Gahan, Matthew, 1782-1837, Jesuit priest

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Gahan, Matthew, 1782-1837, Jesuit priest

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07 February 1782-22 February 1837


Born: 07 February 1782, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1805, Hodder, Stonyhurst, England - Angliae Province (ANG)
Ordained: 16 July 1810, Palermo, Italy
Final Vows: 01 November 1832
Died: 22 February 1837, Kirk Braddan, Isle of Man, England

in Clongowes 1817
by 1831 on Isle of Man

◆ Fr Edmund Hogan SJ “Catalogica Chronologica” :
Studied at Stonyhurst and Palermo after Entry.
1811 Sent to Ireland in November, he was a curate in Dublin for five years
1816-1822 Minister at Clongowes
1822-1824 With Charles Aylmer at Dublin Residence for two years.
1824-1837 Then for the remainder of his life, he was a Missioner on the Isle of Man, labouring under very great discouragements, privations and difficulties, which he endured with admirable patience. Oliver, Stonyhurst MSS calls him the “Apostle of the Isle of Man”.

◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Having spent some time working in Dublin and six years as Minister at Clongowes, he asked permission to devote himself to the spiritual care of the poor abandoned Catholics of the Isle of Man, whose spiritual destitution, being without a Priest, and deprived as they were of all consolation of religion, touched him to the heart. To their service and instruction he devoted the remainder of his life, amidst inconceivable discouragements, privations, difficulties, and labours, all of which he bore with exemplary patience and fortitude. He build two Chapels in the two chief centres of the island - Douglas and Castletown. Until his death he remained at his solitary post sustaining unaided the heavy labours of his mission and keeping alive the faith among the people. So he was styles “The Apostle of the Isle of Man”.
He died age 55, consoled by the reception of the last Sacraments, owing to the intervention of Divine Providence, which had sent him a priest, who had no knowledge of his illness, to be with him in his last moments.

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 4th Year No 1 1928

We are indebted to Fr. Provincial for the following copy of an inscription on a mural tablet in a Church near Douglas, Isle of Man, He received it from Mr .L. W. R. Murphy :

“Memoriae at quieti Rev Matthaei Josephi Gahan SI, qui suos in Hibernia reliquit ut sese Monam incolentium saluti impenderet. Religionc in Deum, zelo in proximum, benignitate in pauperes, comitate in olmies eximius, inter aspera valetudinis semper indcfessus, bins sacris aedibus erectis, febri tandem, dum agonizanti subveniret correptus, pie obit 22 Feb. 1837, ann. aet. 56.”

◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Matthew Gahan SJ 1782-1837
In the Isle of Man on February 22nd 1837, died Fr Matthew Gahan, who had been styled the “Apostle of the Isle of Man”.

He was born in Dublin in 1782 and entered for the Irish Mission at Hodder in 1805.

After having filled various positions in Dublin, and having been Minister for six years at Clongowes, he obtained the permission of his Superiors to devote himself to spiritual care of the poor and abandoned Catholics of the Isle of Man, whose spiritual destitution, through being without a priest and deprived of all consolation of religion, touched him to the heart. He had previously visited them occasionally and cheered them with his presence. To their service, he devoted the remainder of his life amid inconceivable privations and difficulties, all of which he bore with great patience and fortitude.

He built two chapels at the two chief centres on the island, Douglas and Castletown. Til his death he remained at his solitary post, bearing unaided the heavy labours of the Mission and keeping alive the faith among the people. To him, under God, is due the preservation of the Catholic faith on the Island.

It is no wonder he died at the early age of 55, worn out with the hardship and labour. But God, who seeth in secret, did not abandon him in the end. In the time of his great need, Fr Aylmer happened to come across to the island to visit him, not knowing he was sick, and arrived at the spot in time to prepare his soul for its last journey.

If you visit St Mary’s Church in Douglas today, you will see in the wall a stone slab, commemorating Fr Gahan as “The Second Apostle of the Isle of Man” – the first being St Patrick himself.

