This profile is adapted from the funeral eulogy given by a Brother who was Johnny’s Superior in Mount Sion, Waterford, and later in St Patrick’s, Baldoyle.
Johnny Carroll – or Sean O Cearuil, to give him his Irish name – was one of the most widely-known and best-loved members of the the Christian Brothers Congregation worldwide. He was born in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, in 1922, educated at CBS Synge Street, entered St Joseph’s Juniorate in 1936, and was sent on mission to a series of places in Ireland: Monasterevan, Mount Sion, The North Monastery (Cork), Ennis, Westland Row (Dublin), and St Mary’s Teacher Training College, Marino (Dublin).
He became well-known during his eighteen years of lecturing at the Brothers’ Tertianship programme in Rome, where his subject was Edmund Rice. He also travelled extensively, taking up invitations to share his knowledge and enthusiasm in Ireland, England, North and South America, and Australia. He loved the Brothers’ vocation and our founder Edmund Rice was his hero, as is clearly evident from his poem “I, Edmund ....”. He spent long hours of research into Edmund’s life and unearthed many new insights. It was a labour of love for him. The work he did in promoting devotion to Edmund was immense.
Johnny loved the Irish language as well as Ireland’s history and culture, and he had the ability to transmit that love to his students. When out walking in Waterford, if he met any of his past pupils the conversation was invariably in Irish even though it could be more than thirty years since they were in his class in Mount Sion. He had five books of poetry in Irish published to great acclaim.
Being a poet, he had a great sense of wonder about everything – people, new places, nature enchanted him. He had a poet’s eye “that glanced from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven and gave to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”. If enchantment, awe, and wonder will be the prayer of the 21st century, then Johnny prayed all the time. He would have loved the New Story of Creation and in his full mental state he would have marvelled at the first flaring forth, the vastness of the cosmos and the emergence of new life, and perhaps written a beautiful poem about it.
For a man with a first-class honours degree in Irish from University College Galway and a master’s degree in Spirituality from Spokane University, Washington U.S.A, it may seem strange that at one period in his life he read a good many cowboy books and loved wild western films. Actually, it was a nice mixture. As a youth, he spent many summer holidays in rural Limerick, so although he was a ‘real Dub’ (native Dubliner), there was a good deal of the countryman about him.
There was another side to him, the fun and laughter side. Sean was a very funny man and a great mimic. He brought laughter and smiles to gatherings of Brothers and friends with his reminiscences. His famous act, “A tour of Ireland”, where he went from county to county changing his accent as he crossed each border, was brilliant. When he would meet an American visitor I noticed on a few occasions that both men were speaking with an American accent. I even noticed that when speaking to myself he would break into my Monaghan accent. His mimicry sometimes involved the invitation of a person’s walk – on one occasion while walking along the corridor he was imitating the walk of a Brother when the said Brother suddenly looked around – and a few words were exchanged. Occasionally his playful aping of others got him in to a spot of bother which would upset him greatly; he would immediately apologise for any perceived hurt he might have caused.
He was also very good at miming. The act I remember was “The Silent Goalkeeper” making brilliant saves or glumly retrieving the ball from the back of the net after making a bad mistake. He told me a few times that if he hadn’t become a Brother he would have loved a life on the stage or even in a circus. I remember he asked me to go with him to the circus in Rome and I can still see the wonder in his eyes as he watched the various acts.
Johnny had a great friendly Irish face and he could change countenance in the twinkling of an eye – from being a Dublin tour guide to being a ‘China man’. People who got to know him simply loved him. He had the ability to make us laugh and smile – a great gift. As the poet Kahlil Gibran puts it: “In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasure, for in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
Johnny’s final home was St Patrick’s Nursing Home in Baldoyle, Dublin. It took him a while to settle there, but once he did he was very happy and the entire staff loved him for his genuine goodness and good humour. He died in May 2011, in the city of his birth.
The Irish word gramhar describes Sean’s character very well. John Henry Newman said, “It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain”. The Johnny I knew would never deliberately hurt another by word or deed. He shared his many, many gifts and talents unselfishly and generously with us all. His kindness, his sense of fun and deep interest in people he met made a lasting impression. It was a privilege to have known him and to have shared part of life’s journey with him. He will live in the minds and hearts of us all for years to come.
Christian Brother Pat Hegarty
published November 2011
If anyone has memories to share from Johnny’s travels around the world, please send them to the editor (see CONTACT US) to be forwarded to the writer of Johnny’s life story.