Conditions in 18th century Ireland were very distressful. It is difficult for us in this day and age to imagine just how distressful they were. Laws to govern the country were actually made in England as the Irish parliament had no teeth. It was convoked by the King of England and none of its recommendations could be passed without his approval. Yet the British Parliament made laws to be enforced in Ireland. The laws and sanctions it passed regarding trade made sure that Irish industry was discouraged. The flourishing wool trade was all but destroyed so that it posed no threat to the English wool trade. Likewise the export of salted meat was totally discouraged. Back-breaking tariffs were imposed on Irish ships which successfully undermined the industry.
The Presbyterians in the north of Ireland were very dissatisfied. The estates on which they (or their forebears) had been planted had become uneconomical. Although they were educated and could sit in parliament they were restricted from entering certain professions as they did not belong to the Established Church – the Church of Ireland.
The Catholics, who formed the majority of the population, were the most distressed group of all. They owned a mere 5% of the land. Those who had small holdings could not pass them on in toto to their sons. The land had to be sub-divided until the plots became unviable and were snapped up by the big Protestant landlords. As it was there was no fixity of rent or tenure. The Catholic tenants could be evicted at the whim of the landlords, many of whom were absentee landlords; their agents squeezed the tenants for more and more rent. Generally the homes of these tenants were miserably poor. It was claimed at the time that the pigs and cattle in England were better housed than the Irish peasantry. When a species is endangered it becomes more prolific. The Irish Catholic population increased dramatically at this time. Three consecutive years of crop failure were just another drop in an ocean of misery.
Poverty, frustration, unemployment and no means of redress fuelled bitter resentment against the Protestant overlords. Secret societies of vigilantes were formed to exact vengeance on the landlords. The Presbyterian landlords also feared for their lives and very harsh methods were employed to deal with the menace of those militant Catholics. Even the solace of religion was denied the Irish Catholics. Priests were outlawed, public Catholic worship was forbidden. Some Catholic landlords converted to Protestantism in order to hold on to their land, or they had one of their sons “convert” so that he could inherit the whole estate.
Some Presbyterians in the north of Ireland got together to demonstrate against the injustices of British rule. The volunteers developed in time into the United Irishmen which became a republican movement urging total separation from England and recognising the rights of all Irishmen irrespective of creed. It gained French support as did the republican movement in the south of the country, resulting in the Insurrection of 1798.
The 18th century saw Ireland being torn apart economically, politically and religiously. The country was filled with hungry, impoverished Catholic beggars with no hope and no education. It was a far cry from the once vaunted “Island of Saints and Scholars.”
As I write we are in the Christmas season which is celebrated exuberantly here in Goa. In recent years “Crib Making” has become a tourist attraction. Villages vie with each other in constructing beautiful and ingenuous cribs, some with mechanical figures, waterfalls, electrical illuminations. It is a good practice but there is a danger of romanticising an event which was essentially messy. We could easily forget about the squalor, the rejection and other deprivations which the Christ Child and his parents experienced.
I believe, judging from exhibitions I have witnessed, that we can be equally romantic when we think of Edmund Rice’s first school in the stable facing on to New Street in Waterford. The property had been owned by Mary Elliott, Edmund’s wife, and inherited by him after his wife’s tragic death. Edmund moved out of his comfortable home in Arundel Place and took up residence in the refurbished loft in the New Street stable. Some friends assisted him voluntarily in teaching the boys but they found the work too demanding. Goldsmith in his “The Deserted Village” speaks of the local schoolmaster in “his noisy mansion, skilled to rule.” Can we even begin to imagine what it was like for a forty year old businessman to find himself alone with three rooms full of noisy, dirty, streetwise boys of diverse age, whom he was expected to teach? Conditions were far from ideal. He lacked formal pedagogical training. He must have had a commanding presence and there is no doubt that he was compassionate and generous. The boys would recognise that and give respect accordingly. Edmund would have recruited them personally from the quayside and backstreets and, charitable, practical man that he was, he would have given relief to their families. We know that he had employed two men to teach the boys. They found the task too demanding. Even when he doubled their remuneration they refused to stay more than a fortnight. The amateur builder Noah was responsible for the Ark; professionals built the “Titanic.”
In what must have been one of Edmund’s darkest hours, two men presented themselves and expressed their desire to work voluntarily with Edmund and share his life. Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn formed with Edmund the first community of what was to become the Congregation of Christian Brothers. They prayed and worked together and lived in the area over the classrooms in New Street.
Thomas and Patrick were familiar with the Callan area where the Rice family was well known. They consulted Father John Rice, Edmund’s brother, who advised them to join Edmund in their endeavour to lead a more meaningful Christian life. They heard of Edmund’s success as a ship’s chandler and of his eagerness to serve God by looking after unfortunates. They were both mature men. They would have admired Edmund’s generosity in renouncing his wealth to educate the poor and would have tried to emulate it in their own way. Today we are familiar with “sharing our stories.” The three companions must have spoken of their life experiences, their aspirations and dreams. No doubt Edmund would have shared with them his original notion of joining a monastery in an established religious order. It is ironic that his first two companions ended up as priest and monk.
