- IE IJA J/705
- 09 August 1865-05 September 1934
Born: 09 August 1865, Rosenallis, Co Laois
Entered: 03 November 1883, Milltown Park, Dublin/Loyola House, Dromore, County Down
Ordained: 1899, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 15 August 1902
Died: 05 September 1934, St Vincent’s Hospital
Part of the St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin community at the time of death
Early education at St Stanislaus College SJ, Tullabeg
Chaplain in the First World War.
by 1894 at Leuven Belgium (BELG) studying
by 1901 at Sartirana, Merate, Como, Italy (VEN) making Tertianship
by 1917 Military Chaplain : 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers, France
by 1918 Military Chaplain : 7th Leinster Regiment, BEF France
by 1919 Military Chaplain : Chaplain to the Forces, Schveningen, Netherlands
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Note from Nicholas Walsh Entry :
He died in the end room of Bannon’s corridor, and the Provincial William Delaney and Minister Joseph Wrafter were with him at the end.”
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/blog/damien-burke/a-sparrow-to-fall/
A sparrow to fall
A BBC Northern Ireland documentary, Voices 16 – Somme (BBC 1 NI on Wednesday 29th June,
9pm) explores the events of 1916 through the testimony of the people who witnessed it and their families. Documentary makers and relatives of Jesuit chaplain Willie Doyle were shown his letters, postcards and personal possessions kept here at the Irish Jesuit Archives. In the 1920s, Alfred O’Rahilly used some of these letters in his biography of Fr Willie Doyle SJ. Afterwards they were given to Willie’s brother, Charles, and were stored for safekeeping in the basement of St Francis Xavier’s church, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin in 1949. In 2011, they were accessioned into the archives.
Fr Willie Doyle SJ was one of ten Irish Jesuits who served as chaplains at the battle of the Somme (1 July- 18 November 1916): seven with the British forces; three with the Australian. Their letters, diaries and photographs witness their presence to the horror of war.
Fr Joseph Wrafter SJ, 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers (06 July 1916):
It is a very terrible thing where a show is on & no one I know wants any more of it than he has seen if he has been in it at all. But of course all have to see it through & the men are really splendid...Between killed & wounded we lost in that period quite a fourth of our Battalions & the Leinsters nearly as many. But they did good work & the enemy got a good deal more than they gave. It is dreadful to see the way the poor fellows are broken & mangled sometimes out of all recognition.
Jesuits and the influenza, 1918-19
The influenza pandemic that raged worldwide in 1918-19 (misnamed the Spanish flu, as during the First World War, neutral Spain reported on the influenza) killed approximately 100 million people.
The influenza was widely referenced by Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War. And Fr Joseph Wrafter SJ writing in December 1918: “the influenza is raging here and all over Holland as everywhere”.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 9th Year No 4 1934
Father Joseph Wrafter
Father Wrafter died at St. Vincent's Hospital on Wednesday5th September, 1934. For a considerable time he had been in very poor health, even before he left Clongowes in 1932, he had suffered a good deal. He was an invalid for nearly the two years he spent in Gardiner St., yet, with his usual courage, he did very fully all the work he was allowed to do. At last he was compelled to go to St. Vincent’s, where for some three weeks before his death he was very often quite unconscious.
In next number, we shall give a short sketch of his life in the Society.
Irish Province News 10th Year No 1 1935
Father Joseph Wrafter Continued
Father Wrafter was born near Rosenallis in Leix on the 9th August, 1865. He went with his two elder brothers, William and Thomas, to Tullabeg in 1877, where he remained until
- On November 3rd of that year he entered the Novitiate which was then at Milltown Park, but was transferred the following year to Dromore, Co. Down. He next spent a year
as a Junior in Milltown, and had just begun his Philosophy there, when in November, 1886, the year of the amalgamation (Tullabeg and Clongowes) he was sent to Clongowes. He was Third Line and Gallery Prefect there for three years, and from 1889 to 1891 had charge of the Large Study. In the former of these years he utilised his great histrionic powers in getting up “The Tempest” which was an unqualified success. In 1891 he was appointed Higher Line Prefect although he had not yet done his Philosophy, and was the youngest man on the prefectorial staff. But his strength of character and sense of justice made up for these drawbacks. In 1893, after seven years' work as a scholastic in Clongowes, he went to Louvain for Philosophy, and in 1896 to Milltown Park for Theology, joining the Long Course.
