An Appreciation: Fr John Kilcrann, a dynamic Irish missionary

He became a champion of the link between faith, justice and social activism for progressive change

Fr John Kilcrann worked for 20 years in Brazil, including a time spent in parochial work in Sao Paolo.

Fr John Kilcrann worked for 20 years in Brazil, including a time spent in parochial work in Sao Paolo.


Fr John Kilcrann of the Irish province of the Spiritan order, who died aged 71, was one of the more remarkable Irish missionaries of the last half century.

Born on May 4th, 1948, he grew to manhood in the shadow of, and inspired by, the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, and was perhaps in the last generation of young Catholic people in this country whose image of the church was untainted by the scandals which later engulfed it, and which perhaps obscure the achievements of the Irish church at home and abroad.

His life can be said to have exemplified such achievements. Working for 20 years in Brazil, including a time spent in parochial work in Sao Paolo, he became a champion of the link between faith, justice, and social activism for progressive change, both in South America and globally.


After completing an MA at Fordham University in New York, Kilcrann returned to Brazil to head JPIC there and in Paraguay, and became the founding director of the Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace.

After further study at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where he took his PhD, in 2000, Kilcrann was sent to head the global organisation of JPIC, based in Rome, where he remained before engaging in further study, this time at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

There he introduced to a global audience a template for distance learning which had been developed by Irish-based colleagues working at the Spiritan order’s Kimmage Development Studies Centre (DSC). Back home in Ireland after 2010, he played a central role in the move of the DSC to its new home in Maynooth University.

Kilcrann helped devise an orientation course for incoming pastoral workers, to help them understand how the Irish church had changed in recent decades.

He also worked with Spirasi, the Spiritan organisation which works with migrants who have been the victims of torture, and he was involved in community-based projects, including talks, school visits, recycling projects and fund-raising for specific causes.


One of these was the resettling of a family of refugees in a house in Co Kildare, which is owned by the Spiritan order, offering perhaps a model of how such things might be done in future.

John Kilcrann was the son of James Joseph Kilcrann and his wife Rose (nee Fanning), a farming couple from near Mohill, Co Leitrim, and was educated at Blackrock College, and UCD where he took a BA in geography. Committed from an early age to helping the people of the developing world, he would recall in later years his pride in having been, as a young student, at the first meeting of Africa Concern, the charity set up to help the starving people of the breakaway state of Biafra, in eastern Nigeria, during the civil war and famine there from 1968-71, an organisation known today as the development charity Concern.

Kilcrann died on June 11th, 2019, and is survived by a brother, James, and a sister, Mary, and his Spiritan confreres world-wide.