The foundation stone of Mount Sion was laid on 7th June 1802. The three men continued to live and teach in New Street and paid regular visits to the building site to see how the work was progressing. John Mulcahy of Kilmacthomas joined the trio who since June 1803 lived in community in Mount Sion but, since the new classrooms were not yet avainable, still taught in New Street and nearby Stephen Street to which they walked every day. Bishop Hussey wrote at that time in a report to the Holy See: “Some few men have been formed into a Society who eagerly desire to bind themselves by the three solemn vows of chastity, poverty and obedience under rules similar to those of the Sisters, and already a convent residence has been built where four holy men reside who seek approbation of their rules whenever it will be deemed advisable by the Holy See.” School work was difficult, the regimen Spartan and the spiritual exercises demanding. On15th August 1808 after Mass in the Presentation Covent on Hennessy’s Road, Edmund and seven companions – including Thomas Grosvenor and Patrick Finn – made annual vows “according to the rule and constitution of the Presentation Order, as approved by the Holy See.”
The following year, on the recommendation of Bishop Power, all but Patrick Finn made perpetual vows. Patrick was an extremely quiet man and would have experienced great difficulty in dealing with his noisy charges for the six years he was with Edmund. He joined the Cistercians in England but had to leave after two months on health grounds. 17 years later he joined the Cistercians in France as a lay-brother. The English-speaking monks were expelled from France in 1831 but Patrick, because of ill health, was permitted to stay behind in the former monastery. Subsequently he joined 63 other monks in Nantes prison who were shipped to Ireland. He was a member of the newly founded (1833) Cistercian monastery in Mount Melleray where he died on 24th September 1847 aged 77.
Thomas Grosvenor was sent to Dublin in 1812 to open our first school there in Hanover Street. He and his companion were strictly speaking on loan because they were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Waterford. This was a delicate situation. The Hanover Street area was unbelievably poor and Thomas had to depend on public subscriptions for support. Edmund promised to help out with funds from Waterford which he grossly overestimated. Remember he had made over his personal wealth to the Bishop of Waterford who would be quick to point out that diocesan money was also invested in Mount Sion. Brother Grosvenor as Superior of the community and the school worked like a Trojan. He thought the summer holidays too long for the pupils and he brought them to school three or four days a week during this period for religious instruction and revision. At the same time he recommended some relaxation for the Brothers whose circumstances, like his own, were most demanding – long hours of work with big numbers of problem children, very basic accommodation and a meagre diet. Yet they also conducted Sunday School and held classes for males in Jervis Street Hospital every Sunday. Technically on loan to the Archbishop of Dublin, the Brothers in fact were now under his jurisdiction. His Grace had plans for a big school and requested the Waterford Bishop that more Brothers from Mount Sion be sent. Edmund was no longer Superior in Mount Sion and could no longer dispense the promised stipend to Thomas and the other Brothers.
The Hanover Street school flourished academically and in the great influence it had on the whole area. Thomas must have begun to experience burn out with the pace he set himself, along with his duties in community and school, the fund raising and being in a No-man’s-land between bishops and the institute. There was no doubt about his continuing devotion to community and school, yet he expressed his doubt about his suitability as a teaching religious to the Archbishop. A few years later he commenced his studies for the priesthood. The plaque of his tomb can be seen in the porch of Sacred Heart Church, Donnybrook, Dublin, where he had been parish priest. He was renowned for holiness. Obviously both Thomas and Patrick were men who diligently searched for God. They played a pivotal role in the fledgling days of our congregation before we accepted the Brief. Their leaving must have been painful for Edmund who probably found his consolation in the words of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be his name.”
I started writing this on February 17th, the death anniversary of Brother Michael Paul Riordan who was our 2nd Superior General from 1838 until his death in 1862. It was Brother Paul who was responsible for sending Patrick Francis Fitzpatrick (36) and his cousin Thomas Alphonsus Tolan (33) to Calcutta where they arrived on 15th February 1848. They officially set about their apostolic ministry on 28th February, so they weren't given much breathing space. Many have wondered why these two men were not fully integrated into the Congregation of Christian Brothers. Perhaps a little explanation is called for.
In answer to many requests made to the Superior General, a few Brothers were sent to Sydney in 1843. They were accommodated by the Benedictine Bishop and set about teaching in three schools immediately. They were highly praised for their hard work and total commitment. But the Bishop thought they should sever all links with the congregation in Ireland. Maybe this seemed reasonable at the time given the difficulty of communication and the distance involved but the Brothers were adamant - they wanted to remain united with the parent body. As a result the Brothers left Sydney and returned to Ireland in 1847. (Interestingly, one of those Brothers, Francis Larkin taught young Patrick Treacy in Thurles. Patrick became Brother Ambrose who was the dynamic leader of the Brothers who returned to Australia in 1868. He is regarded as the founder of the Australian Province. Brother Ambrose's nephew, Brother Paddy Muldowney, was an amazingly talented and respected Brother in Ireland.)
