File 35 - Biographical information and obituary of Fr James McCann SJ

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IE IJA CHP/1/35

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Biographical information and obituary of Fr James McCann SJ

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  • [1930]; 1951 (Creation)

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2 items

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(22 February 1875-26 January 1951)

Biographical history

Born: 22 February 1875, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1899, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 30 July 1911, Milltown Park
Professed: 02 February 1913
Died 26 January 1951, Milltown Park, Dublin

Chaplain in the First World War.

by 1903 at Kasteel Gemert, Netherlands (TOLO) studying
by 1918 Military Chaplain : Sialkot CFA, 4th Cavalry Division, BEF France

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 26th Year No 2 1951

Obituary :

Father James McCann

Fr. James McCann was born in 1875, educated at Beaumont College and apprenticed to stockbroking in his father's office, on his return from school. In 1896 he became qualified and was taken into partnership by his father, who had a high opinion of his business acumen and knowledge of finance. But in 1899 he renounced brilliant worldly prospects to enter the Jesuit noviceship of the Irish Province in Tullabeg. A headline had been set him two years earlier by his lifelong friend Edward Dillon, and the example of both was followed later by Fr. McCann's sister, who startled Dublin society by quitting it and joining the Colletines in Manchester, from which she was transferred to Carlow and later to Simmons Court Road, Ballsbridge.
From Tullabeg he went to Gemert in Holland to study philosophy. On his return he was assigned to Belvedere College and taught there for four years. Then he crossed the city to Milltown Park for his theological training, and was ordained in 1911. A year later he was appointed as Minister and Bursar in Milltown itself. In 1917 he vacated this office to serve as military Chaplain in France. From 1920 to 1924 he filled the post of Minister in Clongowes. Then he switched back to Milltown Park as Director of Retreats. In 1932 he joined the staff of St. Francis Xavier's, Gardiner St. as Operarius and Bursar. In this post he gave proof of his business ability, and foreseeing the outbreak of World War II in good time, he quietly laid in large stocks of all household commodities which would endure storage without perishing. He thus insured his community from the shortages and hardships that pressed so heavily on all civilians during what was euphemistically known as “the emergency”.
In the status of 1946 he was relieved of his burden and sent back to Milltown Park to husband his strength - visibily waning - and prepare for death.
This he did to the edification of his brethren through over four years of increasing debility (marked by recurring collapses, calling for Extreme Unction). In these his courage and trust in God never wavered. Death held no terror for him. He often confided to friends that he longed for it, and found his severest cross in the tedium of waiting for release. It was long acoming, and he had much to suffer, but it came at last, quietly, painlessly, not like a thief in the night, but by day and rather like a nurse administering an injection of morphia - the euthanasia of the angel of death.
The change of life involved for him in entering the Tullabeg noviceship must have been trying to every natural instinct. Five or six years older than most of the ex-schoolboys about him and long accustomed to the sports and recreations of the wealthiest circles in Irish life, he yet took to the new life as if to the manner born. An enthusiastic rider and polo-player he faced the novel course before him (with hurdles as stiff in the moral order as Valentine's or Becher's Brook) eagerly, and he never lost a stirrup or “clouted timber”. He surmounted all obstacles in a curiously effortless manner, and was a shining example to younger riders in the race.
All through the years he ran true to earlier form. He carried the handicap of precarious health without letting it interfere with his varied activities. He had one great natural advantage, namely the innate high-mindedness of a gentleman. And that, elevated by grace, always gives a fine religious character. He had courage and enterprise. These qualities he displayed conspicuously in the crisis of Easter Week, when, regardless of danger, he exerted himself to find the necessities of life for communities in distress, especially his own charge, Milltown Park, and his sister's isolated nuns in Simmons Court Road. Still more when he rode round to various hospitals to attend the wounded, and berated the “loyalist” staff of one of them into equal treatment for Rebels and Tommies alike.
He showed them yet again when in 1917 he volunteered for service as a Chaplain in World War I. Several doctors declared his health unequal to the task. But he took no notice of the warning and forced his way through. He began in March of that year with a cavalry regiment, serving as infantry. He was invalided to London before the end of the year. Returning when fit for duty he was in the line by March, 1918 (this time in an infantry brigade) when the last great German push began. He remained till the end of the war and went into Germany with the occupying troops. During these years he won the esteem and affection of officers and men - also the official recognition of the M.C.
Though he had put from him all personal attachment to riches, he retained to the end a keen interest in questions of finance. But only to detect and point out the weaknesses and dangers of the whole capitalistic system of the nineteenth century. He shared his father's views that it was utterly top-heavy and destined to collapse under the impact of the first great war that might occur. It was surely ironic that, already in the nineties of the last century, the McCanns, father and son, who were probably the most successful stockbrokers of their day in Ireland, should warn their countrymen against the triumphant credit system then in vogue, and universally deemed “as safe as the bank of England” - the most popular comparison on the lips of men till 1914.
Fr. McCann in later years wrote an article in Studies explaining his father's heroic campaign, about the turn of the century, to alert Ireland to the true state of affairs and solicit all Irishmen to concentrate on the task of calling our invested millions home and devoting them to the task of developing agriculture, native industries, efficient transport, irrigation, reafforestation - just all those things we are busy about now, half-a-century later, when the native capital necessary for accomplishing them has largely vanished or turned to mere paper in the vaults of banks. But the McCann voice was a Cassandra voice. The British parliament turned a deaf ear to it as obvious economic heresy.
Even at home it was little heeded. And now we know the fulness of our gain. Fr. James did certainly love to talk of all these dreams of long ago. And took a certain unmalicious pleasure in saying: “I told you so”. Some listened and were interested, but more were just irritated and bored. It is the fate of prophets, natural or supernatural, in all spheres of existence. Fr. McCann, however, had become too detached in his own heart from the Kingdom of the World to be put out by such things. His eyes were fixed upon the Urbs Caelestis into which, we may well trust, he has entered, not exactly by violence, but by knocking at the gates with brisk aplomb, saluting St. Peter and saying Adsum!

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Partial biographical information from the Catalogus personarum and newspaper obituary of Fr James McCann SJ.

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1998; 2020

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