◆ George Oliver Towards Illustrating the Biography of the Scotch, English and Irish Members SJ
GAHAN, MATTHEW, of Dublin; born on the 7th of February, 1782 : entered the Society for the Irish Mission at Hodder house, on the 7th of September, 1805 : after completing his Noviceship there, commenced his Theology at Stonyhurst, and finished it at Palermo, where he was ordained Priest, on the 16th of July, 1810. In the November of the following year, he returned to his native Country, and for five years assisted as Curate in the Parishes of St. Michan and St. Nicholas without, in Dublin. In 1816, was stationed at Clongowes-Wood College, in the capacity of Minister, an office which he filled for six years, when he was ordered back to Dublin as Coadjutor to F. Aylmer, in the residence of the Society in that city. At the end of two years his Superiors permitted him to establish himself in the Isle of Man, the poor Catholics of which were lying like sheep without a Shepherd, and whom he had occasionally before visited and comforted, and cheered with his presence. To their instruction, and relief, and service, he devoted the remainder of his life, amidst inconceivable discouragements, privations, difficulties and labours, all of which he bore with exemplary patience and fortitude. This good Father was called to the reward of his zeal and charity, on the 22nd of February, 1837, aet. 55. Prof. 4, after five days illness. He had built a Chapel at Douglass and Castletown. Future generations will hail him as the Apostle of the Isle of Man “supra modum Apostolus Insulae Monae”.

◆ Fr Joseph McDonnell SJ Past and Present Notes :
16th February 1811 At the advance ages of 73, Father Betagh, PP of the St Michael Rosemary Lane Parish Dublin, Vicar General of the Dublin Archdiocese died. His death was looked upon as almost a national calamity. Shops and businesses were closed on the day of his funeral. His name and qualities were on the lips of everyone. He was an ex-Jesuit, the link between the Old and New Society in Ireland.

Among his many works was the foundation of two schools for boys : one a Classical school in Sall’s Court, the other a Night School in Skinner’s Row. One pupil received particular care - Peter Kenney - as he believed there might be great things to come from him in the future. “I have not long to be with you, but never fear, I’m rearing up a cock that will crow louder and sweeter for yopu than I ever did” he told his parishioners. Peter Kenney was to be “founder” of the restored Society in Ireland.

There were seventeen Jesuits in Ireland at the Suppression : John Ward, Clement Kelly, Edward Keating, John St Leger, Nicholas Barron, John Austin, Peter Berrill, James Moroney, Michael Cawood, Michael Fitzgerald, John Fullam, Paul Power, John Barron, Joseph O’Halloran, James Mulcaile, Richard O’Callaghan and Thomas Betagh. These men believed in the future restoration, and they husbanded their resources and succeeded in handing down to their successors a considerable sum of money, which had been saved by them.

A letter from the Acting General Father Thaddeus Brezozowski, dated St Petersburg 14/06/1806 was addressed to the only two survivors, Betagh and O’Callaghan. He thanked them for their work and their union with those in Russia, and suggested that the restoration was close at hand.

A letter from Nicholas Sewell, dated Stonyhurst 07/07/1809 to Betagh gives details of Irishmen being sent to Sicily for studies : Bartholomew Esmonde, Paul Ferley, Charles Aylmer, Robert St Leger, Edmund Cogan and James Butler. Peter Kenney and Matthew Gahan had preceded them. These were the foundation stones of the Restored Society.

Returning to Ireland, Kenney, Gahan and John Ryan took residence at No3 George’s Hill. Two years later, with the monies saved for them, Kenney bought Clongowes as a College for boys and a House of Studies for Jesuits. From a diary fragment of Aylmer, we learn that Kenney was Superior of the Irish Mission and Prefect of Studies, Aylmer was Minister, Claude Jautard, a survivor of the old Society in France was Spiritual Father, Butler was Professor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology, Ferley was professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Esmonde was Superior of Scholastics and they were joined by St Leger and William Dinan. Gahan was described as a Missioner at Francis St Dublin and Confessor to the Poor Clares and irish Sisters of Charity at Harold’s Cross and Summerhill. Ryan was a Missioner in St Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin. Among the Scholastics, Brothers and Masters were : Brothers Fraser, Levins, Connor, Bracken, Sherlock, Moran, Mullen and McGlade.

