Born: 23 October 1841, New Ross, County Wexford
Entered: 08 September 1881, Leuven Belgium - Belgicae Province (BELG)
Ordained 25 October 1864, Cathedral of the Assumption of BVM, Carlow, County Carlow - pre- entry
Final vows: 02 February 1892
Died: 06 December 1921, Linden Nursing Home, Dublin
Part of St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street community at time of death
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1883 at Leuven Belgium (BELG) studying
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Excerpts and paraphrase from a notice which appeared in the newspapers on his death :
Early Education at Clongowes, and then at Carlow College where he was Ordained 1964. He was then appointed by the Bishop of Ferns Dr Thomas Furlong as CC in Wexford for two years. in 1866, at the invitation of the Bishop, he became a member of a community of Missioners comprising four Priests in Enniscorthy. He then joined the Society in 1881.
After his Noviceship his career may be divided under three headings : Literary, Missionary, Temperance work.
He is probably best known as the founder of the “Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart”, which he started in January 1888. For sixteen years he watched over the development of his periodical, and starting offshoots such as “Messenger Popular Penny Library” which was the forerunner of the “Irish Catholic Truth Society”.
1904 He was sent to Gardiner St aged 63, and he worked there until his death in 1921. Here he began another phase of his work, that of Missioner and retreat giver. In this work he became known in almost every Parish in the country. In addition to bringing his work to England, he also spent two year long stints working in South Africa.
However, it is mainly his work in the cause of temperance that he is best known. He is sometimes called a “Second Father Matthew”. He had been a leading figure in the temperance movement of Ferns in the 1870s, and in 1885 founded the “St Patrick’s Total Abstinence Association” among the students at Maynooth.
1901 He inaugurated a branch of the “Pioneer Total Abstinence Association”. Confined at the outset to women only, it started with four ladies under the Presidency of Mrs AM Sullivan. However, after a homily he gave in Cork, so many men came to the Sacristy asking for the “Pioneer Pledge”, that he decided to extend the Association to both men an women. The Association made such rapid progress that at a public meeting in the Mansion House he could say that its numbers had reached a quarter of a million, and his Pioneer Catechism had by 1912 reached a circulation of 300,000.
Many messages of sympathy were received at Gardiner St from Bishops and Clergy in Ireland”. (cf https://www.ucd.ie/archives/t4media/p0145-ptaa-descriptive-catalogue.pdf)
“Extract from a paper Entitled ‘The Holy Eucharist in Modern Ireland’ read by the Right Rev Mgr MacCaffrey, President, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, at the International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin 1932”.
The extract eulogises James Cullen for his spread of devotion to the “Sacred Heart” throughout Ireland, his work on the “Apostleship of Prayer” and the “League of the Sacred Heart”. It also eulogises his founding of the “Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart”, and his particular work in promoting the spiritual welfare of its Promoters, with the assistance of local Bishops and Priests, such that in his own lifetime, there was hardly a Parish in Ireland in which devotion to the Sacred Heart had not been established. This in turn left to a devotion to Our Lord and the Eucharist, replacing a spirit of fear with one of love and confidence. The “First Friday” practice, founded on a promise made to St Margaret Mary Alacocque, became widespread in Ireland, and led people to more frequently receive communion. ‘Holy Communion is not to be regarded so much as as a reward for a holy life, but as a means of becoming holy’, wrote Father Cullen.” (The Book of Congress p 161)
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
Cullen, James Aloysius
by Diarmaid Ferriter
Cullen, James Aloysius (1841–1921), Jesuit priest and temperance reformer, was born 23 October 1841 in New Ross, Co. Wexford, the eldest of five sons and three daughters of James Cullen, a businessman, and Mary Cullen (née Bolger). He was educated locally by the Christian Brothers in New Ross before moving to the Jesuit college at Clongowes Wood, Co. Kildare, in April 1856. From 1861 to 1864 he was a student at Carlow college and was ordained a priest at Carlow cathedral on 25 October 1864, only five days after he had reached the canonical age. He was appointed curate in Rome Street Church in Wexford and worked closely with Dr Thomas Furlong (qv), bishop of Ferns. He became heavily involved in fighting intemperance, building churches, founding religious teaching institutions and retreats for nuns and priests, and launching the Missionary Institute in Enniscorthy.
