1. 1841-1921
  2. 1921-1945

The first part of this article was written by Fr. Denny, who died in 1999. The full history of this Province up to 1921 was told by him in his book: ‘Reaching Out’, published in 1991. The second part of the article is a modest step towards bringing the story forward to 1945. The years 1921/22 were a turning point in the story of the Province. After its beginnings in 1841, it had been set up canonically in 1851 as a Province. Its mission was directed to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Following the Treaty of 1921 and the inauguration of the Irish Free State in 1922, (since 1949 the Republic of Ireland), what had previously been known as the ‘British Province’ gradually came to be known as the ‘Anglo-Irish Province’. It is of course the same entity.

I- 1841-1921

In 1837 William Joseph Daly* was received into the noviciate in Marseilles. He was the first candidate from Ireland to join the Oblates. The Founder was engrossed with the idea of assisting in a Catholic revival in England and he hoped to gain more vocations from Ireland to assist in the conversion of England and of English-speaking countries throughout the world. William Daly was himself zealously devoted to this ideal. When nearing the completion of his studies he fortuitously made the acquaintance of an English Protestant gentleman who offered to pay his passage to England. Struck by this extraordinary coincidence, Bishop De Mazenod* ordained William Daly on the 2nd May, 1841.On arrival in England he visited London and Birmingham where he was well received by the President of St. Mary’s College, Oscott.

An Exploratory Tour of Ireland

Fr. Daly then went to Dublin where he was welcomed and introduced to Archbishop Murray who brought him to Maynooth Seminary where he was given an opportunity to speak to the assembled Bishops of Ireland. They were so impressed by his earnestness that they gave him permission to seek vocations throughout the country. Fr. Daly set off with enthusiasm and he was able to get a favourable response to his appeal for vocation. Heartened by the glowing reports of Fr. Daly and by the presence of several postulants whom he sent to Marseilles, Bishop de Mazenod decided to send a more mature and experienced priest to assist the young man. He sent his most trusted confidant, Fr. Casimir Aubert*, to Ireland. Fr. Aubert was invited by Archbishop Murray to dine and during the course of the evening he met Daniel O’Connell, M.P., the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who proved to be interested in the Oblate ethos and was invested in the scapular of the Immaculate Conception. He proved ever after a friendly patron of the Oblate apostolate. Fr. Aubert had contemplated building a seminary in Dublin, but finding that they were two already such there he decided to go to Cork. He presented his case to Bishop Murphy who proved to be enthusiastic but advised a cautionary approach. In December 1842 he heard that the Patrician Brothers in Tullow were seeking to be affiliated with a religious society that had pontifical approbation. The ordinary of the Diocese refused to listen to Fr. Aubert’s plea. The Bishop of Cork proved equally intransigent and Fr. Aubert ruefully came to the conclusion that his mission in Ireland was doomed to failure.

A Foothold in England

While Fr. Daly was engaged in Oblate promotion in Ireland he met Fr. William Young, an Irish priest who was working in Penzance* in South West England. The latter was engaged in building a church and was in Dublin questing alms for the purpose. He told Fr. Daly that he was desirous of putting this work in the hands of a religious order. Fr. Daly in turn informed Fr. Aubert of this plan. Fr. Aubert then approached Bishop Baines*, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District in whose jurisdiction the Cornish mission lay. Negotiations for the acquisition of the mission proved successful and Fr. Daly found himself in Penzance in January, 1843 where he supervised the completion of the church building and the caring for souls. He was later joined by Fr. Michael Power, a secular priest, and together they established the faith firmly in Penzance and evangelised the surrounding area where they set up several Mass stations.

Advance towards the Midlands

In 1845 Ambrose Phillips de Lisle invited the Oblates to take charge of the chaplaincy which he maintained in Grace Dieu*, Leicestershire. Fr. Aubert assigned three Fathers to this mission and Bishop de Mazenod sent Fr. Cooke* to assist them. The pastoral work at Grace Dieu was similar to that undertaken at Penzance. Further patronage was extended to the Oblates. In 1847, William Constable Maxwell, a friend of Ambrose Phillips, invited the Oblates, with the sanction of Bishop Briggs*, to take charge of the beautiful church at Everingham* in Yorkshire. Bishop Ullathorne requested the Oblates to assist him at Aldenham*, near Shrewsbury and at Fairfield and Failsworth in Manchester*. In April, 1848, Fr. Daly acquired a property in Ashbourne*, Derbyshire, without informing the Superior General. He had hoped to establish a noviciate to serve the growing number of vocations. This project ended in disaster because to pay the inflated price demanded by the unscrupulous vendor, Fr. Daly was forced to offer the title deeds of Penzance as collateral. After prolonged litigation the decision was given against Fr. Daly and the property of Penzance mission was seized. The Oblates were forced to give up that mission. Meanwhile, Bishop Ullathorne offered them the tenancy of Old Oscott, renamed Maryvale* by John Henry Newman *who had presided over the establishment of the English Oratorians there. This served as a noviciate and scholasticate for the next three years when Maryvale had to be given up. Mr. Peter Middleton*of Sicklinghall *in Yorkshire in 1848, invited the Oblates to take up the care of souls in the vicinity of his mansion and offered them the possession of a house and church that he had just completed. The noviciate and scholasticate then moved to Sicklinghall. During these momentous and inspiring years the pattern of the Oblate mission apostolate in England was similar to that of other missionary societies that had come from the continent to gather in the growing harvest of souls. It was in these rural centres that the Fathers served their apprenticeship before taking up the incalculably larger apostolate in the cities.