In the early summer of 1899 he went down to Clongowes to stay for about a month, in order to take the place of Father Fegan who had left to undergo a serious operation. However Father Wrafter remained in Clongowes the following year as Prefect of the Small Study, and next year saw him a Tertian in the Province of Venice.
From 1900 to 1903 he was stationed in University College St, Stephen's Green, as Minister. After a year on the Mission Staff, with headquarters at the Crescent, Limerick, he renewed
his connection With Clongowes, this time as Minister, remaining there until 1908, when he went to Gardiner St. and, in addition to the ordinary work, got charge of the Police Sodality. The next year he was appointed Minister and held that position until 1942, with the exception of a break of three years (1916-1919), when he was Military Chaplain in France and Holland. While at the front he distinguished himself by his great coolness and bravery. He was awarded the MC, but an officer who himself won the V.C., said that “every day, Father Wrafter did things that deserved the VC”.
In 1924 he became Minister in Leeson St., and had charge of University Hall. Next year he again took up work in Clongowes as Minister and held the position for ten years. It was during these years that the new building was erected in Clongowes, in which Father Wrafter took a very great interest. 1934 saw him once more in Gardiner St, but incapable of much active work. However, as long as he possibly could, he said Mass and attended to his Confessional to which he had always been most devoted.
He celebrated his Golden jubilee in the Society in November 1933, but did not long survive the event. The malady to which he had long been subject - phlebitis - had poisoned his system and after some weeks in hospital he died on 5th September 1934.
The most remarkable thing about Father Wrafter's life in the Society was his long term of office as Minister in all twenty six years, thirteen in Clongowes, ten in Gardiner Stand ten in the University. He possessed in a high degree the qualities required for that office. He was a fine organiser quickly saw what was wanted, and then had the power to descend to details. He was extremely just and patient and was moreover the very soul of generosity, loving to see and to make others happy. To the poor also he was very kind. Many of the beggars and tramps who came to Clongowes made it a point to ask for Father Wrafter, they almost seemed to be personal friends of his so familiarly did he chat with them.
What struck one most in Father Wrafter was his strong will and his great sense of duty Whatever he took in hand he saw through, and whatever was his duty would be done thoroughly. During his last few years as Minister in Clongowes he suffered from phlebitis which caused his legs to become very much swollen and painful, but unless absolutely forbidden by the doctor, he was sure to go down to the refectory to preside at the boys' meals. He was indefatigable in his care of and kindness to the sick, frequently visiting them in the infirmary during the night. This did not prevent him from being the first to rise in the morning. He always said the 6 o'clock Mass. Indeed it was wonderful how he contrived to do with so little sleep. In his last illness this strength of character was most noticeable, for though he suffered very much he never complained, but always made as little as possible of his sufferings. The nurses who attended him marvelled, and were much edified at his patience and resignation.
How much his kindness and help to so many were appreciated was shown by the number of people, many of them in humble circumstances who called at the hospital to enquire for him during his last illness. R.I.P
◆ The Clongownian, 1935
Father Joseph Wrafter SJ
There is something of the lacrimae rerum in the ending of the notice in last year's “Clongownian” of Father Wrafter's Golden Jubilee as a Jesuit, The words were, ad multos annos. That was in June, and the 5th of September brought the sad news that he was dead, So the words must now change to ad annos aeternos.
Fifty years, of which twenty were in and for Clongowes. How true it is to say for : Clongowes. Though he never forgot his old school Tullabeg, yet it had for his practical mind been merged in the sister College.
Loyalty seems, to one who knew him well, to have been the note of his character. Of the three loyalties, Loyalty to the Jesuit Order, Loyalty to Clongowes, Loyalty to his friends, the first two naturally becaine one, fused into one, the second becoming the practical expression of the former.