Trouble was not long coming. Protestants were upset that the Jesuits were in Ireland and sent a petition was sent to Parliament, suggesting that the Vow of Obedience to the Pope meant they could not have an Oath of Allegiance to the King. In addition, the expulsion of Jesuits from all of Europe had been a good thing. Kenney’s influence and diplomatic skills resulted in gaining support from Protestants in the locality of Clongowes, and a counter petition was presented by the Duke of Leinster on behalf of the Jesuits. This moment passed, but anto Jesuit feelings were mounting, such as in the Orange faction, and they managed to get an enquiry into the Jesuits and Peter Kenney and they appeared before the Irish Chief Secretary and Provy Council. Peter Kenney’s persuasive and oratorical skills won the day and the enquiry group said they were satisfied and impressed.

Over the years the Mission grew into a Province with Joseph Lentaigne as first Provincial in 1860. In 1885 the first outward undertaking was the setting up of an Irish Mission to Australia by Lentaigne and William Kelly, and this Mission grew exponentially from very humble beginnings.

Later the performance of the Jesuits in managing UCD with little or no money, and then outperforming what were known as the “Queen’s Colleges” forced the issue of injustice against Catholics in Ireland in the matter of University education. It is William Delaney who headed up the effort and create the National University of Ireland under endowment from the Government.from the Government.

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 32 : April 1984


Rev WS Dempsey

Mathew Gahan was born in Dublin in 1782 and joined the (partially restored) Jesuits at Hodder in England in 1805. He studied Philosophy at Stonyhunst (1807-09) and Theology at Palermo (1809-11). Ordained in Sicily in 1810, he returned to Ireland and worked as an operarius in Dublin (Saint Mary's Lane) from 1811 to 1815. He became Minister of Clongowes Wood College in 1816, a post which he held till an extraordinary assignment came his way in 1823. Father William Dempsey, Parish Priest og Peel in the Isle of Man, takes up the story.

The Catholics of the Isle of Man, now numbering two or maybe three hundred, were bereft of a pastor and appealed for immediate help to the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern Province of England.

After some delay, a Father Brown volunteered for the Mission. In the meantime, the Vicar Apostolic arranged with the Irish Jesuit college at Clongowes Wood, then recently established, to provide a resident priest for the Many Mission. And so, about the year 1823, one of the professors at the College, Reverend Mathew Gahan, S.J., nephew of the learned Augustinian with whose name many are familiar as the author of Catholic Piety, took up his new and unpromising post in Douglas.

He was accompanied by an Irish school-master, named John Kelly, whose services were to be of inestimable value to the faith and whose stern discipline was to impress more than the minds of the rising generation. A school was built beside the chapel of Saint Brigid in 1824, and here “Kelly the Roman” (as the Douglas people nicknamed him) presided over his mixed gathering of pupils. The school was mixed in every sense: Catholics and Protestants, girls and boys, rich and poor all crowded together in one small room. The children paid their weekly fees in kind as well as coin, potatoes, apples, cabbages and groceries formed the staple “school pence”.

Father Gahan, however, by no means confined his labours to Douglas. The whole Island was his parish, and regularly he would set off to visit his flock in Castletown, Peel and Ramsey. At that time there were no modern roads, only rough narrow bridlepaths, as Dean Gillow puts it: “rambling at their own sweet will up hill and down dale in the roughest and unreadiest manner conceivable”. There was nothing for the priest but to mount “St Francis' pony”. He tramped afoot over the rocky, shingly or sandy, unformed roads, ofttimes weary and footsore. Once in a way a cart as rough as the roads might give him a lift for a mile or two, but there were to snug railways, or even engineer-planned highways in those days....

Father Ganan was in the habit of visiting Ramsey about four times a year in order to afford the few faithful an opportunity of hearing Mass and receiving the sacraments. He used to send word in advance from Douglas that he was coming on the following Sunday. This message would come to an old Mr Collins, who despatched his son Edward to two Catholics living five miles off at Kirk Andreas, to tell them of the advent of the priest. From Andreas the lad had to strike off across country to Ballaugh village, where four more Catholics lived. Then he made his way home to Ramsey, after a round of more than twenty miles. On the appointed Sunday the little Flock came together in the back parlour of Mr Freel's shop at the bottom of King Street, hard by the Market Place. On these occasions the entire congregation assembled for Mass did not number more than twelve: Only 'the grown-ups were allowed to enter the room. The children were shut out for fear of spoiling the good man's carpet. This arrangement was kept up for a considerable time.

