Fr. James Brodrick, the Jesuit historian, who died on Sunday at the age of 82, made a great contribution to the Catholic tradition in this country by rescuing the early Jesuit saints from the pietistic "Saints Lives" formula and subjecting them to historical criticism.
He combined historical judgment with his gifts as an Irishborn raconteur to bring to life whole dimensions of the Counter Reformation period and the personalities of Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Peter Canisius and Robert Bellermine.
Following a lead set by the late Fr. Martindale, he restored to the saints their humanity and their warmth, probed their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and established their significance in the historical context of their time.
One of his last and most important contributions was a small but courageous book on the Galileo tragedy. Though fully conscious of Galileo's own indiscretions. he did not hesitate to criticise the Popes and the pettifogging men of the Inquisition who lacked what it takes to handle a man of genius. Fr. Brodrick was not concerned with apologetics. For him, the Galileo story was a warning to the Church.
His monumental work was his two-vol. "The Life and Work of Bl. Robert Bellarmine, 15421621", of which a 1-vol. revised version was published in 1961. His best known studies of the early Jesuits included St. Peter Canisius, The Origin of the Jesuits, The Progress of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, the Pilgrim Years, and St. Francis Xavier.
Fr. Brodrick was an enthusiast, a fact which affected his style and could overspill at tidies into something like heroworship. Yet he was critical of his loves and at least gave warmth and dynamism to men whose real historical importance could have been obscured by dullness, prejudice or mere adulation. He was not an original research scholar, but brought his historical insights to bear on the findings of research, and analysed it painstakingly and with full acknowledgement.
For a man whose whole life was overshadowed by illness, often serious, his industry and vivacity were remarkable. Born in Co. Galway in 1891, Fr. Brodrick entered the Society of Jesus (English Province) in 1910. He studied philosophy at St. Mary's Hall, Stonyhurst, taught as a scholastic at St. Michael's, Leeds, and Stonyhurst College, took an external degree at London University, studied theology at St. Beuno's and was ordained in 1923.
In 1925 he joined the Writers' House at Farm Street, London, where he was based for the rest of his life except for the war years, when he resided at Stonyhurst and was Spiritual Father to the Venerable English College, then housed at St. Mary's Hall for the duration. He battled against painful illnesses, and in 1934 underwent a serious internal operation. His working life ended with a heart attack in 1967. In the following year he was moved to the Bon Secours nursing home at Wokingham, where he remained until he died.