Michael O’Sullivan, S.J.


The Background to Jesuits in Ballymun

In 1974/75 Jesuits from around the world met in Rome, as they sometimes do.  They declared there that the promotion of justice was an absolute requirement for the service of faith by Jesuits.  Their decision influenced Irish Jesuits to come to Ballymun in 1980 because of the struggle for social justice here.

For example, there was very high unemployment here – 60% when I moved here in 1988 – there very many people living on low income, a very high school drop out rate, and 35 families a month coming and going in the 2,800 + flats.  The movement of tenants in the flats made it difficult to build a stable environment, a settled community and to develop local led organisations.  In feeling called to go to Ballymun we were also confident that we would find in you, in the rest of the people of Ballymun and the surrounding area, and in the religious and clergy who were here already, resourceful friends, and that together we would be able to work for change on different levels in the extended local community.

That the decision was made to move to Ballymun in particular was also due to the late Fr. Peter Lemass, of the Dublin Archdiocese, who had recommended such a move to us.  The then Archbishop, the late Dermot Ryan, was agreeable to the idea, but wanted the Jesuits to take on responsibility for one of the parishes.  Running parishes is not a traditional activity of Jesuits, however.  In the end we came here in two capacities, to care for one of the parishes and at the same time to engage in a form of social ministry less identifiable as parish ministry in the conventional sense.  The fact, of course, that the parish ministry would be with and to people here meant that it would inevitably have a social dimension to it.  This twofold approach by Jesuits to the reality of life in Ballymun can be seen from the beginning in Kevin O’Rourke working as a parish curate and living in the parish house, and the late Michael Sweetman and John Callanan living in a flat in Thomas MacDonagh Tower, with John working at community development in the area.  Kevin later moved to the flat, and Michael moved to the parish house.

Kevin O’Rourke has the honour of being the first Jesuit to live and work in Ballymun.  He arrived in August 1980, about two months after his ordination to the priesthood at the age of 31.  Gerry Griffith was PP, Pat McManus was the senior curate, and Liam Everard was parish chaplain and chaplain in the Comprehensive school.  St. Pappins Church was also part of the parish’s responsibilities.  The Little Sisters of the Assumption were already living in the flats on Shangan Road and doing wonderful work in the parish and the Ballymun area when Kevin arrived.  They have continued to do so during all the years that Jesuits have been here, and they may continue to do so after all the Jesuits have gone. 

Michael Sweetman and John Callanan arrived two months after Kevin.  On the night they moved into the flat in 21 MacDonagh Tower they had visitors to their door.  Thinking the flat was vacant squatters tried to break in.  The noise brought Michael to the door.  When they challenged him with, ‘Who are you’, he said back, ‘I am the tenant!’


In the year that the Jesuits moved to Ballymun they also created the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice.  Originally located at Hatch St., the offices of the Centre were soon moved to their current location at Sherrard St.  John Sweeney was appointed as the first Director of the Centre, and Frank Sammon, who was later to succeed him, was appointed as a staff member.  They both moved to the flat in MacDonagh Tower.  So did Peter McVerry some months later when he, too, joined the staff of the Centre for Faith and Justice.  Peter was already working on behalf of homeless young boys, and after he moved to MacDonagh Tower he opened a hostel for them in a flat there that was directly above the Jesuit community flat.  John Sweeney’s vision was that the Centre for Faith and Justice needed to do its work from a base of involvement with people in this area.  So in time he began to get involved in local initiatives concerning social justice for the people here; many of the young people to whom Peter was a friend and carer also came from this area.  The Jesuit community took the name, the Pedro Arrupe community, in 1981.  Pedro Arrupe as the charismatic head of the Jesuits worldwide did much to inspire and guide the Jesuits in their faith based commitment to justice for people.

Kevin became PP of this parish on Sept 15, 1982.  He was the youngest PP in Ireland at the time of his appointment.  In the years that followed the Jesuits sent a significant number of their members here.  Some of them worked more in direct parish ministry, some more in the social side of things, and some more in a ministry of presence among, accompaniment of, and friendship with you and the rest of the people of Ballymun, which also influenced this group of Jesuits in their life and work outside Ballymun.  The names of all these Jesuits will be mentioned in the offertory procession.


 As well as the Irish Jesuits for whom Ballymun was their home while they were here, there were others who came for short periods over the years.  Some came to carry out a form of ministry they were specialised in like, for example, serving on the board of management of the local schools, or conducting workshops, or directing prayer; others, working in a variety of Jesuits ministries in Ireland, or back on leave from overseas, or on a sabbatical from their life and work in another country, came to assist in the parish during one or more summers, or at other times. 

