Page 14, 24th January 2003

24th January 2003
Page 14
Page 14, 24th January 2003 — S irit of Saint I natius

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Locations: Dublin, Milltown


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S irit of Saint I natius

Charterhouse Chronicle

Anthony Symondson

F. of the happiest years of my life were spent in Dublin in 19911995. I was sent to study at the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Ranelagh and lived in the Jesuit community. Ireland was an entirely new and captivating experience. I regarded myself as a foreigner living overseas in a strange, unfamiliar land and made a resolution never to discuss politics, or jump to simplistic conclusions. and see as much of Ireland as possible.

This is a solipsistic start to a tribute to a valued friend, but Fr Joseph Veale SJ would have appreciated a context and he did much to make me feel welcome. We occupied rooms on the same corridor and. although he was shy and retiring and was rarely to be found sparkling at a &Justus in the common room. we quickly came to know each other. He was insecure in large groups and sometimes found community life trying. Joe's hallmarks were an attractive and unforced holiness, discipline. humanity. and wide culture. He embodied the spirit of St Ignatius at its best and most authentic.

Joe came from a generation that usually entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus through Jesuit schools. He was born in Dublin in 1921 and was educated at the Christian Brothers' School in Synge Street. He joined the Society at the age of 17 in 1938. When he taught as a scholastic at Belvedere College his pupils noticed how much kinder and more approachable he was than some others who had come through the system. This was a characteristic that never left him and resulted in vocations.

Joe was an inspired schoolmaster and spent 18 years teaching at Gonzaga College on the South Side of Dublin. He believed that expression was more important than exams and approached his pupils with high seriousness ameliorated by an interest in the individual. Fr Noel Barber, the Rector of Milltown, who had himself been taught by him at Belvedere, said at his funeral: As a teacher of English and Religion, he honed his pedagogical skills, sharpened his vision, and developed his philosophy of education. His commitment to excellence in thought and expression, his insistence on the highest standards, and the breadth and depth of his intellectual interests made him more than a memorable teacher; he was a profound educator."

Joe believed that the demands of English grammar were not mere tasks but the foundation of a humane life. He contributed to the reform of the Irish Department of Education's English curriculum. I owe him an unexpected debt. Although I had written for years I was never much good at it. I had composed a dense article for the Irish Arts Review and after it had been censored by Fr Fergus O' Donoghue he suggested I showed it to Joe. When it was returned it was transformed, covered in corrections in red ink with helpful notes in the margin, and two pages of analysis showing where I had gone wrong and how it could be improved. It was turned from a tedious slab of inquiry into prose. I don't know how the spell worked but from then onwards I realised that I had been taught how to write.

In 1972 Joe moved to research and writing hi the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Constitutions and he lectured in spirituality at the Milltown Institute. This was not merely an academic exercise but came to embody some of the most valuable work of his life. Joe was a realist and would not undertake tasks that were beyond his powers. If he discovered that he had done so his professionalism led him to put them aside. He had a profound understanding of the Exercises, went below the surface, and extracted the spirituality from a specific historical interpretation. He emancipated it from an encrusted tradition buried in the 19th century and allowed St Ignatius to re-emerge. He strongly resisted the tyranny of ideology. It is planned to found a lectureship in spirituality in the Institute and publish two volumes of selected works in spirituality and culture. They deserve a wide circulation.

Joe was much sought as a friend, confessor, spiritual director and retreat conductor and he gave the Exercises all over the world. He was an encourager and had the rare gift of investing others with a sense of personal value. But he had few illusions, and wrote and directed with unusual honesty.

In a penetrating article. published in Doctrine and Life at the height of the abuse scandals in the Irish Church, he controversially lifted the curtain on some diminishing characteristics of the religious life that he had perceived and experienced in his own life and that of others.

"Can we imagine, just imagine, what private pain may have been rooted in a complex of loneliness, of isolation, of having no human being to relate to, the desert in the heart, the language of selfdenial that twisted into self-abasement, the self-hatred, the conviction of worthlessness, the unattended guilt, the rage at being done to, the having no say in the disposition of one's own life, the indignities of impersonal rule, the comfort of dependency that could suddenly reverse into angry rebellion, the living environment that was spartan, the lack of amenity. the walls denuded of beauty, the 'spiritual' assumptions that dehumanised? And the longing for human contact, for touch, for talk, for being listened to, the unavailability of spiritual direction, the ache for tenderness or gentleness?"

Only a man open to God could make such admissions. Joe's holiness was forged by the cross. It gave him empathy with others similarly afflicted, and offered hope.

None of this struggle showed outwardly. He enjoyed the theatre and the cinema and could draw metaphysical themes from the unlikeliest sources.

He was a delightful companion on expeditions. He looked forward to his annual visits to Boston College, Massachusetts, where he was eagerly expected. At the end of his life he discovered Africa and India and was hopefully inspired by their vigorous Catholic life. Joe did not grow old. Christ shone through him, and his influence is lasting.

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