AUSTRALIA’S longest-serving Jesuit superior who directed silent retreats for hundreds of priests, religious and lay Catholics, Fr John Reilly, has been remembered as a dedicated spiritual father at his funeral at St Ignatius Church, Toowong today.
Fr Reilly, who was the former superior to the Jesuits in Brisbane for 12 years, died peacefully on March 15 aged 88.
He leaves behind a legacy as the director of Brtisbane’s Faber Centre of Ignatian Spirituality for six years, in which he led hundreds of silent retreats and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
Fr Reilly’s funeral was at St Ignatius Church, Toowong at 11am Brisbane time today (March 23).
Faber Centre acting director Elizabeth Kerr worked with Fr Reilly for 10 years and last spoke with the Jesuit priest the day before he died.
“The last conversation I had with him was on Tuesday morning (March 14) – we were talking about the approaching storm and said we should put our cars undercover,” Mrs Kerr said.
She said Fr Reilly had spent March 13 producing a booklet on prayer for the Faber team’s formation meeting next month, with an accompanying handwritten note.
The notes will be remembered as a “farewell gift” from their beloved director.
“He was a gentle man,” Mrs Kerr said.
“He loved to sit in his office and have a conversation with whoever came in.
“He was always interested in what you were telling him and he had a way of bringing the conversation to theological and spiritual concepts.”
Mrs Kerr said Fr Reilly would be remembered for his “great ministry to priests”, directing them in the Spiritual Exercises and 30-day silent retreats.
“It was one of his greatest gifts, directing retreats,” she said.
In 2005 Fr Reilly was appointed superior to the Jesuits in Toowong, Queensland.
St Ignatius Parish, Toowong, administration manager Sandy Dunne said Fr Reilly lived the Ignatian spirituality “day to day and for the 70 years of being a Jesuit in the world”.
“Since 2005 he has celebrated many Masses at Toowong parish and taken part in many memorable liturgies,” Ms Dunne said.
“We’ll miss his coming and going along with his gentle ways.”
Fr Reilly’s death comes weeks after the Jesuits in Queensland announced their withdrawal from Toowong after a presence of more than 100 years.
On February 1 the Victorian-born priest celebrated 70 years as a Jesuit, having entered the novitiate as a teenager in 1947.
In a letter sent to Fr Reilly on January 23 on the occasion of his priestly anniversary, Australian Provincial Jesuit Father Brian McCoy said his service to the Church was “a milestone deserving of recognition”.
Fr McCoy said Fr Reilly’s ministry to priests, religious and lay leaders as a spiritual director was “invaluable”.
“You are one of a great series of great Jesuits (including Ian Howells) who have given years of outstanding service in Queensland,” he said. “We may not see their like again.”
From 1957 to 1968 Fr Reilly served as a missionary in India, working at the Jesuit schools. He also worked in the Fiji Islands and Manila before receiving a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome.
In 1992 Fr Reilly was appointed as the first director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s new Commission for Continuing Education of Priests, now known as Clergy Life and Ministry.
After hearing of his death, Fr Reilly’s successor Fr Greg Bourke sent a letter to priests nationally to pay tribute to the pioneering Jesuit.
“The structure and the breadth of Clergy Life and Ministry that we enjoy today throughout Australia is largely due to this fine pioneer who broke new ground in the care and education of clergy in this country,” Fr Bourke wrote.
“On behalf of all Clergy Life and Ministry directors and the clergy of Australia, I would like to pay tribute to the contribution of Fr John Reilly, and offer our condolences and gratitude to Fr John’s family and the Society of Jesus.”
Fr Reilly also contributed to The Catholic Leader for many years, writing commentaries on Sunday readings.