Although he had been wary of the Jesuit order from an early age, disliking their association with the middle classes, his preoccupation with the spiritual exercises of their founder, St Ignatius Loyola, and his apostolic endeavours slowly led him to reverse his opinion: in March 1881 he made a vow to enter the order, enrolling in September 1881 at the novitiate of the Belgian province at Arlow, at the age of 40. The following year he enrolled to study moral theology and canon law at Louvain. In September 1883 he took his vows at the Jesuit House of Studies in Milltown Park in Dublin, where he became well known as a missionary of the Blessed Sacrament, a promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, and a temperance reformer. He was appointed spiritual father to the students at Belvedere College, Dublin (1884) and national director of the Apostleship of Prayer (1887), marking a further commitment to the spread of Sacred Heart devotion. In 1888 he began publication of the hugely circulated Catholic weekly, the Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart, which he also used to promote temperance. He produced his Catechism of temperance in 1892, and in the same year travelled to South Africa as a missionary, making a return visit in April 1899.
Extraordinarily demonstrative in his personal piety and organisational ability, Cullen established the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart in the presbytery of the Saint Francis Xavier Church in Gardiner St., Dublin, on 29 December 1898. Over the course of the twentieth century it grew into one of the largest temperance movements in the world and claimed 500,000 members by the 1950s. They were labelled ‘Pioneers’ because of a novel method of pledging: Cullen developed the concept of adults (those over 16) making what was termed a ‘heroic offering’, pledging to abstain from alcohol for life, publicly identifiable by the wearing of a pin which depicted a bleeding Sacred Heart. Cullen's initiative was not only the product of an acute social conscience – his early endeavours in Wexford and his work in inner-city Dublin convinced him that much of the poverty and deprivation he witnessed was the result of excessive drinking – but also a belief that intemperance could only be fought by an absolutist life-long pledge, in contrast to the loose ‘en masse’ administration associated with the famed but short-lived temperance crusade of Fr Theobald Mathew (qv) in the nineteenth century. The Pioneers were organised on a parish basis under the guidance of a spiritual director and controlled by a central directorate of Jesuit priests based in Dublin. Juvenile and later temporary pledge branches were also introduced.
A strong opponent of British imperialism, Cullen closely aligned his argument for temperance with the political and cultural nationalism prevalent in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ireland. Although never a masterful orator, he aggressively pursued the temperance cause through a column devoted to Pioneers in the Irish Catholic newspaper which he wrote from February 1912 until his death. This portrayed Pioneers as the soldiers of Christ engaged in a battle against intemperance which was destroying Irish health, morals, and welfare, and demeaning Irish claims to be a viable political and economic entity. He continually claimed that ‘the only thing wrong with Ireland is the excessive amount of drinking going on’. At the time of his death there were 280,000 Pioneers in Ireland.
Cullen was also active in Dublin's inner city in promoting sodalities, religious leagues and social alternatives to the public house. He also placed exacting spiritual demands on himself including four hours of obligatory prayer every day. He died 6 December 1921 in Dublin; he was said to be elated on hearing of the signing of the Anglo–Irish Treaty, hours before his death. Over 200 priests and ecclesiastical dignatories attended his funeral in Dublin.
Lambert McKenna, Life and work of Rev. James Aloysius Cullen SJ (1924); P. J. Gannon, Fr James Cullen (1940); Diarmaid Ferriter, A nation of extremes: the Pioneers in twentieth century Ireland (1998)
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father James Cullen 1841-1921
Fr James Cullen was born at New Ross in 1841. He received his education at Clongowes, and he was ordained priest for the diocese of Ferns in 1841. For two years he served as curate in Wexford Town. In 1866 he and three other priests of the diocese founded the “House of Missions” at Enniscorthy.
In 1881 Fr Cullen entered the Society. As a Jesuit Fr Cullen is best remembered as the founder of the Pioneer Movement of Total Abstinence, which started in the Presbytery at Gardiner Street in 1898, with a membership of four women. Today its members number thousands, not only in Ireland, but across the sea in America and Australia, and anywhere an Irish Priest works on the Mission.
