James Joyce and the Jesuit connections
Brendan Staunton SJ hosted an event with a selection of Jesuit-themed readings from James Joyce’s work to mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses. A large crowd gathered in St Kevin’s Oratory in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on Bloomsday, Thursday 16 June 2022, from 11.30 am to 12.30 pm. Some of the attendees were suitably attired for ‘the day that was in it’, and they were treated to songs and selected excerpts from The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, on foot of a warm welcome from Brendan.
Singer Raphael Kelly, well known to patrons of the Pro-Cathedral, opened proceedings with one of James Joyce’s favorite songs marking the 1798 rebellion was sung to the air of The Croppy Boy.
Ms Pat Coyle, of Irish Jesuit Communications, provided the introductions and set the scene. She was delighted to welcome her former RTE colleague Gerry McArdle to the pulpit, where he delivered the spine-chilling sermon on hell recalled by Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist. Gerry, who was the voice of Buck Mulligan in RTE’s acclaimed audio recording of Ulysses, was in fine ‘old style religion’ preacher mode, and he left the audience laughing loudly (if somewhat uneasily!).
Raphael Kelly revealed a softer side to the priesthood with his reading from Portrait of an Artist. It concerned the fruitful encounter of Stephen (Joyce) with Fr Conmee SJ, the rector (headmaster) of Clongowes. Stephen goes to him, egged on by his fellow students. He wants to see if the corporal punishment for losing his own glasses (imposed by another Jesuit teacher) can be rescinded. He succeeds.
Fr Conmee SJ was not just a fictional character, he was indeed once rector of Clongowes Wood College when Joyce was there and Joyce seems to have had an affection for him, as is clear also in the final reading from Ulysses by Gerry McArdle.
As he read from the ‘Wanderings’ section of the novel, Gerry gently led the audience all the way from Gardiner St Church to Howth, through the meanderings and musings of Fr Conmee. Along with Fr Conmee, they meet MPs, schoolboys, butchers, and beggars on the journey, all meticulously observed and compassionately portrayed by the author of one of the most famous novels in modern literature.
The event concluded with Fr Brendan thanking all those involved in production but in particular the audience for their attendance and receptivity. He mentioned that there was no charge for the event but if those present wished to they could make a voluntary subscription to the Dublin diocesan collection for Ukrainian refugees. This elicited a generous response.
Photo: Raphael Kelly, Brendan Staunton SJ, Gerry McArdle (back row), Pat Coyle (front row)