Urban Centres Established

After the debacle of Ashbourne Fr. Daly was dismissed from the Congregation. The Manchester mission which he had founded was entrusted to his charge by the Bishop of Salford. It was at this time during October 1849 that Frs. Aubert, Cooke and Noble* preached a very successful mission in Manchester as a result of which the Oblates were invited to extend their work to the city of Liverpool and entrusted with the mission of Holy Cross, Liverpool*. The new mission was situated in the very centre of the slum area and marked with all the squalor of industrialisation at its worst.

Social conditions, appalling though they had been for many years, were rendered even more intolerable by the arrival of many thousands of Irish immigrants. Bishop Browne placed Fr. Noble in charge of this mission where he had care of eleven thousand Catholics and twenty-five hundred children who lacked schooling. During the course of this year, 1850, Bishop de Mazenod visited* all the foundations which the Oblates had established in England and in due time he came to Liverpool. He was impressed by the faith of the people who attended his Mass there. Fr. Cooke has described this ignoble edifice in which the Fathers were to offer the Holy Sacrifice for the next few years. “The area of this extraordinary building consists of a cow house and a coalstore; The first floor is occupied as a rag and bone store; the second floor used as a poor school and the third as a temporary church”.

Fr. Noble set about building proper schools for the children and later laid the foundations for a beautiful church. He founded a Temperance Society to direct the moral fibre of his disenchanted population. In May 1851 another important foundation was made in Leeds at Mount St. Mary’s* through the instrumentality of a convert Anglican, George Crawley*, who later joined the Oblates. This mission had an even more humble origin than Liverpool’s, commencing as it did in a disused beerhouse. Soon a vast complex of buildings was raised up mainly through the efforts of Fr. Pinet*, and in 1857 the church were opened and blessed by Bishop de Mazenod during his second visit to the Province* in the presence of Cardinal Wiseman. In 1850 and 1852 missions were preached in Edinburgh by Frs. Cooke, Noble and Hickey. Bishop Gillis, the Vicar Apostolic , was glad to offer the Oblates a mission in Leith* which they occupied in July, 1852. In the meantime, James Hope-Scott opened up a mission in Galashiels* and the Bishop suggested that. if the Oblates had sufficient personnel they could carry on the mission in Leith and supply the Galashiels mission as well. As this proved impossible they moved into the latter location where they administered to the scattered Catholic population over a wide area, returning to Leith in I859.


Bishop de Mazenod had not given up hope of establishing a foundation in Ireland and in December 1855 he sent Fr. Cooke over to negotiate with the episcopal authorities there. On arrival, Fr. Cooke said Mass in the Augustinian church in Dublin and was invited to preach a monster meeting in the following May. This success of this mission preached by four Oblates satisfied the Archbishop so much that he offered them a position in the suburbs of the city. It was on 2lst June 1856 that they took possession of Inchicore*. This was an important centre for the Great Southern and Western Railways of Ireland had their workshops there. A committee of men in the area arranged to erect a church capable of holding eight hundred people which, when later extended, accommodated twelve hundred. A school was built and two hundred children were taken from the local Model school. A large house was built to accommodate the enclosed retreat movement which was then gaining in popularity. The Oblates conducted a school as well in Merrion Square in central Dublin to cater for the needs of middle class people. This was done at the express command of the Archbishop. It lasted until 1868 when lack of personnel forced its closure. In 1860 the noviciate was transferred from Sicklinghall to Glen Mary* in Co. Wicklow where it remained for three years until transferred to Belmont, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. In 1858 the Oblates were asked to conduct a Reformatory in Glencree*. A disused barracks was acquired and set up at enormous expense to house three hundred inmates. In 1870 the Phillipstown* (Daingean) Reformatory was established to accommodate the overflow of delinquents unable to be housed in Glencree. Both Reformatories continued to flourish in the years succeeding and in the annual reports of the government inspectors much credit was given to the good work achieved by the Oblate Brothers there. Their aim always had been Christian instruction and education towards good citizenship and in the course of time the number of recidivists grew fewer and fewer.

Further Establishments in England

In 1862, Bishop Brown of Shrewsbury Diocese asked the Oblates to take care of a mission in Rock Ferry on the river Mersey opposite Liverpool. There was a growing industrial population in the region that had not had a Catholic presence since the Reformation. Frs. Egan* and Jolivet* erected a school for boys and girls, built a chapel in honour of St. Anne and took charge of a school for delinquents. The mission grew and prospered. In 1865 the dearest wish of the founder was being fulfilled when missions were opened in London. He had visited the East End of London in 1850 and there he envisaged an Oblate foundation that would take care of the poor. This was an area of terrible deprivation both spiritual and material. The teeming population living in the vicinity of Tower Hill were subject to disease, epidemics, hunger, unemployment, poverty and vice. To cope with the unsanitary conditions a huge slum clearance was devised and many houses were razed to the ground. Frs. Cooke and Ring* established a temporary chapel and schools to instruct the children. Soon after an outbreak of cholera occurred in the area reaching terrible and desperate proportions. Fr. William Ring rallied support from amongst the Anglicans and the Jews and together they besought the Lord Mayor to do something about this terrible epidemic. A relief agency was established under the direction of Fr. Ring.

Another mission was set up in North West London the same year (1865). Situated in a salubrious part of London, it proved to be a place of rest and quiet for those labouring in the slums of Tower Hill. Kilburn became the residence for the Juniors of the Province in 1876 and continued to be the Juniorate until 1893 when the Juniors were transferred to Belcamp.