But his greater claim to fame may be found in the words of Monsignor McCaffrey, President of Maynooth, in a paper read at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 :
“But, to the distinguished Jesuit Fr Cullen, the great Apostle of Total Abstinence, more than to any single individual must be given the honour of spreading this devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. A man of the highest spirituality himself, thoroughly convinced of the efficiency of this devotion to effect a spiritual revolution, and gifted with wonderful powers of organisation, he threw himself with ardour into the work, once he had been appointed Director of the Apostleship of Prayer and League of the Sacred Heart. Through the pages of ‘The Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart’ which he founded, he carried through this campaign so successfully, that even in his own lifetime, there was hardly a parish in Ireland, in which the devotion to the Sacred Heart was not firmly established. He was also the founder of the ‘Messenger Popular Penny Library’, the forerunner of the ‘Irish Catholic Truth Society’.”
He died on December 6th 1921. Truly, when we think of the Pioneer Movement as it exists today, Fr Cullen’s epitaph might justly be written :
“Exegi Monumentum aere perennius”.
◆ The Clongownian, 1922
Father James Cullen SJ
Father Cullen’s Life in brief:
1841 Born at New Ross, Co. Wexford.
1856-61 Student at Clongowes.
1864 Ordained priest at Carlow and appointed Curate at Wexford.
1866 Becomes one of the founders of the House of Missions, Enniscorthy.
1881 Enters the Society of Jesus..
1885 Founded a Total Abstinence Association among Maynooth Students.
1888-1904 Founder and Editor of the “Irish Messenger”, Editor of the “Messenger Popular Penny Library”--the forerunner of the Catholic Truth Society.
1898 Founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association,
1904 Attached to the Church of St. Francis Xavier, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin,
1921 December 6th - Death. RIP
If the aim of Clongowes is to turn out great Catholics and great Irishmen - and what other aim has any Irish Catholic School? - then Father Cullen is the greatest of her children. His work falls under three heads - Catholic Literature, Temperance, and Mission Work. In the domain of literature he has a unique record. In 1888 he founded the “Irish Messenger” (the sum of one pound being advanced by the Provincial towards expenses !) He watched over its fortunes until 1904, and to-day the “Irislı Messenger” has a monthly circulation of over 300,000 copies, and is read by Irish Catholics in every quarter of the globe. In addition, he founded the “Messenger Popular Penny Library”, which was the forerunner of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland. His Temperance Catechism - though it comes more under the head of temperance than of literature, had a circulation of over 300,000 by 1912.
His work for temperance began in the House of Missions, Enniscorthy. In fact, he himself has said that he entered the Society of Jesus because he hoped thus to give his undivided attention to the study of the Temperance problem. In 1885 he founded a Total Abstinence Society among the students of Maynooth College. But it was not until 1898 that he founded the association with which he is most identified in the public mind - the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, which to-day has a membership of over a quarter of 2 million.
In the conduct of missions and retreats, he travelled all over Ireland, and worked also in England and South Africa. In this branch of his life's activities, too, he had won his reputation as a young priest in Enniscorthy, and even to this day the old people of the diocese of Ferns talk of those woriderful missions preached by him then and of the great good they wrought.
Such in the barest outline is his life, Up to the time of his death he was still working, and, what is still more wonderful, he had that same interest in the live problems of the day which was his as a young man. About three years ago he visited us here in Clongowes. He heard of the Social Study Club, and at once was interested. He asked to meet the officials, took them for a walk in the pleasure ground, and talked to them of the importance of this new work. Later, speaking to one of the Community who was then President of the Club, he told him how interested he was in social work. “If I was a little younger I would attack it”, he said, “but I am afraid I am too old. It would hardly be worth my while”.
We had hoped that the writer who is engaged in collecting matter for a life of Father Cullen would be able to write a sketch of his career in this year's “Clongownian”. Unfortunately, however, this he found impossible at the last moment owing to illness, and we are compelled to content ourselves with this brief outline.
