The death in July of Bishop Conor K Ward, former professor of social sciences at University College Dublin, marked the passing of a major contributor to the development of social science study in Ireland. Sweetness and benevolence were the words most frequently used during his funeral mass at the Sainte-Brigide church, in Cabinteely, where Bishop Dermot Farrell recalled his contribution to the sociology of religion, his academic career and his contribution to the development of Bethlehem University.
He was born in 1930, the oldest of five children, in Rush, County Dublin, to Thomas and Kathleen Ward (née Monks). He obtained scholarships for secondary school (St Macartan’s, Monaghan) and university. At UCD he obtained a license in philosophy and politics and then studied at the Pontifical University of Rome where he obtained the degrees of BD and STL.
After his ordination in 1953, he held several chaplaincies for two years and hoped to be appointed to serve in a parish in an underprivileged neighborhood. Instead, he was sent by Archbishop John McQuaid to study sociology at the University of Liverpool. His doctoral thesis formed the basis of a book, Priests and People, which was groundbreaking in the development of the sociology of religion as an academic specialty.
He was appointed senior lecturer at UCD in 1959, and in 1974 became professor of social sciences. Conor spent 32 years at UCD working tirelessly to establish the Department of Social Sciences. He was Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology, 1988-1991. There he transformed the teaching of sociology by establishing it on a solid empirical and theoretical basis.
With colleagues, he established the Social Science Research Center in 1961, which developed a significant policy-oriented research program.
He had a strong collegial spirit and was generous with his time to support students and colleagues. In the community at large, he has made many important contributions. These included the post of President of the Dublin Institute for Adult Education, a member of the executive committee of the Institute for Economic and Social Research and a member of the board of trustees of the first Irish / EC program of fight against poverty.
Abroad he has been involved in the EU as rapporteur for the Economic and Social Committee, and as Irish advisor on the FAST / Monitor program (DG XII).
He was a member of a cohort of intellectual priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin who helped shape modern Ireland. His distinguished contribution to social science disciplines and knowledge translation in the service of society is comparable to that of the Radharc team on television and others who have worked as innovators in adult education.