Inchicore and Parish Missions

For a short time Inchicore served as a Juniorate and in 1880 the French scholastics took up residence there after their expulsion from France. Caring for the people of the district, Inchicore was also the headquarters of the mission band* for the Province. They preached missions throughout the British Isles. At this time parish missions had only begun and due to the deprivation of the Penal era the people were ignorant of the truths of religion. The main work of the mission consisted in visiting the people and trying to reawaken their faith. This proved very onerous and sometimes involved preaching two sermons a day and hearing confessions from 4 a.m. till midnight. Mission work in England was similar. Many missions were given in the large manufacturing towns of Northern England involving many hours of visiting the Catholics in their homes, instructing them, encouraging them and bringing them back to the sacraments. It all proved very rewarding in the long run. At all times during these missions the Temperance Movement was spearheaded by the Oblates.

In 1885 the French scholastics were removed from Inchicore to Belcamp, Co. Dublin remaining there until 1888. Later Belcamp became the Juniorate for the Irish Province.

Wales and Australia

In North Wales there were large numbers of Irish men engaged as builders and workers on the railway. Holyhead had become an important packet station, particularly for traffic to Ireland. In 1896 Bishop Mostyn confided this mission to the Oblates. In 1898 he also asked them to take care of the mission of Colwyn Bay where they built a church mainly with financial assistance from Mgr. James Lennon, a benefactor who built the church and presbytery. There they extended themselves over a vast area in North Wales penetrating deeply into non-conformist territory. In 1900 some Breton Oblates* came to take up similar work in Holyhead. After acquiring a knowledge of Welsh, they established themselves in the interior of the country. This proved to be a very difficult mission which, unfortunately they had to leave in 1915 having been recalled by the French Government to take up war duties.

In 1894 the Oblates were invited to come to West Australia to establish a reformatory there after the manner of the Glencree experiment. Fr. Matthew Gaughran the Provincial installed Fr. Roger Hennessy and Fr. Daniel O’Ryan in the parish of Freemantle and they undertook the building of an industrial school in Glendalough, ten miles distant. Fr. O’Ryan was assisted by four Brothers from the reformatories in lreland.

Lourdes Pilgrimages

When Fr. Ring, the superior of Inchicore had completed the internal structure of the church he showed that he had a genius for organisation and dealing with people. He led the first pilgrimage to Lourdes from Ireland in 1883. During the course of a long and active life, Fr. Ring led several pilgrimages to Lourdes and three to Rome, winning the approval of Cardinal Logue and the Bishops of Ireland. In 1900, Belmont continued as a Novitiate whilst accommodating several scholastics for which purpose the building was extended considerably.

Modern Developments

No significant changes were made in the Province between 1900 and 1921.The houses continued to grow, expand and develop. The parishes became greater and all the necessary changes were made.

Vincent Denny, O.M.I.

II –1921-1945

The institutions and spirit of the Province

By 1921, when Fr Joseph Scannell began his term of office as provincial, the Anglo-Irish Province had come of age. It was one of the senior Provinces in the Congregation. Two of the Congregation’s twelve bishops were from the Province: Bishop Miller and Bishop Charles Cox.The living links with the founding father figures had become tenuous: only 14 of the 99 members had had the opportunity of knowing Father Robert Cooke, the co-founder of the Province who had died in 1882. Father Arnoux, another great link with the past, had died in 1905 in Daingean. Brother Raymond Bourgarit from Grenoble was now the only member of the Province who was of French origin. Thus the direct influence of French Oblates and dependence on French directors for the formation of personnel had ceased. The Province was now maintaining its own houses of formation from postulancy to profession and ordination, staffed by its own members.

Culturally the new ‘establishment’ was Irish. Oblates of Irish origin made up 86% of the total. [1]Their distinct nationality was internationally recognized when the Irish Free State was inaugurated on 6 December 1922. Only eight priests and three Brothers were of English origin and one priest was of Welsh origin. Small wonder that what had been known as the ‘British’ or ‘English’ Province now came to be called even in official documents by the rather awkward title of ‘the Anglo-Irish Province’, by which title it has since been commonly known throughout the Oblate world.

At the institutional level, we find the provincial habitually resident in Dublin and the Inchicore House of Retreat accepted as the ‘mother-house’ of the Province. The provincial council, made up of four councilors, met with the Provincial three or four times a year.

The entire initial formation program was based in Ireland. The Juniorate continued to be based in Belcamp where it had been since 1893. The school described itself in the Oblate Missionary Record/Lourdes Messenger as being intended for youths intending to become Oblate priests and preparing them for the Intermediate Examinations and for the Matriculation of the National University. There was accommodation for about 60 students and by and large every place was taken with students coming from all over Ireland. It would overflow to Belmont House. Of the pupils who entered Belcamp in this period, 131 entered the Novitiate, 118 of these took vows, 96 were ordained priests and 2 became Brothers. They were representative of ‘middle Ireland’ – sons of farmers, teachers, doctors, tradesmen.

A new experiment was begun in 1929 – a College of Late Vocations that began its life in Glencree, moved to Belmont by 1934 and returned to Glencree in 1940. Its function was to enable candidates who had for whatever reason not completed their secondary education to do so now. The upper age limit for candidates for the novitiate was 50 years. The College closed in 1942, a victim of the war and of a lamentable failure on the part of ecclesiastical authorities to appreciate its value. It had received 90 candidates through its doors of whom 58 persevered to ordination, among them a future provincial.

Yet another educational experiment was conceived in 1943 by the parish priest of Colwyn Bay, Fr. Patrick Glasheen. He founded St. Mary’s College, a Catholic secondary boarding and day school for boys which evolved into another Juniorate at Rhos-On-Sea, North Wales, making an exception to the solidly Irish domicile of the formation program.