The beautiful appreciation of Father Cullen which follows is from the pen of an old Crescent boy, and first appeared in the “Irish Monthly”. To the editor of that periodical our thanks are due for permission to reproduce it here. For those who knew Father Cullen, his saintliness, his kindliness, his quaint, pleasant humour this beautiful sketch will recall one whom all looked upon as a personal friend. For those who did not have the privilege of his acquaintance, it may do something to explain the greatness of his personality and the astounding success of his world for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Recollections of Father Cullen
It was in the year 1876 that I first I heard father Cullen's name mentioned. A kind friend, now dead, had invited me to spend some days at Raheny Park, Dublin. On the first evening he said to me at dinner :
“What drink will you have?” “Is there no good water in the neighbourhood?” I said.
“Oh! so you are a Cullenite”," said he; on seeing my puzzled look, he added “Don't you know Father Cullen, the Jesuit?” I told him I did not. Then he spoke in glowing terms of Father Cullen, a young Wexford priest, who was devoured with zeal, especially for temperance. He told me, further, that the Bishop of Ferns, having set his heart on diocesan priests giving Missions through the diocese, had put certain selected priests in a House of Missions, and among the first, or at the head (I forget which) was Father Cullen. The zeal and success of these priests was such - I hope nobody will be offended if I tell - that in ecclesiastical circles they were (half in joke and half in admiration) styled the Needleguns. (This was a new weapon put into the hands of the French soldiery in the Franco-German War of 1870, spoken of with most as much awe as the “Big Bertha” that bombarded Paris from 80 miles away, during Holy Week in the late war.)
Many a priest calculated to give name and fame to any institution passed through it; two only need be mentioned, His Grace the present Archbishop of Sydney and the subject these lines.
From the House of Missions Father Cullen passed into the Jesuit Noviciate; but, whatever else he left behind him, the divine zeal for Temperance, “like the scent of the roses, hung round him still”. . At any rate so much was I enraptured by my friend's account of him, that from that day forward I had my eye out for “Father Cullen the Jesuit”.
But it was a dozen years or so before I met him. In the year 1888, while I was one of the priests attached to the Limerick Workhouse, two doctors told me that I was threatened with consumption. Late in the month of May, or early in June, I obtained leave to go to Lisdoonvarna. Having got into the train I found only a few in the compartment; but huddled up in a corner, with a black woollen muffler round his neck, was a priest who seemed to me to be aged, and whose harsh cough at once awoke my sympathy, for I was only too familiar with it myself.
I was wondering where he came from, and where going to, when the train, drawing up at Ennis, I found him, like myself, changing into the little West Clare Railway. Oh, for the good old days of earlier years, when we took “the long car” here and drove over the magnificent country through Corofin, Kilfenora, and by Maurya Rua's Castle into Lisdoonvarna, as the afternoon sun was declining towards its bed in the ocean. Thomond of ancient times, with its windowed castles, its ferny hills, and bushy glens, is to my mind the most romantic land in Ireland. Or run in the mail car, if the old mail car is still running, of a summer's evening, for a remembrance that will last you all your life, from Lisdoonvarna by Quinn Abbey in its ruins, through Ruan in its loveliness, into Ennis.
We reached Ennistymon and I found my companion priest preparing to leave. “He is for Lisdoonvarna, on the same melancholy errand as myself”, I said in my own mind. But, no; a private car, in waiting, took him away. I sat in one of the public vehicles, as, bereft of company and interest, I jogged up and down the uneven road to the Spa.
That evening I was surprised to see the place full of priests, going along in soutane and cap, but all solitary and silent. I couldn't think what it meant. Happening, however, to see an old classmate of Maynooth, I stopped to inquire. He put his finger to his lips and whispered : “On Retreat!”
All the priests of the diocese were on Retreat. “Who is conducting it?” I asked hastily. “Father Cullen, the Jesuit; there he is”.
I looked, and saw my companion in the train. I may here add that, at the end of the Retreat, the same priest told me that he thought he never attended so beautiful or so elevating a one; and the subject matter that Father Cullen took was, “The seven steps of : the Priesthood”.
Of all the priests there Father Cullen and I were the only two not on retreat. I watched a favourable opportunity to approach him, I told him where I had first heard his name, and he spoke as charmingly and as delightedly of our common friend of Raheny Park as he had spoken twelve years before of him to me.
