Michael Bossy SJ, speaking at St Ignatius' College speech night as a governor of the school
Michael Bossy SJ

Michael Bossy SJ

I first came across the Jesuits in September 1941 in the first form, year 7, at St Ignatius College, the grammar school run by the Jesuits in Stamford Hill, North London.

Since then Jesuits have played a critical part in my life.  There was Fr Guy Brinkworth, the then head of St Ignatius, without whose bracing encouragement I would not have joined the Society of Jesus; there was Fr Walter Smith who taught me that there was more than one way of being a Jesuit; there was Fr Paul Kennedy who taught me Greek at St Ignatius and who as my tertian instructor (the tertianship is a cross between a sabbatical and an extra year of noviceship at the end of a Jesuit's training) assured me that I had a vocation to the Society of Jesus.

Many young Jesuits inspired me: Michael Fox, the closest of friends who died tragically in his mid-thirties, Jock Earle, that most magnanimous of men, and Michael Kyne with whom I set off for the Jesuit noviceship from Finsbury Park Station on September 7th 1947 (having just watched Denis Compton, incomparably the greatest of many sporting heroes, score a hundred at Lords a day or two before).

I won't mention the many living Jesuits who have supported and encouraged me over the years.  Nor, I think, will I mention the lengthy years of our training - at Manresa House in Roehampton, at the old Heythrop in the country and at Campion Hall in Oxford (though any account of my life as a Jesuit, however sketchy, should give a mention to Tom Stevens, tutor in Roman History at Magdalen College, Oxford, very much not a Jesuit, whose tutorials lifted my spirit and engaged my mind, and from whom I imbibed almost all of what I know about teaching).

Since my ordination in 1962 my life has neatly divided itself into two, half spent in Jesuit schools and half in Jesuit Parishes.

I spent 24 of these years at Stonyhurst, a Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire, for 14 years of which I was head.  The staff, the pupils, the parents of boys at Stonyhurst were and have remained central to my life.  For all those years the 10 o'clock boys' Sunday Mass held my life together.  And even now if I am downcast at all these days, the sound in my head of the Stonyhurst boys singing, 'Once to every man and nation' in the church on the feast of St Edmund Campion will lift my spirits.

And then there are the parishioners of St Aloysius, Glasgow (endless confessions!), of the Friary in Liverpool where I spent a brief but colourful period, of Corpus Christi in Brixton, with whose parishioners I fell in love, and since 2005 in the parish of St Ignatius, Stamford Hill, that wonderfully varied multi-ethnic parish.  I baptised their children, conducted their funerals, helped to prepare them to be baptised or received into the church and signed their passport applications.  They listened to my homilies, greeted me cheerily in the street and trusted bits of their life to me.  It is they who, along with my family, have made sense of my life.  And among all these, there is that very special group who allowed me to love them.  It is these who most of all made something human out of the risky life of a Jesuit, sometimes wonderful, often routine, just occasionally excruciating.  I hope God will inspire others to take that risk.

St Ignatius describes Jesuit life as 'a pathway to God'.  I have now walked, rather falteringly, along that pathway for a good many years.  I hope to walk along it a bit more steadily in the years to come.