‘We all make errors,’ Fr Barber told funeral decades after Fr Marmion allegations

Jesuit was appointed Belvedere’s headmaster in 1973

Fr Noel Barber. Photograph: Jimmy McCormack

Fr Noel Barber. Photograph: Jimmy McCormack

 

In 2008, Fr Noel Barber of the Jesuits gave the eulogy at the funeral of family friend and Sunday Independent journalist, Terry Keane, using words that will echo today.

“We all make errors,” he said, continuing: “We all make wrong calls. For the most part, for most of us, they are private. It is when such errors and wrong calls are in the public sphere that great damage can be done to one and all.”

Himself a former Belvedere pupil, the 86-year-old Jesuit from Sandymount in Dublin is best known, up to now, to the wider world as the man responsible for the discovery of Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ.

Then superior at the Jesuit community house in Dublin’s Leeson St, it was he who decided in 1990 to have the painting sent for cleaning at the National Gallery where it was identified. It hangs in the gallery on indefinite loan.

In 2018, he delivered the homily at the funeral of former attorney general and European commissioner Peter Sutherland, a friend who was a pupil at Gonzaga College in the early 1960s when Fr Barber taught there as a young Jesuit.

‘A gentleman’

Ordained in 1967, he was appointed Belvedere’s headmaster in 1973, where he was faced with the Fr Joseph Marmion allegations, before being appointed headmaster at Gonzaga College in Dublin in the early 1980s. He taught later in the United States.

He was editor of the Jesuits’ magazine Studies from 1989 to 2001. An expert on English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, he co-edited Volume Five of Hopkins’ Collected Works, published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.

In 2017, he was presented with an honorary fellowship of the National College of Ireland for his services to education. In a report on the Jesuits’ website, he was described as “a Jesuit, a scholar and a gentleman”.