Texts, speeches, homilies

OBITUARY: Michael Hayes, 1957-2017

20 April 2017

Many friends and readers of The Tablet will have been shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Michael Hayes early on Easter Saturday. Priest and professor, editor and executive, Michael was a man of many roles and talents who wore his skills with an enviable combination of elegance, charm and determined dexterity.

Michael was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1957 to Sean and Margaret Hayes, a twin to Elizabeth and one of seven siblings. His post-primary education took place at St Munchin’s College, in Limerick, and he proceeded to study for the priesthood at St Patrick’s Pontifical College, in Maynooth. Ordained in 1980, with the oils still moist on his hands, Bishop Newman told Michael and three Limerick classmates that he "had no jobs for them" and they were sent elsewhere - Michael agreeing to go to the Archdiocese of Southwark before knowing exactly where it was. It proved a providential second home for him, serving first in the cathedral and later in Croydon before becoming Chaplain to Roehampton University. There his academic interests burgeoned and as well as qualifying as a psychotherapist, he began make his mark in Pastoral Theology before becoming Head of Theology at the then St. Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill.

It would be fair to say that Michael’s impact there epitomised his gifts and his generosity. With an eye for ecclesial networking, he put St Mary’s on the map by inviting Cardinals and Founders of New Movements to conference there. With an eye on ecclesial empowerment, he developed a series of onsite and extra-mural Pastoral Theology programmes including postgraduate degrees in Pastoral Theology, Chaplaincy and Catechesis as well as Foundation Degrees in Parish, Diaconate, Healthcare and Youth Ministry. Promoted to Vice Principal, his eye for educational enhancement and rigour, helped St Mary’s achieve TDAP – ‘Taught Degree Awarding Powers’. With an eye on the importance of advanced study, he completed his own PhD on Psychosynthesis and Spiritual Direction and developed research capacity at St Mary’s facilitating projects in Holy Land Studies, Catholic Social Teaching, Bioethics and Spirituality which together led to outstanding success for the College in the RAE of 2008.

His many innovations were underpinned by a series of edited volumes such as Contemporary Catholic Theology, and from 2005 an edited journal The Pastoral Review under the aegis of The Tablet. Successor to The Clergy Review and later Priests and People, the publication has mirrored Michael’s pastoral approach, less intent on rehearsing controversy than looking for new angles on old problems; finding constructive, creative ways to support ministry in all its forms.

Having become Professor of Pastoral Theology in 2010 shortly before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, he left St Mary’s the following year to become President of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. The assured daring of his inaugural address conveyed an unforgettable vision of Catholic education which startled even those of us who knew him well. At a time when other cherished institutions were disappearing from the educational map of Ireland, his storied achievements at ‘Mary I’ include, the incorporation of St. Patrick’s College, in Thurles, into Mary Immaculate College; the opening of the Lime Tree Theatre which has since entertained some 100,000 patrons; a growth in student numbers to almost 5,000 students; the acquisition and development of the Mount St. Vincent Campus, now known as the John Henry Newman Campus; and the development of the Library Masterplan, which was recently granted planning permission by Limerick City and County Council.

Who knows if such energetic generosity eventually took its toll on his health? Diagnosed with cancer shortly after his own mother’s death, he had major surgery last Autumn and thereafter continued to receive treatment in Dublin, staying for long periods with family in Dun Laoghaire. One of his favourite texts was Duc in Altum – ‘put out into the deep’ and like many for whom faith is a native tongue, Michael bore his sufferings with great bravery and was resolved to accept God’s will whatever might happen.

May he rest in the peace and joy of the Father’s house.

Anthony Towey, Strawberry Hill



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