Many requests were made to our General Council around the same time to send Brothers to Calcutta. The local clergy, notably Dr. Olliffe and Monsignor Carew, both originally from Ireland, made them aware of the difficult circumstances under which many poor Anglo-Indians had to live. I use the term "Anglo-Indian" rather loosely. There were whole families of British people living in India for longer or shorter terms. There were single men who were posted here on fixed-term contracts. There were the "country born" - descendants of those who had come from Europe. In time there were the Anglo-Indians who lived in colonies, those who occupied railway quarters and those who were in the cantonments. Residence almost determined social standing - a kind of caste system. An arrangement existed whereby the children of the country born were educated in England. Later schools were set up for them in India. Then there were those Anglo Indians at the bottom of the heap, many of them descendants of Irish soldiers.
Due to their straitened circumstances and lack of job opportunities, many Irishmen joined the British Army. They followed the flag in all the countries where the British were at war or were in occupancy. In India many of these "Irish" foot soldiers married local girls. The infamous withdrawal from Kabul in 1842 saw 16,000 "English" (a huge number were Indian sepoys) massacred. Of these, 4,500 were military personnel and the rest were camp followers. Some of those orphaned would have been accommodated in the schools Monsignor Carew and the Community of Catholic Charity Schools were prompted to open in Moorghihatta, and in rented premises in Bow Bazaar Street. The Loreto Sisters came to Calcutta to look after orphans and other Catholic girls. Like the Benedictine Bishop in Sydney, Monsignor Carew wanted to control the Sisters and had them sever connections with the Mother House in Rathfarnham, Dublin. It was thirty years before they were reunited.
After their experience in Sydney, and being aware of what happened to the Loreto Sisters, the Christian Brothers would have been cautious about sending Brothers to Calcutta. At our 1841 chapter there was a request from an Archbishop, sponsored by two Brothers, to have our Thurles monastery revert to diocesan status. Undoubtedly, despite these factors, there was great compassion for the poor orphaned children in Calcutta. A compromise solution was reached. If there were volunteers prepared to undertake the Calcutta mission, the Christian Brothers would see to their initial religious formation and train them in classroom procedures. Two men from Dublin, Patrick Fitzpatrick and Thomas Tolan, were among the volunteers.
The two cousins had their novitiate training in the North Monastery, Cork. Some wags might remark that that was good training for a foreign mission, given the differences in the Dublin and Cork accents! Patrick Fitzpatrick had a longer training period than his cousin's three or four months! The three other volunteers who had joined with him left the novitiate, and his cousin Thomas Tolan took their place. In those days there were a number of instances where our candidates underwent such a programme in the local Christian Brothers Monastery, being directed by the local Superior - or Director, as he was then called. Brother Baptist Leonard was probably the Director responsible for the novices in Cork. As part of their training the two cousins went to North Richmond Street in Dublin to learn about running a school and managing classes.
Monsignor Carew warmly welcomed the two cousins after their four month long voyage to India. As per instruction, the duo brought with them a copy of the Brothers' 1832 rule and the habit of the congregation. Thomas was longer on the voyage than he had been in formation! These were the men whom Monsignor Carew wanted to be the first members of his religious order - the Calcutta Brothers . Francis was appointed to look after the school and orphans at Moorghihatta. Thomas travelled daily to Bow Bazaar Street to look after the free boys' school there.
Interestingly, the two Brothers made their first annual vows on 17th March 1848 according to the formula used by the Christian Brothers. Monsignor Carew, rather naively, applied to Rome immediately for papal approval of his congregation. Over the years various candidates joined the Brothers; they were given a habit and put into school next day! Not surprisingly they didn't last long. A development was that Brothers Fitzpatrick and Tolan were allowed to take Final Vows on 17th March 1851.
Brother Fitzpatrick was appointed Superior. It is difficult to imagine the onerous responsibilities placed on this highly strung man. He had to supervise and provide for the 100 orphans who were boarding in Moorghihatta, teach them and 120 day scholars, try to enlist new members, keep the accounts of expenditure to present to the Monsignor while seeking ways to expand the meagre accommodation in the confines of over-populated Moorghihatta. He supervised the O'Connell Memorial Building - the addition of a second storey to the existing building. Visitors to the cathedral grounds can still see the commemorative plaque on the wall of that building. A friend told me that it might be more difficult to find an account of the money promised by O'Connell! On the other hand, Monsignor Carew was the soul of generosity. He honoured all requests made by Francis who was his friend and confidant. The Monsignor had grandiose apostolic schemes, zealous priest that he was. They lacked practicality. Poor Francis must have been severely stressed as he tried to live up to his patron's expectations. Monsignor Carew's death at the age of 55 on 2nd November 1855 had a devastating effect on Francis who died exactly four weeks later, aged 43. According to his wish he was buried beneath the classroom in Moorghihatta where he had laboured so assiduously for seven years.