The novitiate moved in 1921 from Belmont House, Dublin to Cahermoyle, Ardagh, Co. Limerick, in the heart of rural Ireland. It was also the location of postulancy. The scholasticate continued to be based in Belmont House where both philosophy and theology were provided for. For two years [1932-4] the theologate was transferred to Jersey to meet the need for more accommodation. While there it saw the birth of the De Mazenod Circle, a group formed to gather up Oblate sources (‘colligete fragmenta’) and study Oblate history. It launched the De Mazenod Record, which would prove to be a valuable annual review of the Province’s life. In the years 1934-1940 the teaching of philosophy and theology was reunited in Daingean Co. Offaly and transferred again in 1940 to Belmont in Dublin and Piltown Co. Kilkenny respectively under the pressure of the needs of the reformatory. The dominant figure in initial formation over three decades was Fr. Joseph Danaher (1882-1950).

Throughout the period under review economic conditions were harsh. The Oblate lifestyle was frugal. No serious analysis of the Province’s financial history has been undertaken but it can safely be said that the Province was not endowed with a rich patrimony. Some properties were acquired in this period that would prove to be good investments for the future: Cahermoyle, Piltown, the college buildings in Rhos-on-Sea, and Wistaston Hall Crewe, in addition to the Belmont and Belcamp properties it already owned. The Province depended on fund-raising, legacies and other gifts and on its farms and stole fees for the support of its structures. A modest contribution was made by the reformatories out of the capitation grant paid by the State. The financial contribution of the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate was vital in addition to its spiritual contribution. Father Leahy had ‘resuscitated it’ in 1920 after the Great War and it received an impetus from the visit of the Superior General, Archbishop Dontenwill, in 1923. It was directed from Belcamp until 1925, then from Belmont until 1934, when its direction was transferred to Inchicore. The Association’s activities extended to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and it made use of pamphlets, lectures, exhibitions and missionary films to get across its message. Its Belcamp Burse Fund greatly assisted the college financially.

The Brothers were a strong presence in the Province. They were not engaged with the Oblate priests in the UK missions at this time. The two reformatories continued to be their main mission. Farming activities also occupied many Brothers as new farms developed in Cahermoyle and Piltown in addition to the existing farms at the reformatories and at Belcamp and Belmont. Br McIntyre made a notable contribution to the Oblate houses as a skilled master builder. His works included the extensions to the house in Cahermoyle (halls, dormitory and ambulatory), the Grotto in Inchicore and extensions in Belmont House.

The fact that the greater part of the Province’s home mission was carried out, not in Ireland, but in the United Kingdom made it imperative for all Oblates whether English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh to overcome their prejudices and develop positive cooperative attitudes. This would not be easy. The interaction among the members of the Province was inevitably affected by the bitter political tensions that arose within the Irish Free State over the Treaty of 1921: this is not a matter that can be documented. Civil war was waged in Ireland in the early years of the new Irish State. The disturbed conditions prevented Fr. Leahy, then a provincial councillor resident in Cahermoyle, from attending the meeting of the provincial council in Dublin on 23 February 1923. At the same time the equally bitter tensions both social and political that had existed for centuries between the United Kingdom and Ireland were now exacerbated. Even so, no ‘split’ arose within the membership of the Province, not between the Irish and the British Oblates, nor between the Irish Oblates who were prepared to tolerate the political settlement secured by the Treaty of 1921 and those who were not. The Founder’s legacy of ‘charity’ to his sons proved equal to the strain. This was a noteworthy achievement in face of the magnitude of the difficulties. It would not have been possible without following the Founder’s example of distancing the Church’s mission and Oblate life from politics.

The style in which authority was exercised was autocratic. Provincial congresses, assemblies and cluster meetings had not become a part of Oblate life. The provincial council frequently recommended to the General Administration the reappointment of superiors beyond two terms. The two provincials Fathers Scannell and Danaher each had three terms as provincial, covering the period 1921-1939.

Despite every difficulty, the spirit of the Province remained the same as it had been at its foundation: charity in community, zeal and closeness to the people on the mission. In their reports to the General Chapters of 1926, 1932 and 1938 the provincials of the day were able to speak highly of the spiritual state of the Province’s members.

Father Colm Hennessy was a Belcamp junior in the period 1924-1929 and wrote of ‘the Belcamp Spirit’ as he experienced it: [2]

“It was basically a family spirit, expanded into the day to day life of a school. Nobody mentioned it as a part of school experience or theory. I experienced it as a kind and caring attitude from above and as warm companionship among my immediate schoolmates. What struck one most as an unexpected feature of boarding-school life was the friendly relationship which existed between the staff-priests and the boys. The staff (most of them) joined us for field games or for handball and again one or two would join us in wintertime at indoor recreation after evening meal. At the time I went to Belcamp the student body was very small – I think just 52. It was easy to be “family”: to know each other and be known. The structures were there for good order, in freedom. I cannot remember seeing anybody caned in the five year I was at secondary School there. There were rules or regulations almost like a novitiate. The prefect was a senior student.

Whatever brought about the homely warm spirit of respect and good fellowship? I think it began in the spirit of the Oblates who were in charge. The smallness of numbers called for intimacy, but did not fully explain the feeling for each other which I remember so gratefully. Eugene de Mazenod’s call to ‘charity, charity…’ among his followers was a foundation stone of a lived family feeling. Possibly there was also an outside influence.

In 1924 Fr. W. F. O’Connor was still Superior at Belcamp. He had been in charge since 1917 and at the time of his appointment was in his late twenties. His uncle was a Salesian Father and Fr. O’Connor was certainly influenced by the ideals of St. Don Bosco in dealing with youth. He often spoke of the future saint in lectures. The Salesian formators had no community room – their free time was spent with the boys in their care. Fr. O’Connor encouraged the sharing of recreation.