Jesuits from other countries were also a feature of the Jesuit community at Shangan, usually coming here during summers.  Most of them were not yet ordained and came from Spain.  They came because they were aware of your goodness to Jesuits, to learn from you about how to be Jesuits of faith and justice and to contribute what they could to the area.  Alan Mowbray, who was one of the Irish Jesuits to live here, was in Spain some years ago when he heard ‘Ballymun’, ‘Ballymun’ on the street – the voice was that of one of the Spanish Jesuits who had lived in the parish.  Kevin O’Rourke was told some years ago that a German Jesuit had said at a conference that his time in Ballymun had had a very positive influence on him.

The European Jesuit Worker Mission, which is made up of Jesuits who were working in factories and in other such ways in Europe also met in Ballymun, and one of them, Manolo from Spain, spent two summers here. 

Jesuits in leadership in the Order at an international level also visited Ballymun over the years to meet you, and the Jesuits here, to learn from these meetings, and to show their solidarity.  They included Hans Peter Kolvenbach, the head of the Jesuits worldwide, Juan Ochagavia from Chile, who was one of Fr. Kolvenbach’s team and a specialist in spirituality, Michael Campbell Johnson, from England and El Salvador, who had special responsibility to encourage Jesuits throughout the world to promote a mission of social faith, and his successor, Michael Czerny from Canada and El Salvador.  Guillaume, a Jesuit from Burundi, and Michael Mugumba, a diocesan priest from Uganda, were here for a time assisting in the parish.

The involvement of Jesuits in Ballymun also attracted lay friends through the years to share their gifts in solidarity with you.  These friends included Michael Coleman, Peter Cunningham, Clare Rowland, Betty Foley, Bernadette Flanagan, Deirdre Hennessy, Peter Sheil, Pat Nolan, and Jim O’Higgins. 

Being in Ballymun for the Jesuits was always about more than offering a ministry of the faith that does justice.  Being here was also valued for the formative influence it could have on Jesuits during their training.  This is why the Jesuits in training from other countries, whom I referred to already, came here during summers.  It is why Jarlath McKee lived and worked here during his training.  And it is why a second Jesuit community was founded in the flats in Ballymun in 1988, this time at Sillogue Rd.  The new community was one where Jesuits in the years immediately preceding their ordination to the priesthood lived, and did some ministry in the Ballymun area.  The idea was that being in Ballymun would influence their theology studies, experience of God, personal development, and identity as Jesuits in the lead up to priesthood. 


Many of the Jesuits in training who lived in the Sillogue flats came from a variety of countries and continents, so that Ballymun has become part of the history of their personal lives, of the lives of their families and friends, and of their companions in the Jesuits in their own countries. 

The formative value of being in Ballymun for Jesuits was shown in another way in 1991 when it was decided that those joining would live for their first two years near here in Shanliss Drive and become part of the Arrupe Jesuit community, who were spread between the flat in MacDonagh Tower, and the parish house on Shangan Road.  Brian Grogan, who had responsibility for their training during these critical first two years, said at the time that it was the best way he could see to concretise the mission of Jesuits today being one of faith and justice for those beginning Jesuit life.  Subsequently it became necessary for those wishing to join the Jesuits in Ireland to spend their first two years in Birmingham, England, so that they would have others at the same stage of training with them.  But the value of Ballymun for Jesuits in training has continued to be shown by the number of Irish and British Jesuits in training in Birmingham that have spent some of that time in this parish.

Another example of how Jesuits feel about people here is that during the 1990s a number of Jesuits took first vows, or final vows, or were ordained to the deaconate or the priesthood in this church.  Irish and non-Irish Tertians, that is, Jesuits who have completed their basic training, but who have not yet taken final vows, also worked in the parish as part of their preparation for taking final vows as Jesuits.

All Jesuits of whatever age, or stage in their vocation as Jesuits, who have lived here, have felt the benefit of it.  There is a lot of truth, therefore, in what Bela Farrell said with good humour about Fergus O’Keefe when he was leaving the parish some years ago.  She said at the time: “I taught him all he knows.”


We also showed what being here meant for us by having Jesuit associates based in the flats at Sillogue Road.  These associates are young lay people from Ireland and overseas, who spend a year at a time living together in community, doing a social placement in, for example, Simon or the Women’s Refuge, and studying and sharing Jesuit spirituality.


Building Community

The Arrupe Jesuit community contributed in very many ways to the life of Ballymun.  I will mention some of these contributions to give a flavour of what was done.

