- 1917 - 1995 (Creation)
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Born: 24 June 1917, Armagh City, County Armagh
Entered: 07 September 1937, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1951, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1954, Belvedere College SJ,Dublin
Died: 08 December 1995, St Joseph’s, Shankhill, County Dublin
Part of the Clongowes Wood College, Naas, County Kildare community at the time of death.
Interfuse No 86 : July 1996
Fr Brian Cullen (1917-1995)
24th June 1917: Born, Armagh, Northern Ireland
Education: CBS, St. Patrick's College, Armagh
7th Sept. 1937: Entered the Society at Emo
8th Sept. 1939: First Vows at Emo
1939 - 1943: Rathfarnham, Arts and H Dip in Education, UCD
1943 - 1946: Tullabeg, Philosophy
1946 - 1947: Crescent College, Teaching
1947 - 1948: Belvedere College, Teaching
1948 - 1952: Milltown Park, Theology
31st July 1951; Ordained at Milltown Park
1952 - 1953: Rathfarnham, Tertianship
1953 - 1962: Belvedere, Teacher, Choirmaster
1962 - 1995: Clongowes:
1962-70: Teacher and Prefect of Study Hall
1970-81: Promoting S.R.P.A. and teaching in Naas Technical College.
1981-82: Promoting S.R.P.A. and teaching in Prosperous Vocational School.
1982-90: Promoting Society for Relief of Poor and Aged (S.R.P.A)
1990-95: Retired from active apostolate due to ill health.
8th Dec, 1995; Died.
All his life, Brian Cullen remained proud of his Armagh origins. He was proud of having been an altar server of Cardinal McRory and of having known his successors down the years. His contemporaries recall his powerful build as a novice, his fine voice and his prowess on the violin. In his scholastic years, he was often given the role of choirmaster. He was gifted with his hands; he could make almost anything. As a scholastic in Milltown, he helped Jim Lynch and John McAuley install the first internal phone system in Clongowes!
Brian was of shy disposition, preferring the company of one to a group. Although a bit of a loner, he had a roguish sense of humour. One of his year said of him that “he kept custody of the eyes, yet took everything in!” On one occasion in Rathfarnham Castle he slept it out and missed morning oblation. When he finally appeared on the juniors' corridor he spotted Charlie O'Connor, the minister of juniors, at the chapel end, so he about turned and headed off down the back stairs to the stone corridor on the ground floor. The O'Conor Don, dutiful by nature, pursued him. All in vain; the unrecognised scholastic had vanished into a brush room!
A fellow philosopher in Tullabeg with an interest in the grounds used knock on scholastics' doors for volunteers for outdoor works. Whenever he asked Brian, “Visne rastrare, frater?”. Would you like to do some raking, brother?. Brian used answer with a roguish smile, “Non hodie, Frater”, Not today, brother. On a famous occasion also in Tullabeg, when the rector was away, the scholastics planned a meal in the chemistry lab. Brian's contribution was to supply the chicken. A contemporary recalls Brian returning from the farm, rosary beads in one hand, the dead chicken in the other. Such moments provided a welcome break from class and study that was far from being student friendly.
What carried Brian through these years was his strong desire to be a priest. According to one of his year, “There was nothing Brian wanted more than to be a priest”. His priestly life was spent in two houses: Belvedere and Clongowes. He liked Belvedere and I am told that initially he found the change to Clongowes enormously trying.
Brian's quiet voice and shyness did not help him to establish authority in the classroom. It made teaching difficult. It explains why as the years went by he did less and less teaching and was given the job of study prefect, supervising one of the large study halls: a job he did not like.
These were difficult years, but Brian was not without the capacity to respond creatively. For several years he taught in the Vocational School in Naas and in the mid-sixties started the SRPA (Society for the Relief of the Poor and Aged). He had became aware of many old people living within a few miles of Clongowes, some of whom were on their own and living in poor housing. He saw that responding to their needs could also be a "schola affectus" for the older boys.
For twenty-five years this great work became the focus for all his energies, skills and compassion. He built up a well run organisation. Each year he made a careful selection from the members to form his committee. He taught them how to grow plants, make all sorts of toy animals, dolls, soldiers, lamp-stands and so much else which were sold on Union Day to raise funds.
On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays his white van would be seen around the country roads dropping off the boys in pairs to visit, clean, paint, chop firewood or just chat with an old person. Eyes were opened, and hearts were moved to respond. Many boys attained a responsibility that might not otherwise have been attained. The SRPA shed occupied a sort of extra territorial status within the school! Prefects and teachers respected this embassy-like status, and never entered. The SRPA was not confined to Clongowes. A branch still functions in Rathnew girls school, and for a time there were other branches in towns where former members lived. Brian wrote out a constitution to guide its development.
