Michael Kirwan SJ, giving a talk at Faith Matters event
Michael Kirwan SJ

Michael Kirwan SJ

My name is Michael Kirwan, I was born in 1959 in Leeds, of Irish parents. I first met the Jesuits at St Michaels College, a school run by the Jesuits in Leeds for about a hundred years. I was impressed by the variety of the Jesuit priests whom I met- they were not many, but there seemed to be no ‘standard’ pattern, and yet they worked well together. I was especially struck by the Jesuits’ respect for intellectual and academic work, and for the world of culture.

It was only towards the end of my undergraduate studies in literature that first I thought seriously about joining the Jesuits. In a frighteningly short space of time I found myself in the novitiate, in the autumn of 1980. How all this happened (and so quickly) is still something of a mystery, but I know it had a lot to do with important conversations with Jesuits, coming at just the right moment.

As a Jesuit I’ve had very special and memorable experiences: teaching in a school in Zimbabwe (two years) and working on a parish in South London (three years), spells doing missionary work in Chile and Guyana, but since 1998 my main occupation has been as a lecturer in theology at Heythrop College. Heythrop is the specialist Jesuit college in the University of London, where Jesuits from across the globe are trained for their future ministry. For me, it’s a place where the four priorities of the Society of Jesus- spreading the gospel, by engaging with the different cultures of today, by entering into dialogue with other religious traditions, and by struggling to make the world more just- all come together.

I’m very proud of the history of the Jesuits’ history and achievements. Even today it’s astonishing what a group of 18,000 men, across most cultures and nationalities, are able to accomplish. Even if you have never met a Jesuit, the story is amazing. But the big difference for me was made by encounters with individual Jesuits. One thing Jesuits often do well is ‘talking seriously about serious things’, which includes saying the right thing at the right time. Only in meeting Jesuits who are settled and grateful, who rejoice in who they are and in what they are doing, can you really grasp something of the attractiveness and power of the Jesuit way of life.