We had a high time of it for that week. Every moment that he was free we were off together. We talked of many things as “the bee through many a garden roves”; but when we came to talk of Temperance “we settled there and strayed no more”. At this winding up, I said to him:
“You have now a grand opportunity. You have started your beautiful magazine, The Messenger of the Sacred Heart, which God bless and prosper. Make it a vehicle of temperance”.
It was the first year of the Messenger; and if there is a mistake in the date I have given above, this will correct it. On its appearance I had written to him welcoming it; I had already been getting and circulating the English Messenger.
His answer was: “We must wait till we are fixed in the saddle”. And his final words at our parting on the last day of that week, when I was still insisting, gave this definite promise : “As soon as the circulation of the Messenger reaches 2,000 I will cry, in the words of Father Mathew signing the Temperance Register at Cork, ‘Here goes in the Name of God’.”
During the year I kept dropping him an occasional line, reminding him of his promise. Towards the end he wrote cheerily: “The circulation has reached 5,000; here goes in the name of God”; and the January number, 1889, had duly the beginning of the Temperance Crusade.
Somewhere about this time I had to go to Dublin. At Gardiner Street I learned that Fr Richard Clarke SJ, (the Oxford convert at the time Editor of the Month), would preach on the following day, the 3rd December, on St Francis Xavier. My heart gave a jump. Not long before that, at a critical moment Father Clarke had, all unasked, done me a seasonable and valuable service at a time I badly needed it. I determined at once to be present to hear him, and try to get a chance of saying one word of thanks to him viva voce, I had already written to him, and some letters: had passed between us, but I had never met him.
Next morning I was in good time at St Francis Xavier's. I begged the good Brother to take me where I could see, and not be seen - that the pulpit was all I wanted to see. He took me through corridors and doors, up flights of stairs the inner economy of St Francis Xavier's always reminds me of the Greek cave, where, when one enters, one never could find the way out. He took me, as I thought, up to the ceiling. I said, “O, thank you, Brother, this is grand; but will you come for me again, when the ceremonies are over?” He was good enough to smile at my evident fears and said he would.
With my weak sight I thought I was alone, and was exulting; but a low cough told me there was some one else there. I turned and saw Father Cullen, bent in his characteristic attitude of humility and thought, his cap pushed far down on his head and his Roman cloak about him. I told him what had brought me, and asked him to introduce me to Father Clarke, to say one word of thanks. “We must hurry, then, after the sermon”, he said, “and it must be only one word, for he has to go away immediately”.
I met him, had that one word, was satisfied and glad.
The next place I met Father Cullen was in Limerick, when the present Canon Cregan was the indefatigable Adm of St Michael's. Father Cregan had invited him to conduct a Retreat for the Women's Temperance Sodality and, knowing that Father Cullen and I were old Temperance friends, asked me to meet him, It was in the forenoon, with a brilliant sunshine pouring into the church, that, being put into the organ loft; I was in time to see Father Cullen in the pulpit. He was leaning out over the edge, and a subdued ripple of laughter was passing through the gathering. He was heaping ridicule on the drink fetish: “The baby is born, and there must be drink at the christening; the grandfather dies, and there must be drink at the wake. The horse has got a colic, or the calf has got wind in the stomach - send for whiskey. The boy gets his head clipped and, to prevent ‘getting cold’, he must shampoo with drink. If the day is hot - I'm thirsty, come, and we'll have a pint; is it freezing, come, and we'll have something to warm us. Are you going on a journey, put up a frost-pail. Have you a cough going to bed, put on a night-cap. Have you a pain in your tooth - oh, nothing like a drop to cure a toothache!”
It is singular how trifles remain in one's memory, when serious things, with the passage of years, fade away. I do not remember one thing more about that meeting ; but an incident happened about that time which I tell with some diffidence. It may serve, however, to put learned men “on their taw” about signatures to great things, when one finds a mistake in the case of a small signature.
He wrote to me one morning, saying: “I enclose you a letter, that asks how to establish a branch of the ‘Apostleship of Prayer’. Father Cullen then went on to say that he had a great deal of work pressing on him; and (with some roundabouts and apologies) asked would I write an article or two. My answer was: It was hard for one man to write what was in another man's mind; but I would do my best, and send them to him.