What did the Belcamp spirit amount to in school life? Warmth, friendliness, respect, good manners, openness. There were the little tiffs and challenges to meet in combat after tea in the handball alley. But the trouble finished there. I never knew of a bully; he would have been completely outlawed and out of place. In after life we who grew up together for the years of secondary education had a special affection for the old school. Some may have thought we were a clique. I don’t think that was true. We had a good early-life experience which prepared us to be open and welcoming when we were joined in the Noviciate by aspirants who came to us from other colleges and day-schools. The Belcamp experience made some contribution to the happiness and camaraderie after the Noviciate: scholasticate, and inter-community relationships in later life…”

Most of the Oblates of this period came through Belcamp.

The home mission of the Province

Fathers Denny and Cooper have shown how, with the full consent of St. Eugene, the aim of the home mission of the Province evolved from being primarily ‘the conversion of England’ to being service to the Catholics among the urban poor and in particular to the Irish Catholic urban poor. Fr. Cooper pointed out [3] that the focus on the urban poor largely explains why so few vocations came from the British side of the Province. He suggested too that it narrowed the spirit of Oblate presence in Britain. It “deflected Oblate interest from evangelization of non-Catholics’ and led to them ‘being generally out of contact with those influences which would later see the revived interest in English spirituality and with the ecumenical movement.” [4] A case in point was the Cambro-Breton mission (1900-1915), directed not at the conversion of England but of the Welsh-speaking population of North Wales. It was fated to be short-lived and not deeply integrated into the mainstream of the Province’s life. As Fr. Cooper perceived, however, options have to be made and they come at a cost, even the ‘option for the poor’. The Oblates would not want to go back on the option they made.

In 1921 the Province had twelve mission stations of which six were in England [5] , one was in Scotland [6] , three were in Ireland [7] , and two were in Wales [8] . Fr Leahy, provincial from 1915 to 1921, had observed in his report to the 1920 General Chapter that, as the men of the Province were already over-extended simply fulfilling their existing commitments, the focus of the coming years had to be on recruitment and that taking up new projects could not be contemplated. In this context it is not surprising that in the three terms of Fr Scannell as provincial (1921-1930) there would be only one new missionary initiative within the Province: the acceptance in 1928 of the parish of Wetherby. It had a Catholic population of about 300 and had been without a priest of its own for over forty years. [9] This provincialate of Fr. Scannell was a period of prudent management in a very difficult period of history. Its fruit was a steady growth in membership. By 1938 this had risen to 147 priests and 52 Brothers. By 1947 these figures had risen to 184 and 54 respectively [10] .

Now new undertakings would be possible during Father Joseph Danaher’s three terms of office (1930-1939). The story to be told of the missionaries and those to whom they were sent is no less moving than that of the beginnings of Holy Cross Liverpool and Mount St Mary’s Leeds that so affected St. Eugene in 1850 and 1857 [11] .

In 1932 the Province accepted the parish of Corpus Christi on the Wyke Beck Estate, Osmondthorpe, in the diocese and city of Leeds. In a letter to the provincial dated 12 December 1932 giving formal permission, Bishop Joseph Cowgill of Leeds wrote: “I need not say how gladly I do so, appreciating as you know I do, the magnificent work of your Fathers in the parish of St. Mary’s, Leeds. That parish is one of [my] great joys.” Fr Michael O’Ryan was the agent who brought the project to birth. He had acquired a reputation as a leader and ‘fighter of causes’ while serving in Holy Cross, Liverpool, in the years 1919-1931. He was now parish priest in Mount St. Mary’s Leeds. Schools were always at the heart of the Oblate pastoral plan. In the Corpus Christi Golden Jubilee Booklet we read:” An integral part of Fr O’Ryan’s plan for the parish of Corpus Christi was the building of a school. In December he wrote to Leeds Education Committee stating his intention ‘when necessary sanction has been obtained to erect without delay an all-age school comprising three departments – Infants, Juniors and Seniors’. 200 families had signed a petition in support of Fr O’Ryan’s request. There were, he claimed, over 300 children in the parish who were of school age and new housing at Templenewsam was likely to increase the figure to nearly 600. In May 1933 the Board of Education agreed that a sufficient case had been established for the erection of a public elementary school for about 400 pupils. Plans were submitted and approved and on May 6th, 1934, Bishop Cowgill blessed and laid the foundation stone. Official status was granted to the infant and junior school in September 1934 and to the senior school in January 1935. The infant-junior section provided accommodation for 292 children whilst the senior school accommodated 160 children. The official opening of the schools by Bishop Cowgill took place on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 1934″.

Fr Clenaghan was the first parish priest. He had one curate. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux moved into the parish in 1934. It was a suburb of Leeds and made up of new estates which housed people displaced from the city, many from the neighbouring Oblate parish of Mount St. Mary’s. A parishioner recollected on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee: “After the glorious ceremony of the first mass said at midnight on Christmas Eve, 1932, we had our own Parish at last. Most of the Congregation had moved to the area from City Parishes with large churches, and the closeness to the action of the mass which was such a feature of the first Corpus Christi church filled everyone with wonderment and joy. Fr Clenaghan and Fr Conway were true pastors. We had Benediction on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings during May and October. Fr Clenaghan explained to the people the full meaning of all the ceremonies. We sang the Little Office of the Immaculate Conception every Tuesday. Children who were unable to go to Catholic schools were instructed in the faith. A small group of men started the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The parish was not particularly wealthy. People struggled to pay rents which were treble the amount they had previously paid. To foster a community spirit Whist Drives and Socials were held in the Hall (which also served as the church) every Wednesday. In 1933 we had our first May procession and May Queen. Children of Mary who had been consecrated in other parishes wore their blue cloaks and veils. Sisters of the Holy Family came from St. Mary’s and assisted in the organisation of the event. By 1934 both the presbytery and school were ready and the parish also established men’s and women’s sodalities. Fr Leonard, who replaced Fr Conway [12] [1936], consecrated these sodalities into the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament. Later the Legion of Mary was inaugurated and the Junior Legion was also established for the younger parishioners.” A church, built largely by volunteer labour to accommodate 600 persons, was opened in March 1937. It was a wooden building with a steel framework. It served until a large new church was opened in 1962.

