was particularly good, especially a rousing version of Our God Reigns from St Patrick’s Church in Dungannon, and the beautiful Underneath the Stars by Voces8.
Pick of the week
Idir Dhá Chuairt
TG4, Wednesday, August 22, 9.30pm
Cathal Mac Coille examines the changes in Ireland since Pope John Paul II’s visit. Guests include Bishop Fiontán Ó Monacháin.
The Whole World in His Hands
TG4, Wednesday, August 22, 10pm
A critical but affectionate glance on the cultural impact of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979.
Living with the Pope
RTÉ1, Thursday, August 23, 10.35pm
Mick Peelo challenges a diverse group of Irish people to read, respond to and possibly live by Pope Francis’ teachings.