Jim Cantwell who died on Thursday aged 75 was “a seeker after the truth in his professional and private life”, according to a priest at his funeral this morning at St Michael’s church in Dún Laoghaire. The man who skilfully oversaw the worldwide coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979 was the first director of the Catholic Press and Information Office in Ireland. He was present in Rome for many of the major events in the Catholic Church over the decades.
The former Head of Religious Programming at RTE, and chief celebrant of the requiem Mass, Fr Dermod McCarthy, described Mr Cantwell as a “mine of information” on the famous papal conclaves to elect a new pope. “He led the media coverage of the papal visit in 1979, which was an enormous event, with 1.4 million people descending on the Phoenix Park,” he said. He was in Rome to pass on the finer details to reporters of major events, such as the canonisation of Saint Oliver Plunkett, the death of Pope Paul VI and the elections of Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II.
Fr McCarthy said the retired journalist and native of Waterford had originally faced some opposition when he first returned from London, where he had been reared and had worked at ‘The Universe’, to become head of the Catholic Press and Information Office in Dublin in 1975. “Not everyone in the church or the media either approved or understood the church needing a press office in the first place,” explained Fr McCarthy. It was a very difficult decision to make to come to Dublin with his wife and family.
Fr McCarthy told mourners that Jim’s qualities as summed up by his family included his optimism, his gentleness and his humour. “He was an articulate and knowledgeable man and throughout his career he was always well liked and highly respected by fellow journalists”, he said. He had educated the hierarchy about the media and had also enlightened journalists about Catholic church teaching.
The Mass was concelebrated with auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Éamonn Walsh, Monsignor Daniel O’Connor PP Dún Laoghaire and Fr Eugene Kennedy, a schoolmate. Cardinal Séan Brady represented the church in Ireland and he was accompanied by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.
The former Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly, who was tasked with setting up the press office, told in a statement yesterday how Mr Cantwell served in the post for the next 25 years until he retired in 2000. “Jim Cantwell was a man who served the church and people who worked in the media with unfailing courtesy, respect and professionalism,” he said. “In his latter years, he had the most difficult task of dealing with the fallout from the various issues that beset the church in the 1990s.”
Bishop Daly said Jim Cantwell had been a good friend and colleague. He recalled how it had decided at a special meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference in Mulrany in 1974 that, in line with recommendations of the Second Vatican Council, a Press and Information Office should be established to serve the Irish Church and the Irish and international media. Dr Daly was tasked with setting up the office, which was opened at Booterstown Avenue in South Co. Dublin in February 1975. Jim Cantwell was chosen from a multitude of candidates to head the office and was appointed as the first Press and Information Officer for the Irish Episcopal Conference.
Bishop Daly described Jim as a fine journalist and a most pleasant, affable person. He was greatly respected and liked by his fellow journalists and bishops. He gained an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Church here in Ireland and around the world. Jim had vast knowledge of conclaves and papal elections and was the author of various authoritative articles on these matters. He always prepared his work methodically and with great diligence. Jim Cantwell was a man who served the Church and people who worked in the media with unfailing courtesy, respect and professionalism.
Mr Cantwell is mourned by his wife Eileen and his four children Nina, Rhona, Paul and Michael. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.