There was the very visible sacramental ministry, which touched the lives of people here from birth to death, and offered sustenance on life’s journey.  This sacramental ministry, which included First Friday visitation to homes, contributed hugely to the building of community.

The first meeting of the Youth Action Project (YAP) took place in the parish house in 1981.  YAP was a local community response to the problem of drug abuse in Ballymun.  St. Vincent de Paul Conferences held their meetings in the parish house.

There was the very clear work of social engagement like the role played by Jesuits in the protest when the Bank of Ireland pulled out of Ballymun in 1984.  The protest led to the formation shortly afterwards of the Ballymun Community Coalition (BCC), which was a key moment in the social development of Ballymun, and which a number of Jesuits were part of over the years.

The Ballymun Job Centre was formed in 1987.  It was to influence national policy.  Apart from the key role of John Sweeney in its history, the Jesuits also provided financial support to the Centre, the management expertise of Pat Nolan, and the support of Jesuits like Frank Brady and myself.

The Credit Union was formed in 1987, and there was the support given to tenants organisations and voluntary groups. 

There was the role played in getting out the vote, and in the choice of and campaign for Agnes Cox as a community candidate in 1987, and of Joan Byrne some years later.  The emergence of the Ballymun Task Force owed a lot to the spirit and initiatives generated at the time of Agnes Cox’s candidacy.

The creation of the Task Force at that time, comprising all of Ballymun’s elected public representatives, Eastern Health Board members, Dublin Corporation officials and members of the Combat Poverty Agency as well as local community delegates in a form of partnership was another key development in the life of Ballymun.  It was a model process that was widely studied here and in Britain; the refurbishment it called for gave way to the regeneration project.

A number of us worked at forwarding the refurbishment and later the regeneration of Ballymun.  Evidence of this regeneration is now visible all around us.  Ballymun was fortunate to have had Richard as PP during these years because of his background and qualifications in quantity surveying.  The combination in him as PP of pastoral skills, and qualifications concerning the physical and social environment of people and their lives is a further manifestation of the holistic approach of Jesuits to Ballymun from the beginning.  Richard has also always been concerned to have a place looking well.  His sensitivity to the beautiful in building up human dignity and community morale is illustrated by the work he has done to bring the two stained glass windows from St. Pappins church to the church building here.  One of the windows is of St. Pappin, and the other has three panels representing the Ascension. 

There was also support given over the years to the Ballymun East Community Centre, and activities at Geraldstown House.

There was the support to and a measure of responsibility for the schools at the level of boards of management, activities like meditation and De Mello exercises, the children’s novenas of grace, Lifestart [2] and the inter-parish [3] Ashling project. [4]  

There were initiatives taken around the situation of young people: for example, the work with the young in St. Pappins Centre, and elsewhere, and of the many successful summer projects.

There was the commitment to adult learning.  This was shown, for example, in enabling a number of people to study at the Milltown Institute, and All Hallows College, on other courses, in the seminars held at the Jesuit community flat in MacDonagh Tower on Christianity and violence against women, and in the different kinds of support given to the adult learning centre known as the Drop-In-Well.  Support was also given to the lunchtime talks organised by the Mater Child and Family Centre, to the development and publication of poetry and other writing, and to the Ballymun History Society.  A number of people from the parish wrote together to the national newspapers at the time of RTE television’s production of Roddy Doyle’s ‘Family,’ concerning violence against women, and a number of women appeared on a UTV television programme about Ireland to speak about the connection between their religious faith and life in Ballymun.  

There were initiatives taken around the situation of women from 1989 in particular. 

An AIDS resource group was convened in 1989 by one of the Jesuits living here at the time, and other Jesuits took initiatives to do with the training and provision of counsellors through their involvement in the Ballymun Voluntary Counselling service in 1993f, and bereavement counselling in 1994f.

There were the series of talks by invited speakers on personal growth (1989, parent effectiveness training (1989), and the Enneagram (1989f), to mention just a few initiatives that were taken in the field of personal development.

A good deal of support was given to the Drop-in-Well since its foundation in 1991-92.  The courses and workshops there on, for example, self-development, stress, the inner child, dreams, meditation, massage, arts and crafts, the Bible and women, and violence against women, and the role of lay leaders from the parish like Pat Gibson in the Centre, have been very significant. 