Archbishop Carew was succeeded by Bishop Olliffe. The men were very different in mind set. Olliffe was very much down to earth. He didn't share his predecessor’s hope of founding a congregation of Brothers to work in Bengal as the Christian Brothers worked in Ireland. He appointed Brother Tolan Superior of the five Calcutta Brothers and two postulants but he wasted no time in trying to get an established order of Brothers to amalgamate with those in Calcutta. He had Brother Tolan write with such a request to Paul Riordan. A refusal saw Bishop Olliffe making a similar request to the Superior General of the De la Salle Brothers in Paris. It is obvious from correspondence that both the Bishop and Brother Tolan were under the impression that the Christian Brothers in Ireland were a branch of the De la Salle Brothers. Small wonder - on 20th February 1843 Paul Riordan wrote to the De la Salle General: "We beg of you to grant us letters of affiliation. ....Remember that we are your faithful children and that our institute is a branch of yours." Poor Edmund!
Brother Tolan's story is as amazing as it is tortuous. In 1857 he was to go to Europe to attempt persuading the Christian Brothers to amalgamate with them. He turned up in Paris and spent a year with the De la Salle Brothers subsequently making his novitiate. After 18 months he was back in Calcutta, never again to return to Ireland.
Meanwhile Brother Venere, Superior of the De la Salle mission in Penang, visited Moorghihatta and sent a report to Paris. As a result the French Superior General gave his approval to the idea of amalgamation and Brother Venere was sent to Calcutta as Superior of the Brothers there. Shortly after Brother Tolan's return Brother Venere embarked for Paris and came back with ten ill-chosen confreres. There followed six months of bickering, rudeness, and other unpleasantness. The two groups were totally incompatible. The French men spent a while in the villa at Dum Dum trying to learn English but when they came to Moorghihata there was inadequate accommodation for the Calcutta and French Brothers. "Squalid" was the word used to describe their condition. The French rule was resented in part and there were appeals to the Bishop and Superior General. The Calcutta Brothers maintained that their vow of obedience was to the Archbishop of Calcutta and not to the De la Salle General. Predictably a house divided against itself could not stand. Brother Venere and the five remaining French Brothers withdrew to Dumdum on the recommendation of the local Bishop - a better part time solution than Venere's proposal that the Irish Brothers be dismissed from religious life one by one! Alphonsus Tolan, who had made his novitiate and vows with the De la Salle Brothers, stood with the Irish Brothers and the poor of Moorghihatta. Once again he became Superior of the little group of eight.
The following years saw a succession of kindly disposed Bishops dying, candidates (the vast majority of them from the Moorghihatta orphanage) joining and leaving, the work load of the faithful few increasing. Alphonsus Tolan must have been a man of tremendous faith and clear focus to keep going on optimistically and relentlessly. In 1864 he acquiesced to Bishop Hartmann's plea to send Brothers to his orphanage in Kurji, Death and defection put paid to the venture in a short time.(The Brothers returned to Kurji to take over the school in 1894.)The Calcutta Brothers had not received papal approval despite many requests. A committee of four (Alphonsus among them) was set up in 1877 to study the 1871 rule of the Christian Brothers in Ireland. This was a first step in yet another request to amalgamate with the Irish Christian Brothers.
There were signs of growth, nonetheless. A community was established in the newly built St. Joseph's, Bow Bazaar in January 1873. Brother Tolan, appointed Superior of the Congregation, took up residence there. A novitiate was opened in Dumdum in March 1876, bringing the Brothers' communities to three. Forty orphans were also accommodated in Dumdum.
In May 1879 Brother Paul Kinnear was appointed Superior in place of Brother Tolan, now quite incapacitated. Over the next ten years numbers dwindled from thirty three to eighteen. (Fifteen of the eighteen were from the Moorghihatta orphanage.} A lot of upset was caused by a disgruntled Brother who had a bad effect on other members.
Alphonsus Tolan died on 5th June 1885. Not much is known about this man who carried the baton for so long, in a virtual maze of circumstances. He was genial with a finely tuned sense of humour which regaled his confreres at meals and recreation. But what is really amazing is his persistence because of his love for the poor and his belief in the apostolate of the Christian Brothers. A year after Brother Tolan's death Archbishop Goethals made fresh overtures to Anthony Maxwell for the merging of the Calcutta Brothers with the Christian Brothers, an event which was initiated on 26th January 1890.with the Brothers putting on the habit of the Christian Brothers and finalised (after a few hiccups!) on 8th September 1891 when eight professed Brothers of the Calcutta Brothers pronounced their final vows in the Institute of Christian Brothers.
I was to have submitted an essay on MP Riordan last month. There are so many negative characteristics about the man that it is easy to demonise him. Any visitor to Croke Park when a big inter-county match is in progress will readily perceive a deep, passionate loyalty to one's team. This team loyalty is discernible in all the parishes throughout the country. Edmund Rice was very much aware of it in his youth as passionate rivals fought for supremacy on the hurling fields around Callan. Nowadays some are not aware that the shillelagh was wielded as a weapon between warring factions in bloody encounters. It would seem that deep down in the Irish psyche there is a fierce loyalty to one's native place - "my country (county) right or wrong!"