There is hardly a corner in the House where one who knows will fail to firid traces of his watchful care. Under him the Infirmary became the highly efficient department it is. The great Well was a matter of real need, not merely of convenience. The College Grounds and the Garden were a concern of his, run with an eye to efficiency as well as to beauty, as if they had been his only care. As to the New Building : it had been a thought of his for thirty years in plan, and one need not say that the interest never flagged. Perhaps a practically minded Old Clongownian would say that the 'Boys' Refectory is the spot most associated with his genial presence and ceaseless care. One such, not of the immediate Past, said to me the other day: “The two men who resumed Clongowes life for us fellows were Father Wrafter and Father John Sullivan”. It sounds strange at first hearing, but on reflection one is more and more convinced of its truth. They were very unlike in what was obvious, but very like in what most caught the House : they both loved the boys.
His friends were legion and they were very true, for they knew by experience how unfalteringly they could rely on his interest and honest advice, One felt, said one of them, that you could tell him anything and be sure of his sympathy. This was strikingly true during the last year of his life, when he was a constant sufferer. He would drag himself to the parlour to see a friend, they never suspecting at what cost.
The elements were so mixed in him that he remained human and strong. It is easy to find a man in which one or the other predominates. The result is poor. In Father Wrafter they worked to a unity that won love in the best sense of the word.
To his sister, Mrs. Murray, we offer our sincerest sympathy. We use the words in the strictest sense, knowing how united the brother and sister were. On her yearly visit to him one saw renewed the finale of George Eliot's great novel Now many of us will join with her in murmuring :
But for the touch of a vanish'd hand
And the sound of a voice that is stilled.
Father “Joey” Wrafter : A Memory
It must be well over half a century ago that I, a small boy, first met “Joey” Wrafter, when I found myself a Third Liner at Clongowes. After such a long time it is not perhaps, surprising that the order in which events occurred has become rather mixed, and I must confess that I don't remember what exact position he held when firsst found myself an inmate of the school. I rather think that Father (then Mr) Gleeson was Third Line Prefect. My memories of Mr Wrafter are very clear, indeed, as they should be, for no small boy had ever a better kinder friend than I found in him. He indeed kind to all boys. It was part and parcel of his make-up, and as a result was liked and trusted by them.
Looking back over the fifty odd years, I recognise that this was the salient point of his character; kindness, understanding and sympathy with all boys, and in particular, with small boys. I never knew him to be hard or ungenerous to one of them, not was he prone to punish where punishment could be avoided,
Naturally, some of us knew him better than others, and were looked on by him as special friends. I am very proud to think that I could count myself as one of this group. Amongst others of this group I remember Geoff Esmond, Jim Clarke and Dominic Kelly, to mention only a few. Those who remember Father Wrafter in after years will, I am sure, wish to get some idea what he was like as a young man. Well, he was very slim and upright, handsome of face in an aquiline way, with the cheeriest of smiles. He was always very trim and neat, had small and well-made hands and feet, and was very graceful in all his moveents. He was a delightfully light and fast runner, and kept himself extremely fit. He, at that time, could not have weighed more than about 10 stone.
Can you think of a fencer standing slim, butt muscular, head up, with a keen, clear cut face ready for a bout with the foils? Well, that is exactly the picture I get when I look back and remember Joey Wrafter in th late 80's and early 90's of last century.
Though not posing as a great book man, he was keen-witted, a good talker, and in some things exceptionally clever.
Though he played football and cricket, he did not seem to be very interested in games, but during my time at Clongowes he proved himself a master of the art of producing plays. This was his hobby, and he took the keenest delight in staging all sort of shows from farces and pantomime to Shakespeare.
I took part in most of the plays produced by him during my time, and remember anongst many others a farce called “Bombastes Furioso”, also a pantomime, “Alladin”, in which I starred as the Widow Twanky, and Shakespeare's “Tempest”, in which I took the part of Trinculo.
Well the years move on and we with thern. Father Wrafter has left us, but I for one can say with truth that the memory of him and his great goodness and kindness to one small boy lives on and will not be forgotten till I also go the way we all must go, and not even then I hope.
