Harnett, Philip (1943–96), Jesuit priest, was born 6 January 1943 in Dublin, the third child of Patrick Harnett and Ursula Treacy. He had two brothers, John and Patrick, and three sisters, Anne, Catherine, and Mary. Following an education at Pembroke School, Ballsbridge, and Belvedere College, he joined the Jesuits on 10 October 1961 and studied arts at UCD, philosophy in the Jesuit College, Madrid, and theology in Milltown Park, Dublin. He was ordained a priest on 23 June 1972.
Harnett studied as a drugs counsellor in Washington, DC, in 1972 and worked for the Dublin diocese as a drugs advisor until 1974. He was then appointed parish priest in the inner-city Jesuit parish of Gardiner Street where, for six years, he coordinated a major community development programme. From 1980 to 1983 he worked in the central administration of the Irish Jesuits before being appointed to the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. During this time he lived in the socially deprived neighbourhood of Ballymun and sought to raise awareness of the structural injustices in Irish society; he also lectured and gave many workshops on this theme. He worked closely with residents in Ballymun to support their struggle to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhood.
In 1986 Harnett was appointed provincial of the Irish Jesuits. In this post he led the Jesuits through a period of rapid change in Irish society and the Irish church, and his leadership skills became very evident. Although he had to make difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions to respond to the changing circumstances, he retained the respect of those whom he led. He encouraged and supported the Irish Jesuits in their commitment to social justice, which he saw as a central thrust of their mission. In 1993 he was appointed to the newly created post of president of the Conference of European Jesuit Provincials, which reflected the high esteem in which he was held, and moved to Strasbourg. Three years later he was diagnosed with cancer, and despite a course of immuno-therapy in Strasbourg he became progressively weaker. He returned to Dublin, where he died 20 December 1996.