In 1933 pastoral responsibility for the parish of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, Norris Green in the diocese and city of Liverpool [1933] was accepted by the Oblates. It had many similarities to the new Leeds parish. It had been founded in 1928 by an energetic team of four priests from the diocese. A temporary church of asbestos and zinc with a corrugated iron roof was erected and opened on 22 July 1928. “Then began, for the priests, the gigantic task of welding together the numerous and varied segments of Catholic communities prised from the city into one corporate body of people in the new suburban parish”. A parish worker recalled: “It was very cold that year. All the winters seemed cold. The trams stopped in Townsend Lane. There were no trees, no lights, no proper pavements, no shops. The estate was only 25% developed. Blocks of houses were scattered here and there, with long stretches of bare fields between – across which an icy wind seemed always to be whistling. The senior children stayed on at their city schools, travelling in by tram (with a long walk to and from the tram terminus then at Townsend Lane). Some went to local Council schools but most just stayed at home. There was no religious instruction and behaviour in church was similar to when they went to the cinema. For the next three years the Ladies of Charity trudged doggedly up and down the unlit, unmade, muddy roads, along with the priests, looking for Catholic families, as they moved into the new houses. For some years afterwards two Ladies of Charity attended the children’s’ Mass and afternoon Benediction on Sundays, and kept order. As things gradually sorted out religious instruction was given at 6pm every evening in the church, the only place available. Children were taught in age-groups and prepared for First Confession, First Holy Communion, Confirmation. The church was bitterly cold and this highlighted the need for warm clothing for the children. Unemployment was a way of life for the majority. People were underfed, and large numbers were actually starving. But those parishioners who had jobs were very generous; they helped to the limit of their capacity.” [13]

An infants’ school opened in 1932 with 8 classrooms and 400 children. There was no other Catholic school for the children to progress to and no finance to build one. It was this situation that induced the parish priest to suggest to the Archbishop that he invite a religious order to come in. In 1933 the Archbishop of Liverpool Dr Downey made the invitation to the Oblates, expressing the wish that the Oblates put six priests on the mission. Father Michael O’Ryan was now called from Mount St. Mary’s Leeds to be the first Oblate parish priest in Norris Green. He went head-to-head with the Board of Education which said that Catholic schools were not needed. He won a famous victory and had three schools built within two years.

In 1934 the Holy Family Sisters came from Rock Ferry to teach in the girls’ school.

A large Gothic church to accommodate 1000 people was blessed and opened by Archbishop Downey on May 23, 1937. One of the Oblate curates who was serving in Norris Green at the time would remember that day with mixed feelings. “The church was ready for blessing and official opening in the May of 1937. A date was fixed and all preparations made. The Sisters (Holy Family), the teachers, the different groups of parish workers were all recruited for service. Archbishop Downey would officiate. There was a general sense of achievement, and final flush of pride. So much had been accomplished in so short a time. The old tin church, now rather weather-beaten and disheveled, would be put to other parochial uses. What should have been a day of triumph and joy for the Catholic folk of Norris Green fell rather flat. Many friends and benefactors of t he parish were invited for the occasion, and were treated as V.I.P.’s. The people as a whole who had given their pennies and sixpences to raffles, collections, and all sorts of fund-raising efforts were offered seats at 5/- on a first come first served basis. It is easy to be wise after the event. The debt was pressing and the occasion was a prime opportunity to lighten the load. But it was a sad mistake. Many families who deserved to be there could not afford to be present. On the day, the church was less than half full. The liturgy was well prepared, the choir in good voice. His Grace Archbishop Downey preached beautifully as he so often did, but there was unspoken disappointment in the air. A meal was provided in the Senior school at which the speeches were long, and fulsome praise was given to the architect, Mr. Badger, the Contractor, Mr. J. M. Doyle, and all concerned with the building. A procession which was organized in honour of the Archbishop and the special occasion of the church blessing was formed and was waiting in Utting Avenue East. We the curates were with the people and made several journeys to the school to get some movement. The rain was pouring down on the waiting crowd. The procession was shortened in the interest of all concerned, and the late evening of that great day was suitably sombre” [14] .

The parish of Kingswood in the Clifton diocese was established by Bishop Lee and accepted by the Oblates in 1937. It was a small parish situated on a height outside the Bristol city area. It had been served some 25 years previously by the Redemptorists. A census taken in April 1938 listed some 219 known Catholics in the parish of whom 130 regularly attended Sunday Mass in the Woodlands presbytery. A new church dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadettewas opened in 1938 to accommodate 400 people. By 1949 the population of Catholics had risen to 478 of whom 280 regularly attended Sunday Mass.

The parish of St. Anne’s Birmingham, accepted in 1938, was not a new parish. It was in the mould of Holy Cross Liverpool and Tower Hill London: an inner-city working class population with a strong Irish element, a flock of some 3000 people. Its needs were catechesis and the building up of the community which was dispersed among a large number of industrial plants. There was a link here with the past: Cardinal Newman, who preceded the Oblates in Maryvale, had gone on from there with his companions to found and serve this community in 1849. [15]

The parishes of Cinderford [1939] and Coleford 1939] in the diocese of Clifton, covered the area of the Forest of Dean. Cinderford had a population of about 28,000 [16] of whom only some 100 were Catholics. In June 1939 a new church was opened dedicated to Our Lady of Victories, modelled on that of Norris Green. Coleford where Catholics were also very few already had its church. In these two parishes the needs were patient catechesis and evangelization, and the provision of liturgical services over a very wide area.