When I was a boy at Clongowes “Joey” Wrafter was one of the very best. RIP
Father Wrafter as Army Chaplain
In November of 1915, the 8th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers, with the other units of the 6th (Irish) Division, after a year's training at Kilworth, were awaiting orders at Blackburn for the move to France. A few days before the unit entrained, an orderly informed me that the Colonel, known amongst his friends as “Mike”, wanted to see me urgently in the mess.
“Read this wire”, said he, as I entered. Mike was one of the hard-living, hard swearing type of old soldiers. “They are sending us a priest. What the blazes shall I do with him? Should I offer him a drink when he comes?”
When I came again to the mess, a few hours later, I found the Colonel and priest swopping yarns over the fire and a whiskey and soda. And so began a strange friendship which lasted without end between “Mike”, a Protestant, if he had any religion at all, with no control over his language even before a priest-and Father Wrafter, a devout Jesuit with much knowledge of the world and great understanding. Years after, when Mike knew his end was coming and the Protestant clergyman was announced, - his only words were : “Tell him to go to the devil, the only person I want near me is Father Wrafter”.
Practically all the men in the regiment were Catholics, and when the unit arrived at the front, Father Wrafter's worth was soon recognised. His influence amongst them was on a par with the Colonel's, and more than once Mike asked the Padre to give the men a good talk at Mass about something that they should have done or something they should not have done and did. The effect was excellent.
For the four battalions in the Brigade there were two Catholic chaplains, and Father Wrafter looked after the welfare of the 7th Leinsters as well as the 8th Munsters. Of the two battalions, one was usually in the front line and one in reserve trenches, or in billets behind. In this way it often fell to the Padre to do three or four tours : in succession with the regiments in the front line, where his splendid help was most needed. On one occasion he spent a month on end in the front trenches. Yet, during these days of static warfare, I never knew him to miss saying daily Mass, sometimes in an open trench with a box as his altar, sometimes in a little dugout, where there was room only for himself and his servant, one Thunder, known in the regiment as “Lightning”, on account of his extreme slowness of movement.
For two years Father Wrafter served with the 8th Munsters in France. He was a well-known figure in the Irish Division ; there were few officers from the General downwards who did not know him personally. In the line he worked day and night attending the sick and wounded and burying the dead. Woe betide the Colonel if the Padre was not informed immediately any casualties occurred; and it was wonderful what confidence he gave the men, who knew he could be there as soon as anything happened. When it came to going over the top, Father Wrafter was always somwhere near the front line, even when the Colonel cursed him for leaving battalion headquarters. He was then a man fifty and portly, leading what was for him a strange life, yet he took the knocks and the kicks with a smile which was good see and did no end of good in the regiment.
On one occasion, in 1916, when the Brigade was in reserve at Les Mines, the Germans sent over gas at night and the masks of the men in the front. trenches proved ineffective against it. The casualties were heavy the Germans had followed up the gas by a night attack-and next night the Munsters were sent up to the front line on relief, The trenches were a veritable shambles. Corpses, with their bodies and faces distorted in their death agony, were piled in the trenches and littered the ground near them. For four nights, from dusk to dawn (the MS has from dawn to dusk) the Padre worked with his men, burying the dead as best he could. More often than not, shell holes formed the ready-made graves. A mournful sight it was this burial gang working under fire by the pale light of the moon.
Yet, nothing daunted the chaplain's spirits, and he was ready to crack a joke with all and sundry. Just before this gas attack, the General came to inspect the 8th Munsters, He stepped out of his car opposite the quarter-guard and questioned the sentry about his duties. The sentry, well coached, repeated them all, ending with the usual, “in the event of any unusual occurrence report to the guard commander”. “And what would you call an unusual occurrence, my man?” asked the General. “Well, sur, if I saw the sintry box markin' time”. A cloud collected on the General's brow; then he looked at the Padre and moved on quickly.
