Death of a much-loved Jesuit
Henry Grant SJ, a much loved Jesuit, uncle, brother, and friend, died peacefully in St Vincent’s Hospital on Wednesday 2 August. He was 89 years old. His funeral Mass was held in Gonzaga College chapel and was followed by his burial in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. on Friday 5 August 2023.
Henry was born in Bucrana Co Donegal and all his family from there travelled to Dublin for the funeral. Other family members from various parts of the world either attended the Mass in person or were able to watch it live-streamed by one of his nephews.
Bill Callanan SJ, former rector of Milltown Park (Henry’s community before he transferred across to Cherryfield nursing home) presided at the Mass attended by Jesuits, family, friends, and Cherryfield nursing staff.
In his homily, he spoke of the long and varied years of work that Henry carried out so willingly and competently as part of his Jesuit vocation. The work was underpinned by Henry’s expertise in sociology and group dynamics and his doctoral research in those fields. His training was particularly useful in the wake of Vatican II when many religious orders were seeking to implement the council’s changed and renewed vision of ‘church’ and their role within it. Henry worked with many groups and congregations helping them to negotiate the type of change that would last and bear fruit for them.
Henry also spent many years in the North during the worst of ‘The Troubles’. There his primary concern was trying to help communities in conflict either with each other or with the state. He wanted to help them work out the often unconscious dynamics and processes that fuelled their separation and antagonism so that they could work together for justice using peaceful means. He facilitated ecumenical groups, cross-community groups, and paramilitary or ex-paramilitary representatives.
What he learned up North was also put to good use in his next place of work – Paraguay. He took a crash course in Spanish and tried to learn some Guaranían so he could work with the indigenous people there and over time they set up local community groups who worked together to secure their basic human rights.
On his return to Dublin after almost 15 years in South America, he continued to work in the broad field of adult education. He was a mentor for students in JUST, the Jesuit University Support Trust, situated in Ballymun and which works in partnership with Dublin City University in order to encourage the participation of the local community in the educational opportunities offered by the university.
As Bill Callanan noted, even to his last days, Henry was always interested in the future and how to change life for the better. He would acquire a mammoth book like Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and digest the whole 500 pages by talking to anyone he met about it, said Bill. And many a visitor to his room in Cherryfield would be presented before leaving with an article photocopied from The Guardian or the latest book he was reading, about protecting the environment, or good gut health, or the latest scholarly research on the Christ of the gospels.
Above all, it was Henry’s deep faith that was the bedrock of his lifelong work. “Henry read widely on many topics, but there was always a book about spirituality theology on the go,” said one of his friends when people gathered out in the chapel grounds after the funeral Mass. “He loved the work of biblical scholar and theologian John Shea. For years he read his wonderful commentaries on the Sunday gospel readings, and of course, photocopied them and shared them widely with his friends and fellow Jesuits. He was so young at heart, so forward-looking, even in his faith. He welcomed change, it never scared him”
There were tears shed as Henry was laid to rest in Glasnevin. Tears of sadness but also of gratitude for having had the privilege of knowing such a good and caring man. As all his family said, ‘He will be sorely missed’. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.