Monday, March 08, 2010

Ireland's Glory: "On God's Mission"

It is easy to forget the great glories of the Church. In Ireland especially it is easy to see merely "the scandals", emptying Churches, shambling bishops, decadence and corruption.
It is refreshing therefore that RTE is running a series called on "On God's Mission" which remembers the ten's of thousands of Irish priests and nuns who left their homeland, willing to sacrifice their lives to proclaim Christ throughout the world. It is easy and fashionable to forget the Church's and the world's debt to the heroism of those brave men and women of the recent past, and the poor at home who supported their work.

The first and second episode can be seen here.
I wonder if remembering these men and women and the fervour of the spirituality of self sacrifice that inspired them might actually be a source of healing for Ireland and the Irish Church. The second part perhaps gives us insight into the loss confidence of the Irish Church: the embarassment of proclaiming the person of Jesus Christ.


berenike said...

"young men" - and women!


Fr Ray Blake said...


johnf said...

And we must never forget the great debt that Europe has to the Irish monks over 1200 years ago when they brought back learning into a Europe then languishing in the dark ages.

Ireland - the island of Saints and Scholars

In his BBC series 'Civilisation' some years ago, Sir Kenneth Clark described European civilisation as being rescued 'by skin of our teeth' by these monks

JARay said...

Berenike, I read "the Church's and the world's debt to the heroism of those brave men and women of the recent past"
I take it, as most would take it, that the adjective "brave" does not need to be replicated before the noun "women". It is taken as read that the adjective carries on, and refers to, both "men" and "women". It is common usage in my understanding.

berenike said...

Well, either I was seeing things (entirely possible) or you've fixed the post - I read "remembering these young men and the fervour ...". :)

Fr Ray Blake said...

I did fiddle around with text after posting but not that.

Patrick Sheridan said...

It's nice to see something to ''balance things out'' a bit. Attacking the Irish Church often comes across as a wanton prejudice against the Irish themselves. Ireland kept the Faith, and suffered persecution for it, which is more than can be said for the English...

berenike said...

then my mistake! oh dear, it's turned into a big thing, and I wasn't actually in the least upset, just teasing. Sorry.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Berenike, I thought you were teasing!

When you see your neighbours discussing the stains on their dirty washing it is all too easy to join in the discussion.
But you are right, the English Church is much indebted to Ireland, however the problems of the Irish Church throws light on those of the English Church, the bond is so close.

pelerin said...

A wonderful film and great to see original archive film of the courageous missionaries.

I was particularly interested to see Mgr Joseph Shanahan of the Holy Ghost Fathers although surprisingly no mention was made that his cause was put forward in 1997 for Canonisation.

Interesting too to hear the nun echo what a Spiritain priest had said to me on one occasion 'We work to make ourselves redundant'.

However did the Priest at the end really say that 'Saving souls was now irrelevant?'. I find this very surprising particularly as I was once gently ticked off for writing in an article that 'today Roman Catholic missionaries have first to restore the peoples' dignity and humanity and teach then basic hygiene under often appalling conditions - teaching the Gospel is now no longer the top priority as it was earlier this century.' Having heard first hand about the work of a local priest who went out to Peru to live amongst the poorest of the poor I had gained this impression from him but when he read my article he put me right and told me that yes preaching the Gospel was still the top priority.

In Paris there is a fascinating permanent exhibition at the Missions Etrangeres de Paris very near the celebrated Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in the Rue du Bac. Here you can see many items belonging to the Missionaries, photographs and letters. Many were horribly martyred. The chapel there is where they were sent from never to return to their native land. Visits never fail to move me.

Thank you Father for giving us the opportunity of watching this film.

old believer said...


If the fruits of 'keeping the faith' are this (skip to 0:05 to get the 'style') I would prefer Choral Evensong...

Independent said...

It was the pennies of the Irish poor which financed the churches and schools of the catholic community in Victorian England. Of their little they gave much for the Glory of God.

me said...

