Dr Enda McDonagh, who has died at the age of 90, was a theologian and churchman who – despite a life and career often marked by official suspicion and even disapproval – made a contribution to the intellectual life of Christianity in this island equalled by few in his generation.
He would, of course, have been the last to claim such a distinction. His good-humoured, easy-going manner embodied an ironic, self-deprecating humility which no flattery could puncture; but it also concealed a towering intellectual presence, combined with a deeply-rooted sense of service to others, which made an ineradicable impression on all who knew him.
He was born in the small Mayo village of Bekan, to a family of teachers-cum-politicians, and into a society characterised by rural poverty in its most classic form. Out of his class of 24 in primary school, only three went on to secondary education, and only two of those ended up working in their native country. It is not difficult to see, in the predilections of his later life, a burning sense of the need for social justice which was informed by the experiences of those early years.
Enda McDonagh received his secondary education at St Jarlath’s in Tuam, and then went to Maynooth: the classic pattern for a bright country lad with a strong vocation. Even at Maynooth, however, he started to diverge in some respects from this traditional norm. For one thing, he took his primary degree not in any of the customary arts subjects, but in science. This relatively uncommon choice already said something about his student mind: fascinated by the scientific method, open to questioning, regarding the unknown as territory to be explored rather than as a no-go area.
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We offer our deepest sympathy and prayers to Fr Enda’s family.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.