Perhaps it is such misplaced loyalty which made Michael Paul Riordan the controversial figure he was. MP Riordan was born in Clonmel Co. Tipperary in 1789. He was fortunate to have a good education before moving to Cork City as a teenager to work for a reputable firm. As he was familiar with a number of European languages he was sent to France and Spain on business trips on behalf of the silk firm for which he worked. Bishop Moylan was anxious to have some of Edmund's Brothers in Cork to care for poor boys. No Brothers were available but Edmund agreed to train volunteers from Cork in Mount Sion. Jerome O'Connor and John Leonard who were employed by the General Committee of the Poor Schools volunteered and spent a year with Edmund in Mount Sion, taking vows before returning to Cork under the jurisdiction of Bishop Moylan. John's elder brother Joseph joined them in 1812.
In 1822, at the age of 33, Michael Riordan joined the Leonard brothers et al who were working whole-heartedly for the instruction and all-round development of poor, Catholic boys. He was their first candidate in eight years. Michael was the first to reach out to the poor boys on the quays of Cork - an echo of Edmund's work for the boys on the quays of Waterford.
Significantly, 1822 was the year in which Edmund and most of his Brothers accepted the Brief which enabled them to have a Superior General and not having them under the total control of local bishops. In 1823 Brother Jerome O'Connor of the Cork community went to Mount Sion to make his vows according to the terms of the Brief. John Baptist Leonard, who did not attend the 1822 chapter, took such vows secretly in Mount Sion in 1826. His brother Patrick Joseph and Michael Paul accepted the Brief a few months later.
One might ask why vows were taken secretly. The bishop of Cork wanted to take over the property where the Brothers were labouring. Both Leonard’s were trustees and they wanted their names included on the official papers. The bishop threatened them with excommunication for their intransigence but they wouldn't budge an inch. Accepting Edmund Rice as their Superior General was one way of spiting the bishop. Edmund's assistants were not so keen on having some of those from the Cork mission. Jerome O'Connor, who had been superior, left Cork and joined Edmund in Mount Sion. The Cork house had become very anti-Edmund - especially the Big Three: the Leonard Brothers and Paul Riordan. Maybe the port cities of Cork and Waterford indulged in that one-up-man-ship so common in Ireland. The Cork faction while undisputedly doing marvellous work for the poor was very parochial.
It was the only place Paul Riordan laboured until he became Superior General There were other issues. Patrick Joseph Leonard was a very sick man. Edmund had him go to France for a holiday. While there he became very involved with the de la Salle Brothers and became a great admirer of their administration. This degenerated into a total disregard of Edmund and his assistants. The Big Three would have been fluent French speakers and were in frequent correspondence with the French Brothers. Every fiddle faddle was reported and strong criticisms made of Edmund. Perhaps if the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 had not been passed, the Cork group might have joined the de la Salle Brothers. According to the Act, religious orders were banned in Ireland, mainly because they were under foreign Superiors. The Christian Brothers also feared suppression but Daniel O'Connell assured them that they were safe as their Founder and Administration were Irish.
There was so much dissatisfaction among the Brothers that Edmund was forced to call a "chapter" in 1829 which was actually uncanonical as it did not follow the Brief. Edmund dramatically tendered his resignation which was not accepted. Paul Riordan was one of the two secretaries at this assembly and would be aware of hidden agendas. Joseph Leonard introduced the notion of having extra Assistants who would not reside with the Superior General. He cited incorrectly the practice of the de la Salle Brothers. He carried the day despite the fact that the assembly of Brothers did not have the legislative powers of a Chapter.
Edmund had been unwell some months earlier. The word got around that he had had a mental break-down, that he was unfit to be Superior General etc. Joseph Leonard, who had actually been warned by the Assistant General of the de la Salle Brothers to avoid forming cabals, was one who contributed to these rumours. Back in Cork the Big Three had much to discuss. They were one in their severe criticism of Edmund Rice -obsessively so. Since none of them was present at the chapter of 1822 it seems that they never got a hang of its full implications - maybe they weren't really interested! Joseph Leonard, now an Assistant non-resident with the Superior General, continued to be a thorn in Edmund's side. Paul, like his famous namesake at the death of Stephen, "consented to all these things."
One of the bones of contention between Edmund and the Cork community was the matter of pay-schools. Edmund never favoured the vow of Gratuitous Instruction but Rome included it in the Brief. A minority of schools could support themselves. Some schools of up to 900 pupils had to close because of lack of funds. Brothers had to beg from door to door which Edmund thought to be too stressful and militated against good performance in the classrooms. He had a great concern for the not quite indigent families who did not qualify for the free schools and couldn't afford the existing fee-paying schools. A very modest fee from such pupils would ensure them a good Catholic education and obtain financial support for the free schools.