The chief monument to Father Gahan's apostolate is the church of St Mary at Castletown, which he opened in 1826. It had long been his dearest wish to raise a worthy house of God in the ancient capital of the Island, and his appeals to his countrymen in Ireland for this object were many and earnest. Sometimes crossing over in a fishing craft to Killough in Co. Down, he would spend two or three weeks together collecting funds; and the old people used to recall that no Catholic ever died without the sacraments while their devoted pastor was absent on these errands of charity.

Douglas, however, was far outstripping Castletown in population and civic importance; and Father Gahan realized. the need of providing a larger church there, more conveniently situated in the centre of the town. His indefatigable zeal, aided by generous Irish friends, enabled him to purchase an old theatre known as St George's Hall at the corner of Atholl Street, and Prospect Hill. This building was easily and quickly adapted to the purposes of a Catholic place of worship and dedicated to St Francis Xavier. Underneath was a spacious basement, admirably suited to the pedagogic exercises of Kelly the Roman. In the year 1836, just a few months before his death, Father Gahan had the satisfaction of saying Mass at his new chapel. “For the purchase and erecting of this chapel, writes his friend, “Father P Kenney, SJ, he had the leave of the late Vicar Apostolic, Dr Penswick, who even signed a deed empowering Mr Gahan to sell the premises in which the old chapel stood”, though the sale was never effected. Yet when this chapel was on the eve of being opened the present Vicar Apostolic refused to allow it to be opened unless conditions were signed by Mr Gahan and the Provincial Superior which they could not admit. The delay and all, its concomitant disappointments, and the anxieties which it produced, materially affected his health, which had been long, declining. In the course of the winter the oid chapel could not be used as the rain got through the roof, and as the missioner lived in the house at Douglas, he, was not able even in dry weather to go so far. These circumstances occasioned the chapel to be opened in a private way, and the good man knew the comfort of saying Mass in it some months before his death. Father Aylmer went over to see him on the 17th February, to induce him to come to Dublin, to relieve his mental and bodily sufferings, but he only arrived in time to attend him in his last illness. That very evening he had returned from one of his missionary calls, sick in fever, which terminated his edifying and useful life in five days”.

The “second apostle of the Isle of Man”, as Father Gahan had been affectionately styled, was laid to rest in the cemetery of Old Kirk Braddan. A few days later there appeared in the Mona's Herald the following tribute from the pen of a distinguished Protestant contributor: “Among the recent deaths you have had to record in your journal, none has been more generally and severely felt than that of the Rev. MJ Gahan, the clergyman of the Roman Catholic chapel in this town. The Rev. Mr Gahan's kind and amiable character in private life, his unostentatious and extended charity among the poor, without any invidious distinction, is scarcely equalled and seldom excelled. It is now upwards of twelve years since this excellent man commenced his christian labours in this Island, exposed to privations and vexations which few men but himself would have submitted to, and we have reason to believe his constitution suffered great ly from their bane ful effects. His ardent desire was to finish his earthly career in the Island he had adopted, and his memory will long be revered by a numerous circle of friends and admirers of his private and public virtues. I am sure of this - the poor have lost a real benefactor and an indefatigable spiritual guide...”

A marble tablet in the grounds of St Mary's, Douglas, perpetuates his memory in these words: “Friends have erected this monument to the peaceful remembrance of the Rev. Mathew Joseph Gahan, SJ, He left his own people in Ireland to devote himself to the salvation of the inhabitants of the Isle of Man. He was conspicuous for his piety towards God, for zeal towards his neighbour, for kindness to the poor, and for charity towards all. Amidst the hardships of weak health, he was ever unwearied. At length after building two churches he was struck down by fever whilst attending a dying bed, and sweetly expired February 22nd, in the year of sal vation 1837 at the age of 56”.

For a little while Father Aylmer, who attended him in his closing hours of life, remained in charge of his work until the Vicar Apostolic of Northern Ireland, Dr Brown, took over the spiritual administration of the Island. There was some talk at this time of entrusting the Manx mission to the Jesuit Fathers, and even of building a Jesuit college in the island; but it all came to nothing, and the college was subsequently erected in North Wales, under the title of St Beuno's.

In a recent letter to Father socius, Ms Ella Caine of Douglas assures us that Mathew Gahan's grave is still tidy and that she “will continue to look after it” as she has done for several years.


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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Gahan, Matthew, 1782-1837, Jesuit priest

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