In 1917, Father Wrafter won the Military Cross, a reward he richly deserved, though he himself was the last to acknowledge this, His rectitude was such that the things he did seemed to him to be nothing but his ordinary duty. His real reward was the way that the men of his regiment maintained and practised their religion--the number of men who approached the altar rails, when the battalion had an opportunity of attending Mass behind the lines, surprised the local inhabitants.
In late 1917, the 6th Irish Division was reorganised and the 8th Munsters, or what was left of them after two years' fighting, were drafted to another battalion of the regiment. Father Wrafter was then offered an appointment as Senior Chaplain at one of the bases in France - a “soft job”, - with two assistants. This offer he stoutly refused to accept and continued to serve as regimental Chaplain to the Munsters until the end of the War. Later he went to Holland, as Chaplain to a prisoners of war camp. In November of 1917 I sailed for India and temporarily lost touch with him.
Next time I met him was in 1924 as his guest at Clongowes, where he was then Minister. The Jesuit robe had taken the place of the military uniform, which was the only garb the men of the 8th Munsters had seen him in, but the man was unchanged. He was the same strong, genial Padre, whose courage and cheerfulness had been an inspiration to all who had met him during the terrible years of the War.
1929-32 - “The Minister”
It was not till Father Wrafter had left us for Gardiner Street that we fully realised what a place he had won for himself in the life of the boys here. It is not an easy thing to win that place and it is harder still to keep it, but of him both were true. When you were well, you felt how much you depended on him for the creature comforts of the Refectory. When you were ill, his genial visits in the Infirmary were things to look forward to.
He was in truth a hard man to replace, so that his visit of a few days on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee had a quality unlike that of the coming of anyone else, The boys loved to gather round him and one could notice how newcomers to whom he was a stranger looked with envy at such gay gatherings.
One could notice too, how the older trades men about the College seemed as glad to meet him as we did.
The writer of these notes well remembers his first official contact with Father Wrafter. It was my first night at Clongowes and having got from my Line Prefect to “follow the crowd”, I found myself in the Refectory for tea, an extremely subdued unit in an extremely boisterous throng. Suddenly a bell went and in the midst of a profound silence a massive figure rose with infinite dignity to say Grace. This said, he sank down again slowly and gazed with the broadest of smiles all round the Refectory. After a few moments he came down from the box and began a triumphal procession through the Refectory, pausing at each table to shake hands with the “old boys” and to discover among the “new” the son or nephew or young brother of old friends,
Afterwards when the days had grown to weeks and weeks to months, an extremely insignificant member of Rudiments decided to go for his first sleep (having, I am afraid, very little the matter with him). I well recall the mingled hope and fear with which I awaited my turn. At last it came and the climb up the three steps seemed endless, to be confronted with the huge figure of the Minister. One quick glance to assure himself that it was nothing very serious and then he leant back good-humouredly to listen to my plea of a headache. A few seconds of doubt and uncertainty and then my name went down in the notebook and I go off with the world a much brighter place. One of the most characteristic things about him was the tolerance with which he would listen to the malingerers at the foot of the steps as they arranged their complaints and yet would hear them afterwards in the best humoured manner possible. Suddenly he would come down from the box and make his way to the Infirmary with the Third Liners whom he had refused clinging to the wings of his gown and clustering round him - looking for all the world like some great liner surrounded by her tugs. But there was one thing about him that lays bare his character better than twenty pages of “The Clongownian” : if ever he had occasion to send anyone “up” for any misdeed in the Refectory or outside it, the offender had only to ask for a sleep that night and he was sure to get it.
Kindliness was, to my mind, the outstanding trait that made him universally beloved here among us.
◆ The Crescent : Limerick Jesuit Centenary Record 1859-1959
Bonum Certamen ... A Biographical Index of Former Members of the Limerick Jesuit Commnnity
Father Joseph Wrafter (1865-1934)
Born at Rosenalis, Leix, and educated at Tullabeg College, entered the Society in 1883. He pursued his higher studies at Louvain and Milltown Park where he was ordained in 1899. His association with the Crescent was short, 1903-04 when he was a member of the mission staff. With the exception of the period of the first world war. Father Wrafter's life was spent between Dublin and Clongowes. He was a member of the church staff, Gardiner St at the time of his death.