On considering the matter, I thought it would be well to divide it into three papers, and because of the subject, and for Father Cullen's sake, did my best; signed them with his name, and sent them to him. He forwarded them on to the Record, and in due time the first came back to me to be proofed, bearing my name as signature. I corrected it; and because the articles, written at Father Cullen's suggestion, were approved of by him; because I, not being sent, had not authority to preach on the subject, and because Father Cullen's name would carry infinitely more influence than mine, scored out my name, put Father Cullen's to it, and sent it back to the Record.
In a week or two I had a letter from'him, telling me how puzzled he was, when a friend, meeting him in Gardiner Street, spoke of his paper in the Record. He went on to say that at the first opportunity he hastened to find out what his friend had alluded to, and was “so sorry to see the paper with his name to it, that it was a shame”, etc, etc. I laughed at him, and said nothing.
Of course, when the first went on that line, the other two followed on the same rails - with his signature to them.
The last place I met him was at Sacred Heart College, The Crescent, Limerick. It is not many years ago, and again it is only a trifle. All my memories seem to be trifles, but happy trifles inseparably connected with friends, like “the old familiar faces” of poor Charles Lamb; and in the kindly spirit of the gentle philosopher, I make the avowal, with grey hairs on my head and the sands in the glass running low, that God has been kind in allotting to me all through life the truest and happiest friends that human heart could desire.
I forget what Father Cullen was doing at the Crescent - Temperance, I suppose. It was told in Waterford long ago of two brothers who took a hand in stealing sheep, when sheep-stealing was a hanging matter. One was taken, but through some loophole or influence, instead of being hanged, was transported. He served his time, and on returning, the first thing he saw as he set foot on the wharf, was his brother hanging on the gallows. His only comment, they say, was - “Mutton, of course!”
With Father Cullen it was Temperance, of course. He was at luncheon when I called. With the invariable charm and courtesy of the Society towards “an old Jesuit bay”, I was invited in to meet him. My very first look gave me joy, he seemed so hale and vigorous, I reckoned on years and years to come, bringing with them innumerable holy and fruitful works. We shook hands with delight across the table, and in a roguish vein he bent down and kissed my hand. But if he “reviled, I reviled him again”, for before he could withdraw it, I, too, had bent down and kissed his. We then rose up and laughed in each other's faces with gladness, like two schoolboys. God be with him! That is the last time we met.
I saw the noble Avondhu in its flood roll down from the mountains. There was sun shine about it; and on its heaving breast I read the beautiful words of the Holy Book: “I am black, but beautiful” ; black with the burden of riches it bore from its solitary wandering among the distant heights. God had placed riches there, and had bade the infant rivulets to take them in their charge, bear them up in their hands, and carrying them down, fertilize the waiting lowlands, throng. ing with multitudes of men and beasts. One rivulet, hearing God's call before the rest, springs forward, and leads the way; the others follow, all uniting in forming the glorious Avon-dhu.
So it is with the Temperance movement of each generation. The Sacred Heart is scattering its graces on the height. Men come and meditate. Over against is the expelled demon of Drink, having with him (as confessors only know too well) seven others worse than himself; showing the kingdoms of the earth, and crying in his lying voice, for he was a liar from the beginning : “All these will I give you, if, falling down, thou wilt adore me”. Alas! alas ! some poor fools believe.
But the Sacred Heart cries out: “He that will be My disciple, let him deny himself, and so follow Me”. And Father Mathew, in his time, with his vehement slogan,“Here goes in the name of God," springs forth on the height and leads on”. In the next season Fr Cullen, filled with love of the Sacred Heart, devotes a whole lifetime, with all the elan of the mountain flood, to the holy cause. Today men, whose names have not yet become household words, are as truly and wholeheartedly devoting themselves to the sacred cause of temperance: which, religion alone excepted, surer than any other, makes the rough ways smooth and the crooked ways straight.
With the vehemence of the grand old Irish river, they pour down the mountainside, bring ing from theirconversation with God, indelibly written on tables of stone, the peace and blessing of their Creator.
