Jesuit who filled many leading roles in Irish education

Joseph Dargan: January 21st, 1933 – June 1st, 2014

Fr Joseph Dargan SJ, who has died aged 81, held many positions of responsibility in the Society of Jesus in Ireland, most notably that of provincial, or head, of the Irish Jesuits from 1980 to 1986.

A contemporary in the order, Fr Noel Barber, said of him that he was endowed with "an extraordinarily practical wisdom and a remarkably sound judgement". No matter how busy he was, he always had time for people; he was possessed of "a palpable goodness", he added.

Another former colleague, Fr Michael Paul Gallagher, said that in his many positions of responsibility, Fr Dargan was always popular, something which is by no means guaranteed in an organisation. "He mixed quiet leadership with wisdom and common sense. He also united a spiritual sense with management skills."

Joseph Dargan was born in Phibsborough, Dublin in January 1933. He received his early education at Dominican Convent, Eccles Street and at nearby Belvedere College, before boarding at Rockwell College and Clongowes Wood College.


He entered the Society of Jesus in September 1950, spending his first three years at the Emo novitiate in Co Laois before moving to Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin, from where he attended UCD, studying Arts. Studied philosophy In 1955 he moved to Tullabeg, Co Offaly, where he studied philosophy for three years before becoming a teacher at Clongowes. From 1961 to 1965, he studied theology in Milltown Park in Dublin.

Following his ordination in 1964, for two years he worked on a social survey of Ireland as part of the Jesuit response to Vatican II. He spent almost 10 years as rector, master of novices and then director of the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Manresa House, Dublin.

In the late 1970s, he was rector of Clongowes Wood College and assistant to the Irish provincial, before himself becoming provincial in 1980.

Among developments under his watch were the opneing of two Jesuit communities in Northern Ireland, the expansion of the Centre for Faith and Justice and an acceleration of the pace of the work of Fr Peter McVerry.

Fr Dargan was rector of Gonzaga College, Dublin from 1987 to 1993, during which time he was also general secretary of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors. He then spent almost 10 years as rector of Belvedere. He was one of the pioneers of that school's social diversity scheme, which was set up to enable boys from less well-off backgrounds to attend.

From 1993 to 1998, he was also consultant to the Irish Bishops’ Conference on Pastoral Development. After Belvedere, he spent three years in Kenya, while his final years were spent as a co-instructor in the European Tertianship – the final phase of Jesuit formation.

In this position he flourished, a colleague, Fr John Dardis, said: “It drew on his previous experience, his spiritual direction skills, his empathy for people and his love for the Society.”

He is survived by his brother Michael, sister Deirdre, brother-in-law Herbert, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews.