Conor Harper SJ: Rest in peace

January 30, 2024 in Featured News, News

Jesuits, family and friends, and Michael Jackson, the Church of Ireland Archbishop, attended the funeral Mass of Conor Harper SJ, in the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Tuesday 30 January 2024, 11 am. Conor died peacefully in Cherryfield nursing home on Friday 26 January, where he was being cared for after a long illness. Many who could not make his funeral Mass in person watched it online.

Fr Conor was part of the parish team in Donnybrook parish from 2009 until 2021. At the start of Mass the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Church, Fr Ciaran O’Carroll, welcomed the large number of parishioners who were in attendance and said that their presence was a testament to the service that Fr Conor gave to the parish.

Bruce Bradley SJ presided at the Eucharist. In his homily, he spoke about Fr Conor’s deep affiliation with France and his contribution as chaplain to the French community in Dublin. He welcomed the French Ambassador Vincent Guerend’s attendance at the Mass noting that Conor loved all things French and was awarded the medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2014 ».

Fr Bruce recalled his time with Fr Conor at Emo in 1963 as a Jesuit novice. “He was a larger-than-life figure. He was loyal and generous,” commented Bruce; “And he would truly go out of his way for another person again and again… Conor honoured the work of Pope Francis in mirroring the understanding of the Church as a field hospital for the wounded.”

Fr Bruce concluded by telling those gathered the story of what Conor replied when asked what God might say to him when he returned home. “God will forgive me,” said Conor, “That’s His job, that’s who He is”. Conor died holding the crucifix with which he made his first vows, said Bruce. “He trusted in God’s mercy to bring him home safely to His blessed room.”

Fr Conor joined the Jesuit Order in 1975. He taught at Belvedere College SJ and Clongowes Wood College SJ. He was appointed Vice-postulator of Fr John Sullivan SJ’s canonisation cause and was deeply devoted to Fr John and his cause.

Fr John Sullivan SJ was baptized in the Church of Ireland. His father was a Protestant and his mother was a Catholic. At 36, he converted to Catholicism and later joined the Jesuit Order. It was in this context that Fr Conor became a close friend of the Church of Ireland. On hearing of his death, Dr. Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop, issued a statement expressing his condolences to Conor’s family, to his fellow Jesuits, and in particular “to the community of Clongowes where Conor taught for many years”.

The Archbishop noted that “Conor was a lifelong friend of the Church of Ireland and fearless in his expounding and living a gracious ecumenism. He died fittingly on the culminating day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. In this spirit, Conor is known throughout Ireland and worldwide for his advocacy of the cause of The Reverend John Sullivan SJ who in so many ways lived the best of both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic traditions. Conor rejoiced in working for this cause and in the family members of John Sullivan whom he met through this”.

Fr Conor’s brother Neil shared some final words at the end of Mass, telling the congregation that Conor was “full of life, and joy and he loved the company of others.”

Before his final commendation, a family relative led the congregation in saying the novena prayer to Fr John Sullivan SJ. Fr Conor’s cortège then made its way to Clongowes Wood College SJ, where he was buried alongside the Blessed Jesuit for whose cause he worked so tirelessly right until the end.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.