Item 8 - Letter from Fr Hilary Lawton SJ to Irish Fr Provincial asking permission to spend a few nights in Dublin

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IE IJA J/4/8


Letter from Fr Hilary Lawton SJ to Irish Fr Provincial asking permission to spend a few nights in Dublin


  • 16 December 1944 (Creation)

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(4 April 1912-26 January 1984)

Biographical history

Born: 04 April 1912, Richmond Hill, Cork City
Entered: 07 September 1929, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 13 May 1942
History: 02 February 1947
Died: 26 January 1984, Dublin, St Ignatius, Lower Leeson St, Dublin

Early education at CBC Cork and 1 year of Science at NUI before entry

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 59th Year No 2 1984


Fr Hilary Lawton (1912-1929-1984)

Entered Tullabeg 7th September 1929. First vows 8th September 1931.
Juniorate, Rathfarnham 1931-33. Philosophy, Tullabeg 1933-36. Regency, Clongowes 1936-39. Theology, Milltown 1939-43; ordained 13th May 1942. Tertianship. Rathfarnham 1943-34. Apostolate: Clongowes: teaching, 1944-477; Prefect of studies, 1947-59; Rector, 1959-65. Crescent College: teaching, 1965-66; Prefect of studies, 1966-71. Crescent College Comprehensive: Administrative assistant, 1971-74. Loyola: Socius to Provincial, 1974-80. Leeson street: Minister, 1980-8l; Superior, 1981-84.
Hilary joined us for First Probation in September 1929 at Tullabeg. I can see him, a spruce slight young man in a bowler hat and light tweed coat, mounting the steps to the hall-door while we sat in the sunshine in the Spiritual meadow'. He was then the youngest of us all in years - and yet, at 17, somehow our senior; for we had, none of us, attained higher academic distinction than a Leaving Certificate or Matriculation, but Hilary had an Honours First Science qualification from UCC to his credit, with all the sophistication, real or imagined, that was festooned around such.
“Festoons” - that word, I think, sums up - one of the most engaging characteristics that we all can recall of Hilary - his festooning of his memoirs and adventures. Though one of the most private of men, he would tell many a tale of his boyhood, youth, and as years went by, of his later experiences - tales that gave rise to much enjoyment in his own family and a certain scepticism among his contemporaries and brethren. Yet there was always, as careful sifting revealed, a hard kernel of fact: the rest was an artistic verisimilitude' festooning the “bald and unconvincing narrative”.
Among the hard facts were indeed his being directed to the Society by the late Archbishop Finbar Ryan, OP, who was prior of the Dominicans in Cork when Hilary was a boy. Another: he played the organ in the Dominican church, Pope’s quay, Cork, being a student of the Royal College of Organists. He must have been quite an exceptionally brilliant school boy. He matriculated at the age of sixteen, was apparently considered by his teachers at “Christians' College, Cork”, suitable material to attempt an Entrance scholarship at Cambridge (this is the fact behind his working in the Cavendish laboratory and his “coxing of the College Eight”). Though he did qualify for an honours Science degree and was an excellent teacher of science in Clongowes, academic ambitions seemingly held no very great attraction for him.
Hilary's interest and competence in music - both organ and piano, and I believe the viola - has left quite a mark on the Province, notably in Clongowes, where he spent so many years. Organist as novice, junior, philosopher; choirmaster as a scholastic in Clongowes (where he followed another little remembered musician of the Irish Province, Fr Sydney Lennon † 1979); organist and choirmaster in Milltown, he trained many of us both in execution and appreciation of classical ecclesiastical music. As one who followed Hilary's footsteps as choirmaster in Clongowes and in Milltown, I can testify to the results of his training of the choirs which I took over from him. He was choirmaster, finally, of the choir of the Sacred Heart Church, The Crescent. Limerick: but then the great days of church music were fading, if they had not already faded, and scope for his gifts and interests were unhappily narrowed. Perhaps it is worth recording (for posterity!) that he and I collaborated in editing a Hymnbook for Clongowes. Mungret and our scholasticates ... Our hopes of a total acceptance of this product were never realised. One man's hymn is another man's horror!
I must leave to others a fuller appreciation of Hilary's work for Clongowes throughout his eighteen years there as Prefect of studies and Rector, (cf, the obituary notice in the Clongownian). One knew by report what he was doing in upbuilding the lay staff, in imaginative curriculum development, in the creation of one of the finest music schools, both choral and orchestral, in the country. Interspersed of course was the occasional account of his own doings from Hilary himself, never wanting in the “festoons” of “corroborative details”.
It would ill become me were I not to record that the burgeoning of Sacred Heart College, The Crescent into Crescent College Comprehensive Dooradoyle, would have been fraught with immense difficulties were it not for Hilary's calm, unperturbed, meticulous planning of the transfer. As the Headmaster's Administrative Assistant' - a post created for him by the Department of Education! - we had flawless “ignition and lift-off”. I think Hilary really enjoyed his short spell in Dooradoyle: and he regretted his return to the metropolis.
So much for his public career, so to speak. He was as I said a most private man, his stories of his life-adventures maybe only covering up his desire for privacy. As a friend he was ever-cheerful and even tempered. He enjoyed company; enjoyed his hobbies of photography and music-making; enjoyed the frequent visits to the ruined abbeys and castles which dot the counties of Limerick, Tipperary and Clare (how many he visited in some eight years!). We could and did go on villa together for twenty-odd years, and could year by year contemplate going (but never did go, unfortunately) on foot to Compostella for the feast of St James.
What more can I say? “He was my friend, faithful and true to me ...” May God have him in his keeping and may we be merry together in heaven.

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Letter from Fr Hilary Lawton SJ, Clongowes Wood College, Naas, county Kildare to Irish Fr Provincial John R MacMahon SJ asking permission to spend a few nights in Dublin.

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