A highlight of 1993 was the inter-parish Work is the Key Mass with national media coverage in December of that year, with Cardinal Connell as the main celebrant, and the local TDs in attendance.  Work is the Key was the booklet published by the Irish Catholic Bishops on what was then regarded as the biggest social problem in the country, namely, unemployment.  The booklet sought to highlight this social problem as a faith issue.  The liturgy illustrated how social concern could structure sacramental ministry.  During that year, and after it, a group in this parish worked through the booklet.  Jim Moriarty, then an auxiliary bishop of Dublin with a special brief for this part of Dublin, and now Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, came along at one stage to listen to and learn from the local people.  Jim always showed a keen interest in the well-being of the people of the parish, and Ballymun generally, that went beyond his duty of care.  We were very happy that he was able to preach at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the parish in 2000, and that he is with us once again this evening.

There was the emphasis on prayer as a resource for transformation in people’s lives.  This was expressed through in particular the weeks of directed prayer, which the staff of the Jesuit retreat house in Manresa House, Dollymount, began in 1984, and which was a crucial development in the area of lay spirituality.  The Jesuits, the parish team, and the local people in Ballymun took on responsibility for this initiative and the inter-parish neighbours in faith project came into being in 1990.  An example of the transformative impact of this kind of prayer experience on the social problems that can be part of people’s lives here is provided by the woman who said after a week of directed prayer that was organised by the Neighbours in Faith project: ‘God does not pay the bills, but I can cope better with them now because now God and I are friends.  Before God was in the distance and a punishing God.’  Neighbours in Faith was followed by the inter-parish Partners in Faith programme from 1993.

There were the parish retreats and the Novena of Grace.  Phyllis Brady, a lay woman, gave the novena a number of times, which was another way that lay spirituality was forwarded. Mary Robinson attended her first Mass as President in this church on December 9, 1990.  Jean Vanier, the Canadian founder of the L’Arche communities, also came here.

Jesuit contacts also helped to bring other international people to the parish.  These included the Fountain Square Fools from the United States, with their liturgical drama and dance, the Heroes and martyrs of Nicaragua, and the Mayor of El Paisnal in El Salvador.  The Mayor was a first cousin of Rutilio Grande, the martyred Jesuit after whom the Jesuit community in Sillogue Road was named. 

There has been a special bond between the people of this parish and the people of El Salvador.  The tenth anniversary Mass of Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, was held here in 1990, and every year there has been a moving and very well supported Mass for the 6 Jesuits and 2 women who were martyred at the Jesuit residence of the University of San Salvador in November 1989.

There were good relations, and working together with the priests, sisters and lay people in the other parishes in Ballymun, especially as part of the inter-parish team which came into being in 1987, and included in latter years lay volunteers from the Philippines and elsewhere. 

There were good relations with the neighbouring parishes of Our Lady of Victories and Larkhill, some of the parishioners of which came to this church for religious services and events.

Many people’s health has suffered in the struggle for justice here during the last twenty-three years.  Many people, also, have died in that time.  Some Jesuits who were here are among them: Michael Sweetman, Philip Harnett, Paul Cullen and Jim Tarpey.  Local people I wish to mention in particular are: Con Rainey and Sean O’Cionnaith, who both made an enormous contribution over many years to make life better for the people of this area, and Malachy McCormack, our next door neighbour in our flat at 21 MacDonagh Tower, and who also gave of his gifts and time to the parish.  May they all rest in peace.


Thank You

The Mass this evening has been advertised as a Mass of thanksgiving for the Jesuits and their presence and service in this parish and in the area in general.  We are grateful to the people of the parish and beyond it for this gift of recognition, affirmation and appreciation.  However, the greatest contribution to this parish has come from the outstanding and long years of service of very many local people.  Unfortunately, time constraints do not permit me to name them all.  I will, however, name a few.  One of them is not a local, but has become more of a Ballymuner than many who live here.  I refer to Sean Meehan.  Sean has worked tirelessly as a full time parish worker, especially in the area of social concern in the parish, and joined the parish team in 1989; Evelyn Murphy worked for many years with the children’s prayer groups, the Rose drama group, the young people, and women’s groups (1989f), and was a member of the parish team for some of that time; Billy and Nellie Kane have looked after the sacristy and aspects of the church, and stayed to lock up the church after events; Bela Farrell has made a very important contribution to the parish as a member of the finance committee, looking after the door to door collection, attending to the bingo in the past, and contributing in more recent years to the children’s Mass.  She has also shown great hospitality with her humour and good nature and by preparing a cup of tea and sandwiches when there were events in the church building, and by being on hand afterwards when things had to be put away.  She and Evelyn were always very good to my mother and sister when they visited the parish together over the years, and I am personally very grateful to them both for that.  A debt of gratitude is also owed to Lily Jervis and Sheila Ginesi for their work with the bingo, and in fundraising for the schools. 