In all the new missions faithful, active and viable Catholic communities were being formed around newly built schools, churches and halls. Meanwhile the communities in the older Oblate mission centres like Holy Cross Liverpool, Mount St Mary’s Leeds Tower Hill and Kilburn in London, Leith in Scotland, Inchicore in Ireland, Holyhead and Colwyn Bay in Wales, continued to mature.

The wartime provincial Fr Michael O’Ryan (1939-1945) had been closely involved with these new pastoral initiatives in England, but the war prevented the taking of further initiatives on these lines. Typically he gave his backing to the efforts of Fr Glasheen to establish the first boys’ catholic secondary school in North Wales in Colwyn Bay in 1943. In 1948 it settled in Rhos-On-Sea. The works of the Province in Anglesey, Wales, were extended to meet the needs of a large number of urban wartime evacuees. This led in 1944 to the acceptance of the parish of Amlwch, a small port with a mixed rural and industrial economy. Also in Wales in 1945 a fresh courageous attempt was made to develop a mission to Welsh-speakers by returning to Blaenau Ffestiniog. In his report to the 1947 General Chapter Provincial James O’Shea (1945-1951) briefly set out the challenge as it was perceived. “There, in Wales, you have a most foreign, foreign mission where hard-headed Calvinism, modern paganism and deep-rooted antipathy to the Catholic Church form obstacles not easily overcome. Only the Grace of God will soften the hearts of this difficult people.” [17] The missionaries too would need the ‘grace of God’ to find a new approach to their mission and expand their options. Father O’Shea insisted that the Oblates working with the Welsh make efforts to learn the language.

The missionaries shared with the people the difficult conditions of wartime. The urban parishes were hard-hit by air raids, bringing death and destruction and psychological damage to many, a few Oblate priests among them. In 1940 several Oblate churches were damaged by air raids. The worst affected was Holy Cross Liverpool. First the roof was destroyed by incendiaries and some weeks later the whole church was destroyed by a land-mine. The ‘Gem of the North’ was no more! The sanctuary of St. Anne’s Birmingham was demolished by a direct hit: the rest of the Church was badly defaced and damaged. English Martyrs Church, Tower Hill and Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette were damaged but could still be used. [18] At the height of the blitz the schools in the London East End closed down. In Holy Cross too the schools suffered severe war damage. Travel between the different parts of the Province was difficult, sometimes impossible.

During the war the Provincial Council agreed to allow some Fathers to volunteer as military chaplains, “in accordance with frequent requests for chaplains from Catholic authorities”. [19]Some twenty Oblates served as military chaplains. On the cessation of hostilities they returned quietly to the Province’s mission.

Parochial missions were preached by a mission band based in Inchicore, helped out on occasion by men taken from the parishes in Britain. Among the great missioners of the time was Fr. Michael Sweeney, honorary chaplain of Lourdes. Up until the early 1970’s it was still possible in Ireland to assert that this was the principal Oblate work. This could hardly be said of the work in Britain at any time, although it was considerable, and in 1944 Provincial Michael O’Ryan secured the property of Wistaston Hall, Crewe, Cheshire, as the residential base for a mission band that would extend the work of preaching parochial missions on that side of the Irish Sea.

The regular Lourdes pilgrimages had been interrupted by the First World War and were not resumed until 1927. In that year a new series of annual pilgrimages of the Missionary Associates of Mary Immaculate was begun which lasted until the Second World War broke out in 1939. The first pilgrimage was as a special section of the pilgrimage organized by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, taking place from 30 August 1927. Thereafter the pilgrimages took place in July. The Codex Historicus of Cahermoyle records a memorable pilgrimage led by an Oblate in 1923. ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ had a profound impact on the spirituality of the Province. The Province’s voice, the Oblate Missionary Record, became in 1931 The Lourdes Messenger and centred attention on the Irish Lourdes, the Inchicore Grotto and the pilgrimages.

The reformatories had been experiencing a dramatic decline in intake of pupils from the outbreak of war in 1914 and the number did not pick up again until the 1930’s. It was becoming very clear that it was no longer necessary to sustain two reformatories, one would suffice. Some consideration was given to withdrawing altogether from the work of reformatories. The superior of St. Kevin’s fought hard to save his community, calling on the help of a man who had an unusual but strong attachment to St. Kevin’s – the first President of Dáil Eireann, Mr W. T. Cosgrove, who had found shelter there in ‘the troubles’ in 1920 – a ‘Brother Doyle’ who is not to be found in the Congregation’s ‘Personnel’! [20] It was in vain however and St. Kevin’s transferred its boys to St. Conleth’s in 1927. In 1934 however the Oblates decided to move the Province’s scholastics to St. Conleth’s. All the boys were transferred back to St. Kevin’s, Glencree. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry 1934-1936 (the ‘Cussen Report’) into industrial schools and reformatories expressed some reservations about the nature of the education and training in these establishments, the lack of local authority support and the social stigma attached to them but it concluded that the system “affords the most suitable method of dealing with these children and the schools should remain under the management of the religious orders who have undertaken the work” [21] . This was a clear mandate from the State to continue in this work.

