Friday 20 November 2020

Vale Conn O’Donovan – Philosopher and Theologian

Below this column is a memorial to Conn O’Donovan, long time staff member of Riverview and St Aloysius’, who died at age 90 last week. This of course focuses on his contribution to those schools as teacher and colleague. I would like to reflect briefly on a less well known earlier contribution, which characterised his relationship to me – his expertise as a follower of the Philosopher Fr Bernard Lonergan and the contribution Conn made, by teaching and publication, to the renewal of seminar teaching in the Jesuit order and elsewhere.

Conn entered the Jesuit order in 1947 and went through the normal formation which included three years of philosophy study and four years of Theology. By the time Conn came to Theology, there was a growing disquiet among many young Jesuits of the worth of these studies as they then existed – and their almost total irrelevance to their future ministry. These traditional studies were based on scholastic philosophy , going back to Thomas Aquinas and even Aristotle and the Theology that flowed from this.

Bernard Lonergan was a Canadian Jesuit who bridged traditional Catholic philosophy and theology with modern physical and social sciences.  His pivotal work was Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 1957. Conn studied under Lonergan in his doctoral studies in 1963-65. Conn came back to the Irish Jesuit house of studies at Milltown Park, and taught there from 1966-76. He played a pivotal role in upgrading studies through Lonergan’s insights. I and my contemporaries in the Jesuit order were beneficiaries of this change. Conn published widely in international journals, his greatest contribution perhaps being The Way to Nicea: The dialectical development of trinitarian theology, based on Lonergan’s lectures in Rome.

While in Australia, Conn promoted the study of philosophy as an enrichment course for students in both Colleges, through the Lonergan Institute in Sydney, and through ongoing publication – his last while at Riverview being in an international journal reflecting on developments in philosophy.

Vale Conn.

Fr Gerry Healy SJ