There were all the people who served as ministers of the Eucharist, readers, singers, musicians, those who looked after choirs, Brian Bunkam who has looked after the charts of the words of the songs at the children’s Masses and encouraged the children to sing, collectors, stewards, decorators of the church, cleaners of the church, the altar boys and girls, and those who attended to them, those who brought up offertory gifts, those who made the cup of tea and washed up after certain church events, those who looked after the bingo, those who formed part of the Peter Claver welcoming group, which was formed in 1989, and who also did baptismal preparation, those who served on committees, those who were prayer guides, and those like Marie McNamara, and others, who took on leadership roles in the social organisations and community development groups at the level of the Ballymun area.  There were those who came to assemblies of Irish Jesuits and influenced the proceedings.  There were the Principals and staff of the local schools in the parish, those who looked after the maintenance, and cleaning of the school, and attended to the school alarm, and those who tended the garden around the parish house, especially after Michael Sweetman’s departure in 1994, those who served as parish secretaries and receptionists, and those who prepared meals in the parish house.  There are all the people, also, who did much by their presence, and their friendship.  Without all of you we could not have made our contribution to your lives.  In that sense the Jesuit ministry we give thanks for this evening is one for which we want to give thanks to you.  Thank you, all of you.


The Future

As we look to the future there is some sadness among us, because we have bonded with each other and have many happy memories, and will miss each other.  At the same time we the Jesuits want to say we are sorry for our mistakes, and if offence was given.

As well as the sadness there is even disappointment that things have turned out like this and that we have to part.  This sense of loss has to be given its time and worked through.  The process involves realizing that half the Jesuits in Ireland are over 70, and that very few people are joining the Jesuits now.  It involves realizing, for example, that we have been able to send only a few people to Africa in all these years, where needs are huge.  The grieving process will also be easier as we find space to remember the goodness of people and the good done by that goodness during the last twenty-three years.  This goodness and these good deeds will not be lost.  They will always have existed, they live on in their effects, and they can be built upon in the future by what they inspire from the past.  They also live on because the resurrection of Jesus means that God recognizes our goodness and the good it does, affirms it in the face of appearing to have been in vain, and gives it an eternal future.

As well as the loss of and gratitude for what has been, there is also the call in what is happening for the people of the parish to assume their rightful place in continuing to build Christian community in the parish.  Fr. Eamonn Crossan from Holy Spirit parish will live in the parish house and give particular attention to the parish, after Richard and Frank cease to be here as PP and curate, but unless you and the people of this area give this parish a future it will not have one.  The Church is not simply a building; it is above all a people, a people who sometimes gather in the building.  Do not be hesitant, therefore, about heeding your call. 

At the same time it must not be forgotten that a Jesuit presence will continue on in Ballymun.  In 1995, the inter-parish team identified faith development of young people as their third priority for the parish.  It was pointed out at that time that 57% of the people in Ballymun were under 25, and 85% were under 44.  Eamon Stack and Rory Halpin already work in this ministry of faith development in young people in the national, and indeed international, contexts, and they will move from the parish house to the Jesuit flat in Sillogue Road, where Kevin O’Higgins already lives.  Frank Brady and Sean Meehan will work in this area of ministry in relation to young people in Ballymun.  Frank will continue to live in the new Jesuit flat in 127 Shangan Road with Peter McVerry who will continue his work for homeless young people.

Let us pray for each other in the years ahead, and commend each other to the risen Jesus who, as this evening’s Gospel said, chose us and abides with us.  Abiding in Christ we will be together even though at the level of the senses and geography we may be apart.  Abiding in Christ we will, also, as the Gospel said, continue to produce fruit, fruit that will last.  Amen!  Alleluia!

 July 6th, 2003.


[1] This is the text of what Michael O’Sullivan said during the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Jesuit presence and ministry in Ballymun, Dublin between 1980-2003.  The Mass was held in the Virgin Mary Church, Shangan Road, Ballymun, on July 6th, 2003 to mark the handing back by the Jesuits of the day to day care of the Virgin Mary parish in Ballymun to the archdiocese of Dublin.  Michael was a member of the Arrupe community in the parish from 1988-2001, living in Thomas MacDonagh Tower flats, and working in the Ballymun area in a number of capacities.  He is a member of the theology faculty at the Milltown Institute, Dublin.

[2] Lifestart was inspired by the work of the late Fr. Sean O’Connor, S.J.  It was aimed at enabling parents of children from birth to five years to be attentive and responsive to their child on the grounds that this kind of attunement, interaction and relationship between parents and their children enhanced the development and life possibilities of the child.

[3] This programme helped to feed children, it helped them with their homework, and it offered recreational support.

[4] There are three parishes in Ballymun.