One cannot understand Brian without knowing something of his family. When he joined the Society, his mother was already widowed, his older sister Rita was an invalid, and his younger sister, Sally, a nurse in England. Brian worried about them and sought to attend to their needs as best he could. This was especially true of his time in Belvedere when he made many journeys to Armagh at weekends, sometimes “sub rosa’. Perhaps it was through them that he grew sensitive to the needs of the sick and the old.
My first meeting with Brian was not very auspicious! While on a visit to Clongowes as a scholastic, I asked him how the SRPA was going. I got the initials mixed up calling it the SPRA or something. Brian looked at me and said, “You are typical of the Province, you have no interest in what I am doing.....” This unexpected response was perhaps an indication that he felt his work was not appreciated by his brethren.
Ten years later when I was stationed in Clongowes we came to know one another better. It was the year before his stroke. He was still running the SRPA I remember being with him in Rathnew at the opening mass of the year for their ŞRPA. In community he enjoyed the company of some who could pull his leg. With others he was not at ease. Community meetings were not his joy! At recreation his conversation often went back to things of the past which did not make it easy for younger people to engage with him.
He always had a strong sense of priesthood and was most faithful to daily mass, office, and rosary. Brian loved nothing more than to head off in his van for a few days to visit friends. He hated to be tied down. He loved the independence of being able to come and go as he wanted. He was truly blessed in having wonderful friends. It was in their company that he was most at ease, most himself.
In June 1990 all was to change. While staying with his good friends, Maurice and Anne Dowling in Carlow, he suffered a stroke. After a fortnight in St. Vincent's the prognosis was not good. His speech was greatly impaired and conversation was difficult. The medical advice was that he would need some nursing care. I remember telling him that he would be going to Hazel Hall nursing home in Clane. He accepted it without complaint, mentioning he knew it from his visits. Thus began a stay of twenty months. He was well looked after. But it was not home. The day was long and he was often anxious; numerous were the telephone calls to Br. Cha Connor whose care of him was second to none. While he liked to be brought to Clongowes for his lunch, he was always anxious to leave again immediately afterwards. This was a time of adjustment; gone was his van, his bedroom in the castle, the SRPA work. Yet in all this he was sustained by visits from friends and Jesuits and his deep faith in God. In the midst of his confusion he never forgot the things of God and received Holy Communion with utmost reverence. From time to time he indicated his desire to go to confession, through some wordless gesture that I came to know. The mystery of the sacrament was deepened by his utter humility and my inability to understand anything he said.
Then came a moment of crisis that turned into a blessing. Brian began to get confused about which room was his! The nursing home with great regret told us they could not keep him any longer. There was a brief stay in Cherryfield followed by some time in St. John of God's, Stillorgan. It was while in Stillorgan that his close friends of twenty five years, Bill and Bridie Travers, asked if they could look after him in their country hotel in Prosperous, two miles from Clongowes. Their kindness and that of their family to Brian was truly wonderful. He remained with them until his health deteriorated still further and necessitated his going to the new St. John of God's nursing home in Shankill for his last three months.
It was fitting that Brian died in the company of Bill and Bridie, who along with their family had taken turns to keep vigil with him during his last week. Fitting too that Brian who had such love for Our Lady should have died in the early hours of the 8th December.
Charlie Davy SJ
◆ The Clongownian, 1996
Father Brian Cullen SJ
The death took place of Fr Brian Cullen SJ, founder and first director of the Society for the Relief of the Poor and Aged (SRPA) on the feast of the Inmaculate Conception, 8 December 1995, at St Joseph's Nursing Home, Shankill, Co. Dublin. The following is an extract from the homily preached at Fr Cullen's funeral Mass by Fr Kieran Hanley SJ, for many years his colleague in the Jesuit community and its Rector 1983-89.
Seventy-eight years ago Fr Brian Cullen was born in Armagh on 24 June 1917. He certainly had a happy life as a schoolboy with good parents and two devoted sisters. He always spoke with a certain nostalgia of Armagh. Every step leading up to that majestic cathedral on its imposing hill, every stone of the cathedral itself, he loved with some thing akin to awe and reverence. His days were spent in the school under the shadow of the cathedral, in the care of the Vincentians, at St Patrick's College.
