Mike Drennan SJ: His legacy lives on

April 26, 2023 in Featured News, News

Fr Mike Drennan SJ died peacefully, surrounded by his family, at Cherryfield Lodge nursing home, Milltown Park, Dublin on 19 April 2023.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin, four other bishops, and many priests joined the Jesuits and people from all over Ireland for Fr Mike’s funeral Mass in St Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin on 24 April, followed by burial at Glasnevin Cemetery. Fr Mike is predeceased by his brother Martin, former Bishop of Galway, who died only five months ago.

Fr Mike was born in 1942 and raised in Piltown, County Kilkenny. He was educated at Kilkenny NS, CBS Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, and St Kieran’s secondary school in Kilkenny. He trained for the diocesan priesthood in St Kieran’s diocesan college, Kilkenny, and was ordained at St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny in 1965. He ministered in San Diego Diocese, USA, and studied psychology at Gregorian University, Rome.

Fr Mike entered the Jesuits at Manresa House, Dollymount, Dublin in 1977, and worked in the field of vocational counselling for many years while living at John Austin House, Campion House, and Gardiner Street in Dublin.

After taking Final Vows he served in numerous roles, including as Director of Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality, Dublin; Spiritual Director at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth; Secretary General of CORI (Conference of Religious in Ireland), and Child Protection Delegate for the Irish Jesuit Province. He was a skilled spiritual director and gave retreats all over Ireland for many years.

He recently published a book on the ministry of spiritual direction entitled See God Act (Messenger Publications) ». He also completed a full liturgical year of gospel inspiration points for the Sacred Space book (2024) and online prayer website – a job normally done by at least 12 people, according to John McDermott, Director of Sacred Space, who greatly appreciated the work he did and the insights he shared. “His work will help the prayer of many thousands of people down the years to come,” says John; “His inspiration still goes on.” As Fr Tim Healy SJ said in his homily at the funeral Mass, “What Mike did he did with energy and creativity. During the pandemic, for example, with the help of Piaras Jackson at Manresa, he recorded hours of video and presided over hours of Zoom meetings in online retreats for diocesan priests.”

Regarding this new online presence, Piaras Jackson noted that “The pandemic seemed likely to narrow his scope and limit his ability to minister, but he mastered Zoom and was chuffed to find himself featuring on videos where he offered material for hope and meaning at a confused time. Casual YouTube surfers looking for snappy upbeat content may have quickly slid past his presentations, but those who knew and trusted him appreciated their thoughtful and rich content and welcomed how Mike was reaching out and relating rather than waiting it out or staying silent; for him, this was “keeping in contact as best we can” – communicating, not about himself, but opening new perspectives and meaning for others. And it’s important to say that all of Mike’s activity sprung from his own prayer; having invited us Jesuits in Manresa to commit to a time of daily prayer together during the lockdowns, I value the memory of how Mike was faithfully present day after day in our community chapel.”

As he lay in repose in Cherryfield on Sunday 23 April, a steady stream of people from all over the country came to say a final farewell and offer their condolences to his family, including brothers John, Paddy, and Jim. Many shared stories of how much Fr Mike had meant to them. It was clear that all through his lifetime he had encountered many people from a variety of backgrounds and all of them held one thing in common, namely the esteem and genuine affection they felt for him.

Mary Rickard, Health Delegate for the Jesuits, noted that it was fitting that he spent his last weeks in Cherryfield when in earlier times as a board member for over fifteen years he was centrally involved in setting up both the Milltown community building and Cherryfield Lodge nursing home as a centre of excellence for older or convalescing Jesuits from home and abroad.

At a meeting of the board just after his burial Mary Rickard, as Chair, read out the prayer attributed to St Ignatius which she felt summed up Fr Mike’s life of dedicated service to God: “Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give, and not to count the cost, to fight, and not to heed the wounds, to toil, and not to seek for rest, to labor, and not to ask for reward, except that of knowing that we are doing your will.”

At the end of the Mass, Fr Mike’s nephew Karol spoke warmly of the man who was his uncle and summed up well the effect Mike’s short illness and premature death had on his fellow Jesuits. “It was like an earthquake,” he said. He will be sorely missed. But his videos are available on Manresa’s YouTube » and ‘Retreats @home’ ». They will surely remain valued by the many who were blessed by Mike’s generous life; the conclusion of his first video appearance is poignant as Mike offers an Easter blessing » before walking away.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.