Cut to the chapter of 1838 when Edmund resigned because of age and increasing infirmity. Paul Riordan was elected Superior General by a procedure which was questionable. Edmund deferred to him immediately. Memorials, of which Paul was aware, were sent to Rome in protest of the election. Unlike the compassionate Edmund, he dealt very high-handedly with problems, putting Brothers under the vow of obedience for little or no pretext. This was like the threat of excommunication used by the Cork bishop. He accused Brothers of impropriety on hearsay, and this in a public forum. He held "trials" of Brothers in instances when fraternal correction or a little understanding would have been sufficient.
Edmund had to go to Dublin in connection with a matter concerning debts incurred by him. He stayed in Hanover Street where there was no bed available. A request was made to North Richmond Street, where Paul was in residence, to lend a bed for the Founder's use. It was refused although there was a surplus of beds in that community, eight of them belonging to Hanover Street! Paul opposed Edmund on the repayment of debts issue. Canonists were consulted and unanimously agreed that simple justice demanded that the debts be repaid.
For me the saddest incident was at the 1841 Chapter. Paul obtained a ruling on the presence of ex-Superiors General at chapters which had been passed by the 1831 Chapter. Edmund entered the Chapter room, as he believed that to be his right. Paul, quoting a Jesuit, maintained that such presence was only valid at Chapters where the Superior General had resigned. Edmund left the room while the matter was being discussed. A vote was taken. Edmund was not allowed to attend.
As a young Brother in Marino, I often wondered why the official portrait of Michael Paul Riordan, hanging in the front corridor, depicted him holding the rule book of the De la Salle Brothers. Could it be said of Edmund, "He came unto his own and his own received him not"?
Paul Riordan accomplished much. His work in Cork is inestimable. He is responsible for my being in India as it was he who arranged for Brothers Tolan and Fitzpatrick coming to Calcutta. He is responsible for the Brothers' presence in Australia. As Steve Jobs said, "It's only when you look back that you can join the dots."
The necrologies of Patrick Joseph Leonard (1783 - 1831) and his brother John Baptist Leonard (1785 - 1858) have not been written. They came from the county town of Doneraile. Like a lot of small town men, they moved to Cork which was a thriving city with many more job opportunities than Doneraile would have to offer. The younger brother, John, was employed by the Cork Charitable Society. Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, was a dynamic individual who was keenly interested in the education of the poor, particularly poor boys. Although it was against the law, he gathered donations from many Catholic Cork merchants to help educate these boys. After some time he realised that he would need a group of religious to run his Charitable Society schools properly. He heard of Edmund's work in Mount Sion and contacted Dr. Power, Bishop of Waterford, to learn more about it. Eventually both Bishops visited Mount Sion and Dr. Moylan was so greatly impressed that he requested Edmund to send Brothers to Cork. This Edmund was unable to do because of a lack of man-power. However he agreed to train any candidates.from Cork whom the Bishop would recommend. Two employees of the Cork Charitable Society volunteered - Jerome O'Connor and John Baptist Leonard, who started their spiritual formation under Edmund in Mount Sion on St. Patrick's Day, 1810.
After a year Jerome and John returned to Cork and were under the jurisdiction of Dr. Moylan. Their living conditions were truly Spartan and their school work very difficult. Edmund recommended to Dr. Moylan that Jerome be appointed Superior. Brother Ryan joined them from Mount Sion and some mature men presented themselves as candidates, one of them being John's elder brother, Joseph Patrick Leonard. Joseph had thoughts of the priesthood but was attracted by the promising apostolate of the Cork Brothers. The new candidates made their novitiate under the direction of Brother Jerome O'Connor, followed by a year under temporary vows after which they made perpetual profession into the hands of Dr. Moylan. This was some years before Edmund received the Brief from Rome, approving his congregation.
Dr. Moylan had set about preparing a large establishment for the two volunteer Brothers in training in Mount Sion. It wasn't completed until 1816 so temporary premises were used in the interim. An epidemic broke out in Cork in 1817 which killed off 25% of the population. The Brothers relinquished part of their building to be used as an infirmary. During this period two of the Brothers died. Their total commitment to the education of poor boys and their heroic service to the sick earned them a fond place in the hearts of Cork citizens. Well ahead of their time, the Brothers also provided "vocational" (trade) classes for some of their students to ensure their future employment.
Brother Jerome O'Connor was Superior 1811 - 1817 (two three-year terms) before being appointed again in 1820. Brother John Baptist Leonard was Superior 1817 - 1820, appointed by Dr. Murphy. The Cork community was not very happy during his term in office. Much of this was due to Dr. Murphy who succeeded Dr. Moylan as Bishop. Cast in the imperious mould, he wanted full control of the Brothers and their property. With this mind-set he would have strongly opposed any move to remove "religious" in his diocese from his control. This was the time Edmund had applied for the Brief. When it arrived he sent a copy to each Brother and he convoked an assembly of Brothers to discuss the Brief and its implications. Edmund was not satisfied with some terms of the Brief and the same could be said for other Brothers. Interestingly, no member of the Cork community attended the assembly. Neither was there a Cork representative when the Brothers formally accepted the Brief in Mount Sion on the Feast of the Holy Name, 20th January 1822.
