James Brodrick SJ
James Brodrick was one of the Society’s great historians.
Born in Galway in 1891, he was brought up in Dublin and moved to London on leaving school to become a journalist. This plan was soon superseded by an ambition to join a religious order, which he researched in the library before opting for the Jesuits. He joined the noviciate in 1910 and was studying Philosophy at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, along with a number of Irish Province scholastics.
He taught at Stonyhurst for five years while simultaneously studying for a London degree. He was awarded his MA in 1921 and then spent four years at the St Beuno’s theologate, being ordained in 1923.
During this time he wrote his first major work – a biography and study of St Robert Bellarmine SJ (whose beatification had just been instigated by Pope Pius XI).
In 1925 he moved to Farm Street, then a house of writers, and joined the team on the Jesuit magazine The Month – though he did not take to writing reviews and “ephemeral pieces” on demand. Preferring in depth research and academic analysis, he began work on his Life of St Peter Canisius SJ, published in 1935. This and his work on Bellarmine, the two great Jesuit Doctors, became hugely important to the whole Society, not just to the English Province.
His obituary in the Times observed that his greatest contribution to Roman Catholic tradition was “rescuing the early Jesuit saints from the hagiographers and apologists and subjecting them to historical criticism. In the process he brought them to life and brought new insights to bear on the Counter Reformation period.”
Fr Brodrick wrote The Origin of the Jesuits (1940) and The Progress of the Jesuits (1946), before embarking on lives of St Francis Xavier (1952), and St Ignatius himself (1956).
He was a regular broadcaster on the BBC and undertook two speaking tours of the United States.
He suffered from poor health for most of his life, but lived to the age of 82.
One of his ex-pupils reflected on his death “he was the first exponent of the art of conversation I ever met. Into one discussion he could pack London literary gossip, political history, and a wide range of general knowledge, all of which he managed to make sound relevant to the point at issue.”