We stand before God as individuals, not as nations. Having said that, I have only ever known decent Irish Priests. I was terrified of one Irish nun though, and she made me terrified of Bishops, with her words before my Confirmation, the effect being I irrationally delay my own children's as long as possible. These memories stay with you, unfortunately, but God is good and gives other graces, like extreme patience, in my case!

shane said...

Patricus, I am probably guilty more than most of that. I'd since done quite a lot of studying and come to very different conclusions. Much of what we ascribe to Jansenism or to peculiar aspects of Irish Catholicism were simply Victorian values - which were neither uniquely Catholic nor uniquely Irish (indeed neither of the two in origin).

David Quinn wrote a very good article in Studies magazine (the organ of the Irish Jesuits) about the Ryan Report. He attended most of the Inquiry's hearings and felt compelled to give the report greater analysis, having realized that most media commentators had read little more than the summary.

Here are a few of the facts: 1,090 former residents reported to the Ryan commission; they named 800 alleged abusers in over 200 institutions.

Boys: 50% of the physical abuse reports and 64% of the sexual abuse reports came from 4 institutions.

Girls: 40% of the physical abuse reports came from 3 institutions; 241 women religious were named as physical abusers, but 4 of these were named by 125 witnesses and 156 sisters were named by only one witness each.

Of the 800 religious and others named as abusers, 400 were named by only one person. Sixteen institutions had more than 20 complaints made against them.

shane said...

Quinn's point about the discipline in Les choristes is also echoed by Fr Michael Hughes, archivist for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, and who had been involved with supervision at Daingean. According to the Irish Times ( 'Living hell' reformatory claim rejected; Wednesday, June 07, 2006): "He agreed there were gangs and a hierarchy among the boys with newcomers known as "fish". He did not agree it was a situation which got out of control, though there were disturbances at times. "Discipline at the school was very severe for that very purpose, so staff could keep control. It was intended as protection for the children . . . these lads were not small boys."

He agreed the Brothers worked all year around, seven days a week with no day off until the 1970s, and that 20 of them were responsible for 150 boys.

shane said...

UCD Professor of History, Diarmaid Ferriter, also notes something similar in his book The Transformation of Ireland (page 517):

"Though it was not fashionable to admit it towards the end of the century, many of the members of religious orders had worked hard under difficult conditions to educate and provide for vulnerable can have some sympathy with the contention of Patrick Touher, an inmate of Artane Industrial School, that 'on the whole the [Christian] Brothers were doing their best, within limited circumstances in hard times and with frightening numbers. they too shared in the hard rigid life. They had no luxuries, nothing to look forward to, except more of the same'."

It's quite common to hear elderly people nostalgic about the times when the nuns ran the hospitals. I've heard only praise for them and many lament the slippening standards since they were secularized in the 70s (>falling numbers).

BTW a few months ago, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church jointly apologized for 'endemic' abuse in their industrial schools in Germany. This seems to have received little coverage.

Michael said...

Let us be honest these were violent times in England and Ireland.
In the 60s/70s at Public Schools in England boys lived in fear of being caned, in terror of the rage of Masters, bullying by staff and older boys was part of the system.
When I ended up in a secular state school Mr Gibson would happily drag a boy around a classroom by his ear hitting him on the head with a ruler or anything else to hand, sometimes drawing blood.
Mrs Holland, the French fat mistress used to put boys' heads in desks and sit on the edge, she only stopped when a boy became unconscious and had to go to hospital.
The Head Master would cane four or five boys a day, as a matter of course.

epsilon said...

That was a very moving account of the history of Irish missionaries! I too was very disappointed to hear Fr Shay Cullen saying "Saving souls doesn't come into the equation, doesn't come into our thinking - we're gone beyond all that. That's a very old theology, that's quite irrelevant nowadays we're about transforming society and trying to create some kindgom of justice and peace here on this earth" accompanied by images of a car park, grafitti, cars and traffic.

