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Kane, Robert I, 1848-1929, Jesuit priest
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Dates of existence
29 March 1848-21 November 1929
Born: 29 March 1848, Dublin
Entered: 03 November 1866, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 1880, Laval, France
Professed: 02 February 1888, St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin
Died: 21 November 1929, Milltown Park, Dublin
Oldest brother of T Patrick - RIP 1918 and William V - RIP 1945
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1869 at Amiens, France (CAMP) studying
by 1870 at Roehampton, London (ANG) studying
by 1875 at Vals, France (TOLO) studying
by 1877 at Laval, France (FRA) studying
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Oldest brother of T Patrick Kane SJ - RIP 1918 and William V Kane SJ - RIP 1945
Paraphrase/Excerpts“Irish Catholic” :
“Father Robert Kane SJ, well known as ‘the Blind Orator’ died at Milltown Park.... The son of William J Kane of Dublin and his wife Mary MacDonnell of Saggart ... he was a nephew of Sir Robert Kane, distinguished Irish scientist, author of “The Industrial Resources of Ireland”, and first cousin to the famous Admiral Henry Kane. He received his early education at Clongowes (1859-1864) and Ushaw (1864-1866).
After First Vows he went to St Acheul and then Roehampton for studies. He then spent three years Regency at Clongowes teaching Classics, and then back to France at le Mans, then two years Philosophy at Laval and followed by three years Theology and he was Ordained in 1880. Ill health forced him back to Ireland where he finished his Theology.
When the Philosophical school was opened at Milltown in 1881 he was appointed Professor of Physics and Ethics, which due to failing sight he was forced to abandon after a couple of years. He made his Tertianship at Roehampton and was then sent to Gardiner St. for two years and where he made his Final Vows. Then the Theology faculty was opened in 1889, and in spite of his disability, he was appointed Professor, and again after three years he had to abandon this post due to poor sight.
He remained at Milltown after he finished as professor, with the exception of two years at Crescent (1901-1903). He now devoted himself to the ministry of Preaching, Confessing and giving Retreats. Though totally blind for almost 30 years he would not abandon work. His strong and determined character would not consider a life of inaction or repose. He was fifty-six when he started teaching Philosophy and an oculist told him his eyes would not stand the strain, but he went ahead anyway. Instead, knowing blindness would come, he resolved to acquire a thorough knowledge of Philosophy and Theology, a store on which he would have to draw in the future. In the darkness of his blindness he sat composing his sermons and committing them to memory. He was then continuously sought after as a Preacher both in Ireland and England. His style was florid and rhetorical, but the matter was solid and profound. He could make dry scholastic argument live by the touch of his poetic mind.
Although blind he was able to prepare many works for publication, ad so he kept working right until the end. His last illness lasted 10 days and he died peacefully at Milltown.
Shortly before his death the Senate of the National University of Ireland notified him that they intended to confer the Degree ‘Doctor of Literature’ on him, in recognition of his published work.”
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 5th Year No 2 1930
Fr Robert Kane
Fr. Robert Kane ended his long and heroic life at Milltown Park, Dublin, on Thursday Nov. 21st. 1919. Fighting a battle against blindness for 40 years, and during all that time preaching sermons, many of them on great occasions, giving retreats, writing books, travelling alone through a crowded city, going on long missionary journeys, surely all that lifts a man's life to the heroic level. And such was the life of Fr. Robert Kane.
He was born in Dublin on the 29th March 1848, His first school was the Loreto Convent, N. Gt. Georges St, in which street his family then lived. He spent a short time at a school in Gloucester St., then for a year was with the Carmelites in Lr. Dominick St., another year at Newbridge, went to Clongowes in 1859, and finally to Ushaw in 1864 where he put in two years. When at Clongowes he began to think of joining the Society. At that time he was a Ward of Court, under the authority of the Lord Chancellor, and the change to Ushaw was, possibly, to test his vocation. He remained firm and entered the Novitiate at Milltown Park on the 3rd. Nov. 1866. He went to St. Acheul for his juniorate, where, on his 21st birthday, 29th March 1869, he took his vows. A second year's juniorate, spent at Roehampton, followed, and then Clongowes for three years teaching 1st Grammar and Poetry.
It was during these three years that his eyesight, in consequence of a neglected cold, first became affected. A distinguished Dublin oculist, a protestant, told him that he would eventually lose his sight, that he would he unable for a life of severe study, and suggested settling down in the country to farm land. Fr. Kane went to our College at Le Mans instead, and put in a year as lower line prefect.