In 1940 in Ireland as the number of boys being committed by the courts steadily rose they were all transferred back again to St. Conleth’s where it was hoped they could be better accommodated. On 19 November 1939 An Taoiseach, prime minister and minister of education, Mr. de Valera, visited the Oblate premises in Daingean “to see if our place of abode would afford sufficient accommodation for the boys of the overcrowded Glencree Reformatory [22] ”. The result of the visit was a request that the Oblates effect this change. The Oblates had to find alternative premises for the scholastics (Piltown). The reformatory work continued in St. Conleth’s under great difficulties. Throughout the war the Government would press the manager of the school to take more and more boys until it was bursting at the seams. Many years later the Oblates would be called severely to account for this ministry. However, when Dr. Fahy, the Professor of Jurisprudence in Trinity College Dublin, visited the reformatories in Ireland in 1941 he took away a positive view of them. In his balanced assessment he noted that “the kindliness of the staffs and the spirit of brotherhood amongst the boys are noticeable features. A great deal of attention is paid to out-door games and sports, and annually the boys are taken for a fortnight’s camping holiday. While there are no gratuities for work, there a number of privileges, amongst which may be mentioned smoking and being allowed home for a day and (in Belfast) a visit to the local cinema. The enjoyment of these privileges depends upon satisfactory conduct, and they play a large part in the smooth running the Institutions. The boys are given a liberal measure of freedom, and there is nothing in their treatment to make them feel they are being distrusted. It is right that this should be so”. [23]

In 1942 the State took possession of the Glencree property as it was urgently needed to house workers engaged in the area on Government projects. It was this that brought the work of the College of Late Vocations to an end as it was not allowed to seek a new site in the archdiocese. The Oblates continued doing chaplaincy work in the area until 1949 and took part in welcoming a large party of refugee children from Germany to Glencree [24] .There the story of the Oblates in Glencree came to an end.

The war ended in Europe on 8 May 1945. In 1983 the Norris Green Golden Jubilee Bookletlooked back at what was to come: “It was a problem-period: attitudes had changed. Men and women back from the forces had new ideas. They were more outspoken, more critical, more aware of the world beyond Norris Green. It was months, even years, before some found jobs. The six-year shake-up of human beings had brought about a levelling of society. On the whole people were more independent and the old ‘Catholic community spirit’ was not as strong as it had been in 1939.”

On the very day the war ended a new provincial took up office: Fr James O’Shea. Fr. O’Ryan returned to Norris Green as parish priest before being appointed Assistant General in the 1947 General Chapter.

The Province and the Mission Ad Gentes

St. Eugene’s original vision for the Province was two-fold: to take part in the movement for the conversion of England and to provide vocations for the mission field in English-speaking countries. The first part of this vision was gradually modified as we have seen. The second part continued to inspire the zeal of the Province. Most men joining the Oblates did so with a view to ‘going out on the missions’.

The zeal of the Provincial Council shines out in a Provincial Council minute dated 20 August 1931. It was proposed that “the present Juniorates of Glencree and Belcamp be merged into one and transferred to St. Conleth’s Philipstown [25] ”. It was foreseen that 200 juniors could be accommodated there when construction work was done: permission was sought from the General Administration to make the necessary expenditure of £6000. Belcamp Hall would become the house of theology. “The thought uppermost in the mind of the Administration was whether we were to check, to stifle even, the flow of vocations to our Congregation, by being satisfied with our present limited space, or to face the issue by embarking upon a thought-out plan, and converting the spacious accommodation at St. Conleth’s into a large juniorate: international in as much as it will be the berceau of future Oblates in all parts of the world. The Administration decided that never must it be said that our Province has refused genuine vocations: hence our resolve. To build at Belcamp would not solve the difficulty because Belmont is already too small. Neither would a solution be found by building at Belmont, because Belmont is far too small for the numbers. Hence the most complete and less costly procedure is the one we have prefigured viz. St. Conleth’s to become our future juniorate. May Mary Immaculate deign to bless the decision taken in her honour.” In a Provincial Council minute dated 12 July 1933 it was noted that: “Difficulties with the Free State Government over the lease of Daingean held up the carrying out of this decision…” and a new plan emerged that left the Belcamp juniorate as it was. The problem of accommodation did not go away, however, and in the 1940’s there would be an overflow of juniors from Belcamp to Belmont House until eventually in the 1950’s extra accommodation was built at Belcamp.

It has been said that the quality of the resources of every kind that were directed into the work of foreign missions in the period 1920-1939 make it the high point in the whole history of the Catholic missions. [26] In proportion to its size the Anglo-Irish Province made a significant contribution to the missions abroad.

In Asia-Oceania, three men were sent to Ceylon. Australia had been set up as a Vicariate of Missions in 1900 and so detached from the Province. This step was motivated by the great distance separating it from the Province which in those days made communications very difficult. It proved however to be a premature move as the mission was not yet self-sufficient. It continued to be a destination for missionaries from the Province. [27] At its own request the mission was reattached to the Anglo-Irish Province on 13 May 1926. Four men were sent there in 1937.

Twenty eight men were assigned to various Provinces and religious vicariates of South Africa from the Anglo-Irish Province in the years 1924-1939.

Superior General Archbishop Dontenwille raised the religious vicariate of British Columbia to the rank of ‘province’ in 1926: St. Peter’s of New Westminster. It is commonly known simply as St Peter’s Province. It became the destination of sixteen men in the years 1927-1937. One also went to the Vicariate of Yukon.

The outbreak of war in 1939 kept newly-appointed missionaries at home. They spent their time of waiting doing pastoral work in Ireland and Britain. At war’s end they gradually found the means to reach their missions and set off . There did so without hesitancy and would be joined by many others. However, they too like those on the home mission would find that things were not as they had been in the past.

Michael Hughes. o.m.i.