Why does it have to be either / or - why can't we have the prayerful worship / tradition AND the justice and peace??

One thing I noticed is that RTE in its description of "On God's Mission" refers to interviews with the usual suspects: Bob G, Mary McA, and Tim Pat C but ironically makes no mention of the Nigerian sociologist, Festus Ikeotuonye. This is relevant as the video was implying the Irish Missionaries "colonised" the places they went to spread the Gospel, even though those missionaries have handed over everything to the locals and have educated many of Africa's leaders of today.

RTE (not the Church) are still sidelining the one voice on the video which gives a point of view from the side of those on the receiving end!

shane said...

The tender solicitude evinced by these religious Sisters of Charity and of Mercy in administering to the wants of the sick poor must entitle them to the gratitude of every friend of humanity; their unceasing and fearless attention during the late awful visitation of cholera can never be forgotten by the citizens of Dublin. Divested altogether of self-will and guided by a spirit of holy obedience, these ladies with Christian heroism approached the abode of pestilence, they took their station around the bed of death, martyrs-like they braved the contagion and while friends and relatives fled from this mansion of terror, the endearing Sisters of Charity and of Mercy were there to be found, administering medicinal relief and pouring the balm of consolation of the afflicted heart of the suffering, expiring victim of cholera. With justice, therefore, are these communities considered a national blessing; their numbers are rapidly increasing throughout the kingdom, while their vast utility can never be sufficiently appreciated.

*One hundred and ninety members have embraced this institute since its foundation in 1831. The prisons and hospitals of the different towns above mentioned are regularly visited by those religious, they impart gratutious education to upwards of three thousand female children and about sixty destitute females are sheltered and supported in the House of Mercy, in Baggot-street, Dublin.

shane said...

Father, sorry if I'm spamming this thread, feel free to delete the comment.

Breenan, Rev MJ. “Ecclesiastical History of Ireland”. Dublin: John Coyen Press, 1840.

The advantages which during this century Ireland has derived from the several communities of religious females is truly incalculable. Among these, the nuns of the Presentation order and the Sisters of Charity may be particularly noted. The Presentation order owes its foundation to Miss Nagle, a devout lady residing in Cork throughout the year 1780, while its constitutions were arranged by the Very Rev. Laurence Callanan, a saintly and learned Franciscan of that city, and were patronized by that zealous and Venerable Prelate, the Right Rev. Doctor Moylan. Besides these usual vows, these religious bind themselves to the glorious and most useful duty of conveying the blessings of moral education to the poor.


[referring to Sisters of Charity]

The inestimable value of this order may be ascertained from the fact that the averaged number of sick poor visited in their dwellings by these ladies amount to upwards of seven hundred annually: moreover the public Hospitals of Jervis-street, of Baggot-street and the Hospital of Incurables in Donnybrook are regularly visited by the members of this institute; and to complete the climax of their invaluable services, the prisons of Newgate, Kilmainham, Grange Gormanlane and the Victoria Asylum for females discharged from prison are constantly attended by these ladies for the purpose of imparting instruction to the female inmates, while their attendance at the last named institution is specially required by his Grace, Doctor Murray, in consequence of a request to that effect emanating from the governors and directors thereof.

The Order of the “Sisters of Mercy” was established in Dublin, in 1831, by Sister Mary Catherine M’Auley, a benevolent lady residing in that city. Interested for the education of the poor and moved with feelings of compassion at the sufferings of the sick and indigent, a community of pious ladies had been already (in 1827) formed under her guidance. She afterwards made her profession in company with two other religious in the Presentation Convent at George’s Hill, and in 1831, under the sanction of the Holy See and by the directions of his Grace, Doctor Murray, they removed to their establishment in Baggot-street, for the purpose of resuming the all-important duties of their institute. Gratuitous education, the protection of young females of good character, and the visitation and relief of the sick poor constitute the noble objects to which the time and attention of these truly meritorious ladies bound by perpetual vows are devoted. Besides the countless number of sick poor visited and relieved in their own dwellings, these religious attend regularly at Mercer’s Hospital, Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital and St Mary’s Asylum, Drumcondra. In many other parts of Ireland their invaluable services have become the subject of universal admiration. They have Convents in Tullamore, Charleville, Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Naas, galway Wexford and Birr, besides those of Booterstown, Kingstown, and one in London, all subject to the Ordinary of each respective diocess*. There are also at present in Baggot-street seven novices for establishments to be immediately formed, one in Birmingham and the other in Newfoundland.

