Thomas V (Tom) Daly SJ (1924 – 2014)

Born in Rochester, Victoria, and educated by the Jesuits at Xavier College, Tom graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of Melbourne in 1945. He entered the Jesuits in 1946, and over the following eleven years, studied Scholastic Philosophy, taught Mathematics, Science, Greek and Religion at Xavier College and studied Theology.  

After his ordination in 1956, Tom was appointed to the Catholic chaplaincy at the Adelaide University (1957 – 1959). He lived at Aquinas, a Jesuit-run university college. In a visit to the Catholic Bookshop in Adelaide in 1957 in search of new books for the College library, he cursorily examined a copy on display of the newly published book, Insight, by Bernard Lonergan. Not impressed by what he read, he returned it to the shelf.

However, he returned some days later and, under some compunction, took a closer look. What he read made a deep impression. He bought the book and left its close reading to a later date, early in 1960, when he left by boat for Europe for his tertianship and higher studies. The sea voyage gave him several uninterrupted weeks to read Insight seriously. He finished it on Easter Sunday as his boat pulled into the harbor at Marseilles. This sea voyage was the beginning for Tom of his reorientation and deepening of his philosophical studies.

With Insight fresh in mind and its author, Fr Bernard Lonergan teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome, Tom considered a topic for his doctoral thesis that compared Lonergan and Polyani on the Subject. He had some time in Europe before going to Rome, including a trip to the USA to examine University chaplaincy. He had arranged with Fr Lonergan to attend a two-week seminar he was giving on Insight in California in the Summer. Tom’s superiors however, had another proposal, namely, for him to go forthwith to Rome and begin his doctoral studies, not on Lonergan and the Subject, but on Frege and number theory.  In Rome, he was able to attend three of Lonergan’s seminars on method in theology.

On the successful completion of his doctoral studies, Tom returned to Australia in 1964. He was assigned to teach Philosophy at the Jesuit Seminary in Melbourne, and later at the Diocesan Seminary and other houses of formation, including in New Guinea. These were occasions for him to explore and introduce ways of teaching Lonergan’s cognitional theory as the foundational core of philosophy. His views at the time are evident in a contribution he made to a USA-based Society of Jesus’ study on the teaching of philosophy.

Tom was renowned in Australia as the earliest and perhaps the leading exponent and teacher of Lonergan’s cognitional theory. His authority in Lonergan research was highly valued at the Lonergan workshops and conferences held in Sydney and in Melbourne. He was also held in high renown overseas and as a valued consultant in Lonergan research at the Lonergan Centre at Regis College of the University of Toronto. Tom’s method of teaching Lonergan was unique, particularly in his use of exercises, puzzles and jokes. He was highly regarded and remembered most favourably by many of his seminarian students. However, it would appear that most did not ‘connect’ to Insight – perhaps, their scholastic philosophy seemed sufficient.

Though primarily a teacher of philosophy in seminaries, Tom had a deep and abiding conviction that the future of the Church would depend increasingly on lay engagement. He also collaborated widely with a number of institutions, demonstrating how his philosophical thinking could apply to their mission: for example, the Hofbauer Centre in its formation of counselors, the Billings Centre in its teaching on human fertility, the St Vincent’s Bioethics Centre on the origins of human life, and, with management consultant, John Little, with senior executives on creative thinking, decision making and business ethics.

A collection of Tom’s published and unpublished works and some file notes will be made available on this website soon. They will be arranged under six headings. What is common to each is Tom’s clarity about the dynamic and emerging ever-fertile notion of ‘understanding’ as the key (in thinking) to unity, dialogue and development, and its relation to what is given (in data) and consequent upon inquiry. The six sections are:

  • Philosophy – teaching children
  • Philosophy, self-appropriation and epistemology
  • Ethics
  • Bio-ethics and the human person
  • Theology
  • Science/Mathematics