John O’Donohue vanished from among us on January 4, 2008 as physical presence, but it is impossible to write about John as someone who “was”; he so thoroughly “is”. In the context of the immense presence of his absence, the following biographical facts and dates can serve only as time-bound points of orientation for those who wish to try and locate history.
John was born in January 1956, the first of four children to Patrick and Josie O’Donohue. At the age of 18, John entered the novitiate at Maynooth where he completed his BA in English and Philosophy in 1977 and his degree in Theology, in 1980. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1982, received his MA in 1982 and, in 1986 began work on a doctorate at the University of Tubingen in Germany. John was awarded his Ph.D in Philosophical Theology in 1990. In his dissertation, Person als Vermittlung, (published in Germany in 1993), John developed a new concept of Person through a re-interpretation of the philosophy of Hegel. The prestigious Review of Metaphysics commended him for “breaking new ground in our thinking about consciousness . . . [with] a richer and deeper notion of Personhood.” In John’s words: “Hegel struck me as someone who put his eye to the earth at a most unusual angle and managed to glimpse the circle toward which all things aspire.”
By 1990, John had returned to Ireland where he continued his priestly duties, as well as, beginning post-doctoral work on the 13th century philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart. In 1997, John’s book Anam Cara was published and became an international best-seller. Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger to Belong, followed in 1998; and in 2000, John’s collection of poetry, Conamara Blues, was published. At the end of 2000, John retired from public priestly ministry and devoted himself full-time to his writing and to a more public life of integrity in action – speaking, advocating against social injustice, and inspiring the wealthy and powerful in society to engage their own integrity in service of meaningful, positive change. His oft quoted admonition that “the duty of privilege is absolute integrity” offers continuing inspiration for those working to open new possibilities of wholeness and grace in our visible world and beyond.
John’s book, Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace was published in 2003, followed by, Benedictus: A Book of Blessings, late in 2007 – just two months before his sudden and unexpected death. This last book was released in the United States under the title, To Bless The Space Between Us, in the spring of 2008.
John is buried in Creggagh Cemetary in his beloved west of Ireland. The well-spring of his creativity was lively and strong to the very last day and his legacy of as yet unpublished works is being carefully minded and nurtured towards emergence by his beloved family.