Next came philosophy, two years at Vals, and a third at Laval. On his way to Vals he got leave to visit Lourdes, and he ever afterwards believed that the result of the visit was a special grace that enabled his eyesight to hold out during the long years of severe Jesuit study. Theology followed immediately - three years at Laval, (at the end of them came the expulsion
from our houses in France), the fourth year was passed in private study at Clongowes. Fr. Kane was ordained in the Cathedral at Laval on the 8th Sept. 1880, travelled to Dublin and said his first Mass at St Francis Xaviers, Gardiner St. on the feast of the Dolours BVM.
Those who made their studies at Laval will remember the excellent custom of having a long sleep to 5am during the minor vacation. Fr. Kane would not avail of this privilege. Up at 4am., and, when the morning devotions were over, pounded hard in his room until 11.45. On Villa days there was a forced march of some 40 or 50 miles. On getting back to Ireland
this too strenuous work was increased rather then lessened. People say that he burned the candle at both ends.
However the studies were get through without serious mishap. From issi to 1991 the 1883 the philosophers of Milltown had him as one of their professors and their immediate Superior. In the latter year tertianship was commenced at Milltown, but did not last long, the eyes were getting ominously bad, and for nearly two years he was laid up partly at Milltown, partly at Dusseldorf. In 1885, all the Catalogue says about him is “Cur Val”. In 1886-87 he made his tertianship at Roehampton, and when it was over went to Gardiner St., remained there for two years and then returned to Milltown as professor of the “Short Course”. He held this position for three years, but the eyes seem to be getting slowly, steadily worse, and by 1892 his energies were confined to “Exam. NN., Trad. exerc. spir., conf. ad jan”. From that date he remained at Milltown until his death, with the exception of two years spent at the Crescent, Limerick . Limited space inexorably compels to postpone a further sketch of Fr. Kane's life to the June number.
Irish Province News 5th Year No 3 1930
Obituary : Fr Robert Kane continued
Up to about the year 1901, Fr. Kane was still able, under favourable circumstances, to read his own manuscripts, large, heavy writing. But about that date the sight failed completely. He became stone blind.
It was then that the heroism of the man asserted itself. He did not lie down under the weight of his heavy cross. He continued to preach, to give lectures, retreats, to move about the country on missionary journeys. And he prepared all his discourses with the upmost care. At first sight this would seem impossible, but with the help of a secretary, and the aid of the more than willing scholastics of Milltown, the work was done.
Fr. Kane's style of preaching had many ardent admirers and many very severe critics, He was quite alive to this fact, and defends himself as follows : “I frankly and most willingly admit that there are able and admirable men who don't quite approve of my style of preaching. To them, and to all those who share their views, I offer my “Apologia”. I never for a moment thought my style is the only good style, nor did I ever fancy that it is the best style. My position is this : My style is the best style for me, and for those amongst my audience whose character and sympathies are like my own.
“Nothing is too good, too beautiful, to he the living shrine of the living Word. The inspired practice of the Church has been always, when this is possible, to build her grand Cathedrals., her humble pretty Chapels for her King to dwell therein. No gold is too pure, no precious stones too costly or too brilliant to enshrine His Precious Blood, no silk too fine, no lace too delicate to adorn His Altar or its ministers. So, too, no oratory is too elevated, or too touching, or too beautiful to be the medium of His teaching or His appeal.
This is true of the personal character of the Priest, as he is Christ's Preacher. To his Divine work, the individual Priest must put all the thinking of his mind, the knowledge of his study, the care of his writing, the accuracy and finish of his speech, the power and attraction of his voice, the fitness, the reverence and the subdued sacredness of good taste in gesture. In all this the Priest must he himself, his very own best self. This is my ideal, and I have tried to realise it in myself.”
