Old Xaverians’ Association

Home The Association Events Photo Gallery Publications Alumni Photo Archive Contact Us

Gerard Donovan (65-72)

Gerard Donovan took ‘A’ levels at SFX in French, Latin and Greek. He won the John Watson Open Scholarship to read Classics at Brasenose College, Oxford. After a PGCE course at Liverpool University, he taught at St Nicholas RC High School in Cheshire from 1978, as Head of Modern Languages and Head of Gwyn House. In September 1998 Gerard moved to Upton Hall School as Director of 6th Form.

Following his untimely death, this tribute was posted on the school website:

“Gerard was a remarkable teacher who inspired so many members of our Sixth Form by believing in their ability to succeed and giving them the courage and confidence to do so. A gifted man who shared his love of learning with our students. He shaped the Sixth Form; its success was his success. So many talented and successful young women owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”

He leaves behind his wife Ann and their young son Gerard François.

An appreciation by Peter Furness (OX 46-53)

To the many Old Xaverians who knew him, Ged's death at the age of only 57 came as a great shock. He was a member of that remarkable 4A class of 1968-69 whose potential, even at that early stage in their academic formation, was soon recognised by those of us privileged to teach them. That promise was amply fulfilled: 1972 was a highly successful year, crowned by the winning of five Oxford scholarships including Ged's Open Scholarship in Classics at Brasenose College. This was truly an annus mirabilis in the proud history of academic achievement at the College. Many went on to distinguished careers in various fields.

Ged's destiny was to become a truly inspired teacher of Modern Languages. In subsequent years he and I met frequently at conferences and courses, which in turn gave us the opportunity to chat about life at the College, in his time and mine. He was always intrigued by tales of the redoubtable Fr Neylan and his Olympian dismissal of French as "a rather interesting minor accomplishment". In other words, the language of Pascal, Voltaire and indeed of the great Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, was fit only for vacuous conversation. I reminded Ged that, had he been at the College in that era, he would as a Classics student have been precluded from studying French at all - due to the inflexible tripartite regime (Classics/Moderns/Science) then imposed on the Sixth Form. That inflexibility I had myself dared to query, a year or so after leaving school and invited to meet Fr Neylan at the chaplaincy in Manchester (to challenge him while still a schoolboy was not a wise thing to do). He retorted instantly: "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres". Quite why Caesar's description of the tribal and linguistic differences of Ancient Gaul should serve as a template for a twentieth century Sixth Form he never made clear. Ged enjoyed that story, bemused as I was by this bizarre justification, but perhaps it was mere impish humour. But better counsels prevailed so that by the 1960s Classics boys were able to study A-Level French. The way was thus opened for Ged ultimately to pursue an outstanding career in Modern Languages.

His talents were many and varied. Awarded his Colours as a left-winger in the very good Junior XI of 1968-69, he "allied no small amount of ability to his now legendary courage and stamina". He also played trumpet in the College orchestra and was a keen musician, being a lifelong devotee of the music of Richard Wagner. Eric Frane (OX 55), himself a dedicated Wagnerian, recalls how he, Ged and Stephen Halliwell (another 4A boy destined for an illustrious academic career) would swop old vinyl records of Wagner's music. A memorable production of Tristan and Isolde at Covent Garden and a superb Gotterdamerung in Manchester would find the trio energetically debating the quality of the performances. Professor Halliwell writes that Ged, in his appreciation of music, as in "everything else that he did...was the sort of person who naturally set high standards that others had to struggle to get near".

Mention should be made of a remarkable tour de force achieved by Ged in a famous balloon debate at the College in 1969. Participants had to act the part of living or historical people and, through their eloquence, persuade the audience that the life of their chosen person be spared.

Among others, two of the protagonists were Ignatius Loyola, represented by Paul (later Archbishop) Gallagher and Ian Paisley, represented by Ged. Recalling the debate, Archbishop Paul ruefully admits that his testimony was no match for a ranting "No Popery" diatribe delivered by Ged in that abrasive and unmistakable Ulster accent. Mimicry was one of his many talents. While it is unlikely that the Reverend Paisley ever heard of this debate, he would have been gratified to know that, through the medium of Ged's rousing advocacy, he had bested the Founder of the Society of Jesus, represented by the future Apostolic Nuncio to Australia - and that in a Jesuit College of all places. Years later, occasionally bumping into Dr Paisley at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Archbishop Paul was tempted to inform him of his vicarious triumph over St. Ignatius but they got no further than exchanging grunts.

I sensed in Ged a man of deep faith which was never ostentatious or paraded. By nature quiet and unassuming, he had a competitive spirit, a steely resolve to succeed but never at others' expense. He was always sociable and could even on occasion prove an entertaining raconteur. His family and we, his friends, have lost a fine man, the teaching profession a skilled and dedicated practitioner. While we mourn his untimely passing, we are consoled by a faith which reminds us that those we hold dear live on. Vita mutatur non tollitur. As Archbishop Paul puts it, "St Ignatius has forgiven him in heaven".