27 November 2020

In Memory of Cornelius Patrick O’Donovan (17 March 1930 – 11 November 2020)

Our colleague and friend, Conn O’Donovan, was a regular attendee, participant and presenter at our biennial Australian Lonergan Workshop. He had a particular expertise and interest in the philosophy of learning.

He will remembered as a passionate and compassionate man, a lover of his wife Paddy, a scholar and a teacher,. He will also be remembered for this love of music and Lindt 85% dark chocolate.

His funeral service can be viewed (until 20th May 2021) at: https://www.FuneralVideo.com.au/CorneliusODonovan\. A hard copy of the eulogy by Shane Hogan, former headmaster at St.Ignatius College, Riverview is available to download here. This includes a little of life-story.

In Lonergan circles, he will be remembered an educator, a reformer of philosophy and theology courses and a translator and interpreter of one of Lonergan’s important contributions to theology.


Throughout his life, Conn was an educator at various institutions – Belvedere College, Dublin; St.Louis University, Missouri; and Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy.

Over the past 40 years, Conn taught at St.Aloysius College, Milson’s Point and St.Ignatius College, Riverview (in Sydney, Australia). He is particularly noted for his course on “Wonder about Wonder: an introduction to philosophy” which aimed to have students grasp their own native wonder.


In the early 1960s, Conn worked closely with Phil McShane and others in reforming philosophy and theology courses at the Jesuit Milltown Institute, Dublin. In a 2003 article in the Journal of Macrodynamic Analysis reflecting on the first forty years of Phil McShane, Conn recalled the challenge and the difficulties they faced:

There was considerable discontent, and even cynicism, among those Jesuit students, whether Lonergan inspired or not, who looked on theology as something more than just a canonical prerequisite for ordination, or who had already achieved considerable success in some other field. Many of them simply went along with the system, mastering the matter presented and producing it, on request, at examination time; others registered a kind of protest by pursuing private interests as much as possible; those inspired by Lonergan tended increasingly to raise questions in class in a manner that challenged their professors’ authority, at times, unfortunately, with a crude appeal to the authority of Lonergan. We did not know then that we were living through the final years of a system that Lonergan later described as hopelessly antiquated but not yet demolished, that what was happening at Milltown was happening all over the world, and that the upheaval that was soon to come would affect much more than the traditional seminary courses in philosophy and theology.

Translator and interpreter

In the early 1970s, Conn undertook the long and arduous task of translating, from Latin into English, the first part of the first volume of Bernard Lonergan’s De Deo Trino. It was published in 1976 by Darton Longman & Todd as The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology and examined the dialectical process by which the dogma of the Trinity developed in the first four centuries. The Way to Nicea was the first translation of Lonergan’s Latin writings to be published.

Lonergan was always reluctant to have any of his Latin texts translated because he wrote them in Latin for a very specific audience, I.e., the students from 17 nations at the Gregorian, as well the Holy Office who had to approve all texts used at pontifical universities.  He said that he would have written it “differently” in English or French.
Having read Conn’s translation of the first part of de Deo Trino he thought it excellent and agreed to have it published as The Way to Nicea.The book includes an important introduction by Conn in which he sets out to:
  • survey the content and indicate the structure of the whole two-volume work [De Deo Trino] of which the part translated constitutes one sixth,
  • Give an account of Lonergan’s academic courses on the Trinity, from 1945 to 1964, with some references to other work in progress at the time of these courses,
  • Give a brief history of Lonergan’s writings on the Trinity during his years in Rome culminating in the 1964 De Deo Trino,
  • Discuss the importance for Lonergan of trinitarian theology as the area in which (mainly) he worked out his method in theology
  • Comment on Lonergan’s enduring involvement with and contribution to trinitarian theology as a topic of the greatest importance within theology
  • Suggest some reasons why Lonergan has been so far unwilling to release for publication in translation any more than this one part of De Deo Trino and why he has released even as much as he has
  • Make a few comments on the tasks of translation itself.