It was probably largely due to the fear of Dr. Murphy taking over the Cork property which prompted Brother Baptist Leonard to go to Mount Sion secretly on 14th May 1826 and take vows according to the Brief. Joseph Leonard did likewise on 1st June. Michael Paul Riordan accepted the Brief on 17th June in Mount Sion, and then returned to Cork to begin his official novitiate. Brother Bernard Dunphy was to write years later about the Cork Brothers: "It was only when their house was threatened with desertion they offered to join." Edmund actually had doubts about admitting them, and his two Assistants were totally against it.
Dr. Murphy had appointed Brother Baptist Leonard superior of the North Mon in 1823 when Brother Jerome O'Connor, on expiry of his term of three years, left the Cork community and joined Edmund in Mount Sion. During visitation of the North Mon in 1826 Dr. Murphy discovered that Edmund had appointed Brother Joseph Leonard as superior according to the Brief. He wasn't pleased! Edmund had sent Joseph Leonard to France in connection with the North Mon property. He also advised Joseph, who was a sickly man, to take a holiday in France. During his holiday Joseph contacted the De La Salle Brothers and became very enamoured of their administration.
A Chapter was to take place in 1832, ten years after the formal acceptance of the Brief. Edmund encouraged the Brothers to prepare for this Chapter by offering suggestions about the Brief and envisaging possible changes. Joseph Leonard was advocating a Chapter in the De La Salle pattern. He was in frequent communication with Paris and was eager that the proposed assembly of 1829 - a consultative body - become a legislative one. 1829 was the year of Catholic Emancipation which while giving the vote to certain Catholics also had clauses which caused many anxieties to male religious in the country, especially those of foreign origin. Edmund prepared a note of protest to be sent to the government by each of the Brothers' houses. The Brothers reluctantly agreed to be registered. They stated that their Superior was Edmund Rice. The Cork Brothers had a separate statement of protest drawn up by Patrick Joseph Leonard, listing John Baptist Leonard as their Superior.
In his correspondence with Paris, Joseph Leonard became increasingly critical of Edmund and the way things were run. He spoke of Edmund as if the Superior General were mentally unsound. He urged for two additional Assistants who would not reside with the Superior General and was so persuasive that the resolution was adopted by the "Chapter" of 1829. Joseph Leonard became one of the two additional Assistants and continued to reside in Cork. Due to the great hostility he had encountered, Edmund tendered his resignation at this assembly but it was not accepted.
Joseph Leonard's last two years were disease ridden and years of depression. He resigned as Superior of the North Mon and was succeeded by his brother John. We can only charitably assume that Joseph's ill health was responsible for the vitriolic letters he wrote about Edmund. Joseph Leonard died on Palm Sunday 1831. John Baptist Leonard was equally anti Edmund. He went to Waterford to remonstrate with Edmund early in 1830. Edmund charged him with being disruptive and told him to return to Cork next day. The in-bred nature of the Cork community would have occasioned this hostility towards Edmund. They had a respected apostolate but were parochial in their vision. John Baptist was elected Assistant in 1836 at a special Chapter. Working with him cannot have been easy for Edmund. He continued as Assistant when Paul Riordan was elected Superior General to replace Edmund. The Cork star was in the ascendancy! Both Paul and John (apart from his novitiate year in Mount Sion) had lived all their religious life in Cork where the Brothers were financially secure. This made the Cork faction unsympathetic to the notion of pay schools which became a burning issue. There was much dissatisfaction with Baptist Leonard as Assistant. It was no surprise that he resigned at the 1841 Chapter. Part of the business of the Chapter was to arrive at a method of removing from office an Assistant who was unsatisfactory. We know where that came from!
John Baptist Leonard died in Cork on 6th September 1858 aged 73.
I have no doubt that Joseph and John Leonard were good men. Possibly they had blinkered vision. If we are to beware of the "man of one book" we should equally be wary of men of limited experience. It would appear that they did not inform themselves of what was happening within the emerging institute. Maybe they were not interested as they felt completely fulfilled with their mission in Cork. Like those with "itching ears" they were attracted by a model other than their own. The far away hills always appear greener. It is hard to explain the terrible animosity towards Edmund. Since the De La Salle Brothers warned them on more than one occasion about the danger of forming a cabal, it is reasonable to assume that they indulged in unfair criticism of Edmund. Prejudices were born and continued to thrive. God allowed all this to happen and Edmund was purified.
When I was a young Brother in Belfast many years ago, the community used go to the seaside for four weeks annually. On one such vacation Brother Martin Finlay struck up a friendship with a holidaying Presentation Brother in Bundoran. Martin was one of the loyal "foot soldiers" who never was (nor expected to be) Superior or Headmaster. He regaled us one evening by recounting how his Presentation friend had asked him, "Why didn't you join a nice tidy order like ours where there is quick promotion?" It is true that the Presentation Brothers were numerically smaller and perhaps posts of responsibility were easier come by. I was under the impression that the Presentation Brothers had "broken away" from the Christian Brothers. There was great rivalry in Cork City between the two orders which is now largely confined to the rugby field. The development of the Presentation Brothers is inextricably connected with Austin Riordan.