The depth of Fr. Kane's holiness has been, fortunately, revealed to us by a little book, a few copies of which were distributed on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee. It consists of a collection of prayers composed by himself. The prayer for patience occupies just six pages of that book. Though he does not say so, it is quite obvious that his own heavy cross was pressing on him, and the prayer tells us how he bore it. Only a few lines of those six pages can be given : “Jesus Christ, my God and my Redeemer, I accept my cross as a result of my own folly, ignorance, or obstinacy, as a result chosen or permitted by Thy Supreme Will. I accept it as a punishment inflicted by Thine Absolute Justice, As a keepsake sent from Thy Sacred Heart; As the Sign of the Cross upon my life; As a moulding of my life into a likeness of Thine own life. I accept it in union with Thine own most bitter Passion, and in union with the Dolours of Thine own most Blessed Mother. I accept it with unquestioning resignation, with thanksgiving, with gratitude for Thy goodness to me and mine, in reparation for my faults and sins”. He confided to a friend, that it costs him years of struggle to say this prayer with his whole heart. The “Prayer of a Religious” is very striking. Again no mention of himself, and again quite obvious that he is unconsciously laying bare his heart . He thanks God for the “inestimable grace of vocation”, for God's “mysterious mercy”, in keeping him true to that vocation, and then, in impassioned words, begs for the grace to he faithful to that vocation in life and in death. Those who can speak with certain knowledge tell us of his tender devotion to Our Blessed Lady, from boyhood. Of course the “Few Special Prayers” contains prayer to the “Virgin Mother”. But there is scarcely a prayer in the book in which Mary is not called on with tender devotion and absolute confidence. Fr. Kane was very honest when telling us of the praise or blame meted out to him during life. Surely he was not less honest when dealing heart to heart, with God, and these Special Prayers tell us how he dealt. His piety did not lie on the surface, but every page of that book reveals the true Jesuit, the real, genuine A “Man of God”
During his period of total blindness Fr. Kane prepared for the press and published the following : “The Eucharist”; “From Peter to Leo”; The Virgin Mother”; “The Sermon of the Sea and other Stories”; “Socialism”; “The Plain Gold Ring:’ “Good Friday to Easter Sunday”; “God or Chaos”; “From Fetters to Freedom”; “Worth”; “A dream of Heaven and other Discourses”. A poem of his “From out the Darkness” appeared in the Irish Monthly, October 1885, 1885, that gives a good idea of his character.
Shortly before his death, the Senate of the National University notified him that they intended to confer the degree of Doctor of Literature on him in recognition of his published work.
We are again indebted to Fr. P. Gannon for the following appreciation It appeared in the : Standard” 1of Nov. 30th. :
After Fr. Finlay, Fr. Kane, and another link is snapped with the ecclesiastical Ireland of the last half century. Much more, too, than his younger colleague did Fr. Kane pertain to that past. The final years of blindness naturally lessened contact with men and passing events.
Yet Fr. Kane refused to be alone, or to be severed from the world of men. He did not retire to his tent embittered and inactive. He came of a fighting race and continued the good fight, as he saw it, with a gallantry well nigh heroic. He reminded one a good deal of an abbé of the ancient régime - perhaps because so much of his education was received in France. He had the dignity and stately courtesy of older times. His appearance in the pulpit suggested even a prophet of the Old Testament - The handsome face, the flowing beard, the voice, rich and sonorous till age weakened it, the gestures graceful and impressive, the moral earnestness, the air of conviction of this sightless seer caught the attention and stirred the imagination of his listeners. These external characteristics, united with a genuine gift of eloquence which he had cultivated with his wonted thoroughness and assiduity, made him perhaps the most distinguished pulpit orator in Ireland for a whole generation. Loss of sight, making its insidious approach from early manhood gradually forced him to relinquish the professor's chair, for which he was highly qualified, and compelled him to devote all his energies to the pulpit and the lecture platform. He became “the blind orator”, widely familiar as such throughout Ireland and Great Britain, and rarely has success been more nobly won. The style of his oratory is less in harmony with the taste of to-day, and never lacked its critics. It is studied, self-conscious and somewhat artificial. It abounds in antitheses, alliteration, and elaborate cadences, which would have earned for him the reproach of Asianism among the ancients. His very dedication to his art, so admirable under the circumstances, rendered him a victim to its wiles, which are not without their seduction. The loving care which he devoted to his periods robs them too often of naturalness and spontaneity.
But when criticism has had its say, it remains true that he was a very polished, impressive and at times even great preacher, who exercised an undoubted spell upon crowded congregations for almost fifty years, and has left eleven volumes of sermons and lectures to perpetuate his fame.
They are, perhaps, a little too rhetorical, but they are not mere rhetoric, They are informed by a sound knowledge of theology, and philosophy, and give evidence of an earlier literary formation which an almost phenomenal memory kept at his disposal even to the end. This would be no mean achievement for any man, and for him, with his tragic handicap, was a triumph of will-power and brain-power which none can fail to admire.
Indeed we may say that, though he preached frequently and eloquently, the noblest sermon of all was just his life-long fight against disabilities that would have daunted the courage of any heart less resolute than his, or less stayed on God. For the secret of his strength was just an unwavering faith in “HIM who rules the whole”.
His cousin, the admiral, rescued the Calliope from a storm in southern seas in which all others perished. Father Kane saved the vessel of his own career from similar shipwreck by moral seamanship not less wonderful. In addition to his activity in the pulpit he was an assiduous giver of retreats to priests, religious and laymen, He was also a very popular and trusted confessor, and the director of many souls. Many still remain who will mourn hint and miss the cheery tones inculcating courage and confidence all the more persuasively because coming from one who had never failed to exemplify these virtues in his own sorely tried life.