When Brian was twenty, his father died and in that same year, 1937, he joined the Jesuits. He did all the normal studies performed by young Jesuits at that time. In 1939-45, owing to the war, his opportunity of going abroad to study in Spain or France or Germany did not materialise. He was ordained priest on 31 July 1951 at Milltown Park.
After ordination he spent nine years teaching at Belvedere, where he had been a scholastic for a year, and the remainder of his life was here in Clongowes. At this stage his mother had poor health and needed constant care. The younger sister developed some sort of paralysis and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The other sister had taken up nursing and eventually became matron of a hospital in London. But she too developed a form of illness that necessitated confinement to a wheelchair. For many years Fr Cullen spent all his Christmas, Easter and summer holidays attending to the three patients. This was undertaken without a word of complaint - it was really heroic work and I doubt if anyone heard a tiny grumble from him.
I also think that few were quite aware of the strain that was involved in his life, as he was working during term-time - for eight years he was prefect of the Big Study in Clongowes and then he worked for twelve years in Naas Technical College (1970-81) and Prosperous Vocational School (1981-82).
In 1968 he started the SRPA among the boys in Clongowes. This was a labour of love for Fr Brian. The Lord blessed him with a marvellous pair of hands that could make umpteen sorts of Christmas toys for children that were really works of art. These were sold on Union Day to raise funds for the SRPA. He worked very hard and was a keen judge of a boy's gifts and sense of responsibility. He liked the boys and they appreciated his ideals and what he was trying to do. His work was good for them. The SRPA was his brain-child in every detail, from start to finish. During the years when I was Rector, many past Clongownians asked me how Fr Cullen was. They were obviously past members of the SRPA. This association gave Fr Brian a great sense of fulfillment. He did trojan work in a very professional way and there is no reason why the work of the SRPA should not continue to prosper and thrive.
So, our prayers and the Mass this morning are in thanksgiving for the work Fr Brian Cullen did through the gifts that God gave him. This brought him great joy but also, I fancy, a certain sense of worry and pain, which no doubt eventually brought on the stroke that God, in his plan for Brian, asked him to carry until his death.
Luckily he was blessed by certain families who were very good to him - like the Powers of Co. Waterford, the Dowlings of Carlow and the Travers of Curryhills in Kildare. The Travers nursed him with extraordinary care and love. I speak for the Jesuits and all I can say is this: may the Lord reward them for their wonderful devotion and genuine kindness. It certainly made Fr Cullen's last five years on this earth that much more tolerable under such difficult circumstances.
We pray for Fr Brian, his cousins and those who loved him, and we offer them the comfort of our sympathy,
Fr Charlie Davy, Fr Hanley's successor as Rector of Clongowes, writes:
In the mid-sixties Fr Cullen started the SRPA. He had become aware of many old people living within a few miles of Clongowes, some of whom were on their own and living in poor housing. He saw that responding to their needs could also be a schola affectus (a school of love) for the older boys.
For twenty-five years this great work became the focus for all his energies, skills and compassion. He built up a well-run organisation. Each year he made a careful selection from the members to form his committee. He taught them how to grow plants, make all sorts of toy animals, dolls, soldiers, lamp stands and so much else which were sold on Union Day to raise funds.
On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays his white van could be seen around the country roads dropping off the boys in pairs to visit, clean, paint, chop firewood or just chat with
a old person. Eyes were opened, and hearts were moved to respond. Many boys attained a responsibility that might not otherwise have been attained. The SRPA shed occupied a sort of extra-territorial status within the school! Prefects and teachers respected this embassy like status and never entered. The SRPA was not confined to Clongowes. A branch still functions in Rathnew, and for a time there were other branches in towns where former members lived. Brian wrote out a constitution to guide its development.
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File containing ordination papers, biographical material and some letters relating to Fr Brian J Cullen SJ.
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- Cullen, Brian J, 1917-1995, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Kieran, Laurence J, 1881-1945, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Crowe, Patrick J, 1925-2017, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- McGarry, Cecil, 1929-2009, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Clongowes Wood College SJ, County Kildare, 1814- (Subject)
- Doyle, Patrick J, 1922-2008, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Society for the Relief of the Poor and Aged (Subject)
- Harnett, Philip, 1943-1996, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin (Subject)
- MacMahon, John R, 1893-1989, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- Neary, John J, 1889-1983, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- St Mary's, Emo, Laois, 1930-1969 (Subject)
- Murphy, Michael J, 1894-1971, Jesuit priest (Subject)
- St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, Offaly, 1818-1991 (Subject)