Matthaeus said...

It is good to see things put into perspective.

Thanks be to God for those many brave men and women (adjective applied collectively ;-))who contibuted so much to the welfare of the people of Ireland, England, and a vast number of missionary lands.

I note Shane's comment that the majority of abuse cases in the Ryan report came from a number of institutions that you could count on the fingers of your hands. While these particular institutions (an a small number of individuals elsewhere) were rotten at the core, and should never have been allowed to reach the state they were in, it remains that without Orders, such as the Christian Brothers, generations of Irishmen (and some Englishmen) would never have had the opportunity to recieve a world-class education.

I was also pleased to read Michael's comment, which alerts us to the danger of viewing past events out of the context of their time - only 30 years ago, corporal punishment was the norm in schools, and many routine practices by good teachers simply doing their jobs would now be classed as violent assults under today's laws.

Psychologists often tell us that we are geared up to remember negatives far better than positives (I seem to recall that you need to have a ratio of something like 30:1 positive to negative experiences in order not to feel bad about a given situation). We need to be reminded of the silent majority of good Irish Clergy and Religious, who are often hidden by the shadow of the few 'rotten apples'.

Thank you, Father, for doing something to set the record straight.

Crux Fidelis said...

I was a seminarian with an Irish missionary society but my vocation was found wanting. However, many of my classmates went on to ordination (none have left! Deo Gratias!) and now have more than twenty years each in the field - Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Brazil. Ireland should be proud of them.

georgina lebler said...

I am not anonymous...I am georgina lebler...lets talk about gerald risdale....I wrote the victim impact statements...I was once a child of mary, now I am a child of children....not one of you will anwser this....bully's are always I cannot even stand to walk into any church... me and god...we have nothing to do with the likes of you.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Georgina, I don't know who Risdale is and I am not entirely sure what you want to say.
Why don't you contact me directly either by email or phone. My details are on ther sidebar of the blog.

Crux Fidelis said...

Georgina: I hope that I am not a coward or a bully but I cannot answer you as you haven't asked anything. What do you want to know?

shane said...

The third and concluding part of the series is now up:

Anonymous said...

I missed that series on TV here but thanks very much for posting the links, Fr. Amazing that RTE should have seen fit to broadcast it. I should have thought they'd be cringing in embarrassment at bringing out such a relic of the old Ireland they're intent on shoving into the attic, like the mad aunt, in case she lets them down in front of the fancy visitors. Honestly, Irish "liberals"... village atheists, most of 'em.

My late uncle was an Augustinian missionary in Nigeria, in the 50s and 60s. He loved the country but nfortunately died of cancer at the age of only 50. Very sad loss. Totally faithful priest. He had a doctorate in Divinity and a sharp wit and was certainly very much up to acidly, but fairly, demolishing the limp sallies of those who thought to belittle the faith... according to my father who accompanied hom on golfing expeditions on his rare visits home.

Regarding the whole corporal punishment thing, I seem to remember when I was a kid that there was a series on ITV (?) called "Whacko" in which Jimmy Edwards played a cane-happy schoolmaster. OK, it was for laughs, but it shows how commonly accepted caning still was at that time. Early 70s, I think. I myself was still receiving it up till the late 70s when I left school. No questions asked. No whinging either. Wasn't manly.

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