08 December 2016, The Tablet

Pope Francis the student - fellow Jesuits remember a 'quiet man’


Pope Francis is due to visit Ireland in 2018. But what happened on his previous stay there?

As Ireland begins to gear up for his visit in 2018, there is renewed interest in Pope Francis’ short stay in the country in 1980. The 43-year-old Fr Bergoglio stayed with his Jesuit confrères at the Milltown Institute in Dublin for three months while attending a crash course in English.

The July 1980 edition of the Jesuit quarterly, Irish Province News, noted: “Among the constant stream of visitors who found hospitality with us we may mention Fr Jorge Bergoglio, ex-provincial of Argentina and rector of our theologate in Buenos Aires.”
Fr Bergoglio had served as provincial in Argentina from 1973 until 1979. It was a fraught and dangerous time, coinciding with the ongoing “Dirty War”. Fr Donal Neary SJ (pictured), now editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger, remembers how his fellow Jesuits were concerned for their visitor from Argentina, aware that he had come from a military dictatorship. “He came to learn English but also, I suspect, to get a break and a rest. He and lots of people in Argentina had been through a very tough time,” Fr Neary said.

In 1980, Fr Bergoglio had been named as rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of the Jesuit seminary in San Miguel, but before he took up his appointment he came to Dublin for a several weeks. He was shown around Tabor House, a retreat centre for young adults which he was involved with, by Fr Neary. “He was very retiring, that is the impression he gave me,” Fr Neary said. “I have no evidence that he did anything more than just go to his meals, learn a bit of English and take walks in the grounds.” He had come off a big job and he was on a bit of a rest. I wonder was Milltown a sort of a semi-retreat for him?”

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