R Canon O’Kennedy
◆ The Clongownian, 1924
Clongownians in Literature
Father James A Cullen SJ - by Father Lambert McKenna SJ
In the “Clongownian”of 1922 there appeaed a very vivid sketch of that distinguished son of Clongowes, the Rev James Cullen SJ. The editor of that date prefixed to this a tolerably complete summary of the work of this man, whose varied activities affected millions of his countrymen. It is unnecessary, therefore, to recapitulate here the career of Father Cullen, but it would be a pity to pass over this biography which, though not the work of an old Clongownian, is still so intimately connected with Clongowes as to fall naturally under the heading “Clongownians in Literature”.
And first, a few words about the book in general before we consider in detail those parts of it which will particularly interest Clongownians. The first, the absolutely essential quality we demand from the author of a life, the primary interest of which is religious, is absolute straightforwardness. He must not fall into the error of imagin ing that because the subject of his work was a very holy man he must be presented to the world as a faultless paràgon. Still less pardonable is the modern error which would transmute charity into common bonhomie, austerity into mild eccentricity, and mistakes and errors into the most lovable qualities in their watered down hero. Father McKenna is utterly removed from either of these irritating attitudes of mind.
Father Cullen is, in every page of the book, a living human being. There is an abundance of detail to enable us to see him as he really was at each stage of his career. It is a record of growing, not a description of a born saint, for if it is true some. saints are born, all are made. Father McKenna shirks nothing, but puts down with frankness and understanding all the facts of this remarkable life, though they are at times puzzling and even disconcerting. But at the end of the book we find ourselves saying, with something a little like awe: “What a life of zeal, of labour, of prayer. If only there were a few more like him”.
The book is well proportioned, much better so than the average biography, and the writing is vivid and clear, and in parts beautiful. The author possesses that vein of quiet humour without which we dare say Father Cullen could not be wholly under stood. He has collected excellent and very complete materials and used them with great effect.
To Clongownians, naturally, the chapter on Clongowes Wood is the most interesting. Father Cullen came to us almost by chance in 1856, and was here five years. He entered in Elements, and until he reached Poetry skipped a class each year in his upward progress and yet found himself each summer an Imperator. It is scarcely necessary to add that in the Debates, the Literary competitions, and the academic dis plays, he was peculiarly distinguished. One good story is told in this connection.
When the subject of the Academy-day Essay (carrying with it a prize of £10) was announced, he found that it was an historical question, of which he was totally ignorant. At the same time, he knew his only serious competitor to be extremely good at history, though poor in graces of composition. He therefore approached this boy with the following novel proposal : I suggest you get up the historical matter and arguments. I will then use them to write two essays one for myself, the other for you. One or other of us will get the prize, which we shall then go halves in. His friend accepted the terms, studied up the matter, and wrote the two essays as arranged. The Master of Rhetoric, who was official judge of the essays, detected signs of James Cullen's style in both compositions. James, summoned before him, stood on the defensive : You have no proof. But all to no purpose. He was to be punished for deceit, etc. James appealed forthwith to the Rector, who admitted the case was not proved against him, but seemed inclined to temporise. James would have none of this: if he was not proved guilty. he was to be treated as perfectly innocent. He therefore did a most unheard of thing. He wrote a long protest to the Provincial in Dublin. He won his case, too, and loyally shared the prize, which was adjudged to the essay he had presented in his own name.
There is another story of a stolen swim which we would dearly like to quote, an episode in which James' audacity brought him even nearer to a flogging, in this case at least well deserved. He had indeed an over-developed liking for playing at Tribune of the Plebs; but apart from that, he seems to have been a studious and quiet boy. He was in after years a great believer in school games, but as a boy was a poor performer. He was, as one expects to find, very pious, more so than is natural in most boys, and it was while serving the Mass of Father Eugene Browne, then Rector of Clongowes, that he felt, as he tells us hinself, with great distinctness, that God wished him to be a priest. There and then his resolve was made, his promise given, and a decision taken which in God's Providence saved, it would seem beyond all doubt, hundreds and hundreds of the souls of his fellow-men.
◆ The Clongownian, 1999