Fr. William Kane once asked Fr. Robert, by letter which of his sermons or sets of lectures did he himself prefer. The reply was a straight and as honest as the passage in which he gives us the criticisms of those who disliked his style of preaching : “The dearest to me of all my writings is my set of lectures on “the Virgin Mother”. They are the realisation of a long cherished hope. They are inferior from a literary point of view to many other sermons and lectures which I have written , yet, as I told you once, I want to have a copy of them put in my coffin. The sermon on Dr. Nulty was the greatest triumph which I have achieved. The fierce feud between the Parnellites and anti-Parnellites, the rancour of anti-clerics, with many other causes, made the occasion one of almost unparalleled difficulty. To my own mind it appears that I never got so near the highest oratory, as in the way in which I approached the subject, marshalled my materials, interested my audience, and won their sympathy for my hero before they were conscious of it, brought his enemies to lay down their arms, brought his friends to be generous towards their opponents. and left the feud buried with the great old Bishop. That will sound very conceited, but it is not really so, I had prayed with the most intense earnestness, and I relied exclusively on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Against the entreaties of my greatest friends and those whose wisdom I esteemed most highly, I neither asked nor took advice. I let my own thought and feeling follow implicitly the inspiration which I knew l had a right to claim from God in the doing of His work.
“Good Friday to Easter Sunday” puzzles me. On the one hand, it is my natural expression of my most intense reverence and feeling, and, as far as I can look upon it coolly and impartially, it seems to me very good literature, as far as my own personal style goes , but, on the other hand, it falls so immeasurably below its subject, that 1 should wish to to rewrite almost every sentence of it, but 1 know and feel that if I were writing and re-writing it for ever I should always remain dissatisfied.
If you find all this too long and too egoistic, you have only got yourself to blame for asking an imprudent question”.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Robert Kane 1848-1929
Fr Robert Kane, well known as the “Blind Orator”, died at Milltown Park on November 21st 1929. He was born in Dublin on March 29th 1848, brother of two other famous Jesuits, Frs Patrick and William. He was a nephew of the renowned scientist Sir Robert Kane, and a firsst cousin of Admiral Henry Kane.
Fr Robert entered the Society in 1866, and he professed Philosophy at Milltown Park, a post he had to relinquish owing to weak sight. On the opening of the Theological faculty at Milltown in 1889, he was appointed to a chair there from Gardiner Street, in spite of his defective sight. Again, after three years he had to give up. From 1889 he resided at Milltown Park, apart from two years at the Crescent.
During all those 37 years he devoted himself to preaching and giving retreats. Though totally blind for 30 years, he never ceased working for God.
At the beginning of his philosophical studies he had been warned that his eyes could not stand the strain of study. Yet he persisted, and he refused to renounce his vocation. Knowing the affliction that would ultimately come upon him, he laid up a store of learning in the Sacred Sciences, that never failed him during his years of darkness.
He was in continual demand as a pulpit orator, both in England and Ireland. His style eas florid and rhetorical, but the matter was solid and profound. It was during this long night of the soul that he prepared for the press those numerous volumes of his including “Sermon on the Sea”, “God or Chaos” and “Socialism”. Thus he kept working up to the very end.
The character and determination displayed by him iin overcoming his handicap, and the vast amount of good he accomplished for religion, are a lasting and inspiring example to all Jesuits.
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Kane, Robert I, 1848-1929, Jesuit priest
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- County Dublin » Dublin City
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park
- County Kildare » Clane » Clongowes Wood College SJ
- County Limerick » Limerick City
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Upper Gardiner Street » St Francis Xavier's Residence
- County Limerick » Limerick City » The Crescent » Sacred Heart College SJ, 1859-1974
- County Dublin » Dublin City » St Stephen's Green (Dublin) » University College, Dublin
- France » Occitanie » Vals
- France » Pays de la Loire » Laval
- France » Pays de la Loire » Le Mans
- France » Hauts-de-France » Amiens » Abbey of Saint-Acheul
- England » London » Roehampton » Manresa House (London)
- Germany » North Rhine-Westphalia » Düsseldorf
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Gloucester Street
- County Dublin » Dublin City » North Great George’s Street » Loreto Convent (North Great George’s Street)
- County Kildare » Newbridge » Common » Newbridge College
- France » Pays de la Loire » Laval » Place Hardy de Lévaré » Laval Cathedral
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Lower Dominick Street » Carmelite School (Lower Dominick School)
- England » Durham (County) » Woodland Road » Ushaw College
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