By this time you are probably as confused as I was with the similarity of names of Cork Brothers in the 1820's! We have seen that there were two Leonard's - Joseph Patrick who died in 1831, aged 48, and his younger brother John Baptist who died in 1858 aged 73. Joseph was the sickly one who visited France a few times and whose ambition it was to write a biography of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Both brothers had caused much pain and distress to Edmund. Their close friend and ally, Michael Paul Riordan, who became the second Superior General was another who was the occasion of much suffering to Edmund. There were two other Riordan brothers who do not seem to have been related to Michael Paul!
Austin Riordan joined the Cork Brothers in 1814. His brother Charles joined in 1821. Charles was aware of the unfortunate situation in the Cork community and he could not see it lasting. Austin tried to persuade his brother to stay but Charles made up his mind, left Cork and joined Edmund in Mount Sion. He was one of those who accepted the Brief in 1822.
The dynamic Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, had great regard for Edmund and his work for the Christian Education of Poor Boys. Before he died in 1815 he was responsible for arranging a permanent sum to be given to the Cork Brothers' apostolate (they were under his jurisdiction), along with a personal legacy in his will. Dr. Murphy who succeeded him was a very different character who frequently clashed with the Brothers in an effort to gain total control and to have their property registered in his name. The Leonard brothers and Paul Riordan was more than a match for him. However, Dr. Murphy was a very close friend of Austin Riordan.
Austin was a very remarkable and gifted man. He was a highly qualified professional architect and did a lot of work building/extending churches and schools for the Bishop. When Brother Jerome O'Connor finished his term as Superior of the Cork Brothers in 1823 he left the Cork set-up and joined Edmund in Mount Sion where he made his vows according to the Brief. Austin Riordan would have been the obvious choice to succeed him, but Dr. Murphy appointed Baptist Leonard. This, in the light of subsequent events, might have been a calculated move by the Bishop to get the Brothers' property in his own name.
And then the cloak and dagger stuff started. The Bishop was to make a diocesan Visitation of the Brothers in 1826 and appoint (or re-appoint) a Superior. When he got to the North Monastery he discovered that the Leonards and Paul Riordan had accepted the Brief and that Edmund had appointed Joseph Leonard as Superior.
From our stand point we might have difficulty in understanding how such a set of circumstances came about. In Edmund's time there were a few groups of "pious laymen" in various parts of Ireland engaged in social action. They had some form of community living which would have involved common prayer together. Public vows were not in the equation although some would have taken private vows. They were not constituted into religious congregations. Edmund was the first non-cleric to adopt a rule which was submitted to Rome for approval. We have seen that before that he had adapted the Presentation Sisters' Rule and lived in submission to the local Bishop. We know that quite a number of Bishops would not have looked on Edmund's initiative with any favour. Some of the clergy were openly hostile. They could not grasp the fact that a layman, once married and the father of a child, with no formal theological training could actually found a religious order. That brings us back to Jesus of Nazareth whose credentials were questioned, as were those of the Apostles in post Resurrection times. Not much credit was given to the Holy Spirit.
The following is mere conjecture on my part. Aware of Dr. Murphy's total documented distrust of religious orders outside his jurisdiction (he also had a big set-to with the Sisters of Charity), and of the fact that the Bishop was pressurising the Cork Brothers to sign over the deeds to "your Bishop", Edmund could well have decided that it was better to present the ecclesiastic with a fait accompli. I find it hard to understand how Dr. Murphy was unaware of the Leonard brothers accepting the Brief and that Edmund had appointed a Superior without informing him. Reasonable discussion with Dr. Murphy, apparently, would have been a futile exercise. Although he was in the wrong and would have been aware of the legal documents drawn up by his predecessor, he threatened the Cork Brothers with excommunication if he didn't get his way. During his Visitation of the North Mon in 1826 Dr. Murphy appealed to his friend Austin Riordan to remain under his jurisdiction and patronage. Austin agreed, left the North Mon and took up residence in a building vacated by the Presentation Sisters. Shortly afterwards two candidates joined him and that is how the Presentation Brothers developed.
Austin built a big school for poor boys which became known as the South Monastery. A lot of bickering ensued when the parish priest invited the North Mon Brothers to open a school in nearby Sullivan's Quay. Fuel was added to the flames when the Cork Charitable Society invited the North Mon Brothers to open a similar school in the west of the city. When the flak eventually died down, Brother Austin and the Presentation Brothers (still under the Bishop's jurisdiction) looked after 500 boys in the west of the city and 520 in the South Mon. The Christian Brothers cared for 900 in the North Mon and 300 in Sullivan's Quay. The dire threats issued never materialised. Perhaps the clergy found out how their powers stood relative to a papal congregation.