Brendan Callaghan SJ

I’m Brendan Callaghan, currently Superior of the Manchester Jesuit community which looks after the Manchester Universities' Catholic chaplaincy.  Before that I was Novice Master for “the Four Provinces” (Britain, Ireland, Flanders, and the Netherlands) from 2014-2017. From 1980 to 2013 I was working at Heythrop College and Campion Hall, the two University Colleges run by the Jesuits in the Universities of London and Oxford respectively, teaching psychology of religion and holding leadership roles in each. But I have spent most of my Jesuit life living in the London formation communities, and have been involved in an increasing amount of spiritual direction work with Jesuits and others, so the shift is not too enormous.

Because of the administrative roles that came my way, my work in psychology of religion has been almost entirely teaching, with little chance for research or writing. One of the particular areas that fascinates me is what is called Object-Relations theory: a particular approach to the psychology of the unconscious that generates very helpful insights into how we experience and form images of God, and how in turn these experiences and images shape and influence how we make the key decisions in our lives.

Alongside the academic ministry that has been my primary mission up till now, I have been involved in work in medical ethics, as a member of the Research Ethics Committee at St Thomas’ Hospital and also through the Institute of Medical Ethics and Imperial College. This engagement with medical research and education has, I think, been a valuable presence of the Church in the wider secular sphere, working with people of all faiths and of none - as in tackling the difficult questions that emerge with progress in medical science and technique. As a Jesuit-and-psychologist I have also run workshops  with various groups around issues of sexuality and celibacy.

I have lived and helped in various parishes, done as much retreat work and spiritual direction as I can wisely take on (and often a little more…), and have been chaplain with a Team of Our Lady group for more than 35 years. This last has taught me a great deal about living in response to the Gospel, not only as that response is experienced in married life but also as it is to be lived out more deeply in my own Jesuit life. “I don’t know what you do for them”, said the local superior of one community I lived in, “but I can certainly see what they do for you!”

My first contact with the Jesuits was when I started at my first Jesuit school aged seven (in Liverpool). When the idea that I might be being called by God to become a Jesuit first emerged I had a list of reasons why this could not possibly be appropriate, (in retrospect, most of them were aspects of being a slightly confused adolescent), and told nobody. God intervened: “I think you are thinking of becoming a Jesuit” said a sharp-eyed Gerry W Hughes to an anxious 17-year-old, and here I am 50 years a Jesuit…