File 277 - Letter from Fr James O'Dwyer SJ to Irish Fr Provincial

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Letter from Fr James O'Dwyer SJ to Irish Fr Provincial


  • 9 February 1908 - 3 July 1918 (Creation)

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(24 September 1860-29 October 1925)

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Born: 24 September 1860, Barronstown, County Tipperary
Entered: 01 October 1880, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 1895, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final vows: 02 February 1899
Died: 29 October 1925, Burke Hall, Kew, Melbourne, Australia

Older brother of Thomas (Toddy) - RIP 1942

Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ

by 1897 at Drongen Belgium (BELG) making Tertianship
Came to Australia 1901

◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Early education was at Tullabeg. The distinguished William Delaney was Rector there at that time, and James proved himself distinguished while there, in the classroom and on the playground. he ended his days there as Captain of the College.

After his Novitiate he was immediately sent to Belvedere for Regency. A year later he went to Milltown for Philosophy. He returned to Regency, this time for six years at Clongowes, where he earned a reputation as a brilliant teacher.
He then went to Milltown again for Theology, was Ordained there in 1895 and then went to Drongen for Tertianship.
After Tertianship he returned to Clongowes teaching.
1901 He was sent to Australia and was immediately appointed Prefect of Studies at Riverview.
1904 He was sent to Xavier College Kew.
1906 He was sent to the Richmond Parish.
1908 He was appointed Rector of Cavier College Kew. and remained in that post until 1917. During his tenure Xavier took its place in the first rank of Australian schools.
1918 He was asked to play a leading role in the founding of Newman College.
He was then sent teaching at St Aloysius College Sydney, before becoming the first Superior at Studley Hall (later Burke Hall), a position he held until his death there 29/10/1925

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
When the Irish provincial, John Conmee, came to Australia in 1908, he was not happy with conditions at Xavier College. “It is from almost all aspects, a failure - enormous debt (£30,000), fails miserably and increasingly at exams, fails in all athletic contests ...”. He believed that the college needed an educational rector who would improve the college intellectually and spiritually and remove the debt. James O’Dwyer was appointed rector in May 1908.
He entered the Society at Milltown Park, 1 October 1880. His Jesuit training was at Milltown Park for both philosophy and theology, and tertianship was at Tronchiennes, Belgium. During regency he taught physics and mathematics at Belvedere College, 1883-86, and Latin, Greek, and mathematics at Clongowes College, 1886-92.
O’Dwyer first appointment in Australia was as prefect of studies at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, 1901-04, but it seems that, as he did not continue the policy of previous prefects
of studies, he did not win the approval of the rector, Thomas Gartlan. O’Dwyer certainly did not approve of student absenteeism for sporting functions without his approval. Both rector and prefect of studies were strong, determined men - O’Dwyer was transferred to Xavier College.
It was during his term as rector of Xavier College, 1908-18, that his best work in Australia was achieved. He became one of the few Jesuit educationalists in the history of the Australian Province. At Xavier College he improved the school numerically, financially and educationally. At a time when science was unpopular as a school subject, he elevated its status. He built the laboratory, introduced electric light, enlarged the cricket oval, improved the Rowing Club and laid down the tennis courts. He also re-introduced secular masters after an absence of fifteen years and began the St Vincent de Paul Society in 1909. He also taught English literature and history, and encouraged a professional attitude to the teaching of religious knowledge.
O’Dwyer was one of the strongest of the rectors of Xavier College with extraordinary energy and force of character. He was most outspoken on every issue, showing a wide vision of life and detailed his educational philosophy more clearly than his predecessors. He stressed that “the aim and ideal of our education is to turn out cultured Christian gentlemen”. This was the Jesuit ideal for three centuries, and it was best achieved by following centuries of tradition, while taking care to keep in touch with the improvements of the physical sciences. More than many rectors, O’Dwyer believed that Jesuit traditions and the British Public School image had much in common, and the Public Schools of Victoria were continuing this great tradition of turning out men of character much needed for the future of Australia.
In his many addresses to parents and students, O’Dwyer stressed that hard work and character formation were more important than success in examinations or gaining prizes. He wanted his students to rise above their environment. with minds trained in wisdom. True education for him involved the soul, the life of the spirit, which produced truth, reverence, modesty and holiness. Christ was presented as the moral motive for Christians, and the syllabus used in education ought to be the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. The importance of religious education was continually stressed.
At a time when religious rituals were exactly prescribed, such as the custom of daily Mass for boarders, O'Dwyer questioned whether this enforced practice did not turn the boys against religion. It took another 50 years before compulsory Mass ceased. He was also a champion of pedagogical excellence. He constantly mentioned the poor quality teaching among Jesuits in Australia, and asked Irish superiors to send good teachers, especially in mathematics and science. Very little change occurred. He wanted Jesuit scholastics to be trained in pedagogy for teaching, but superiors held to the old belief that Jesuit formation was sufficient for all Society ministries.
Apart from his work within the colleges, O’Dwyer was also influential within the wider community In Victoria he was the Catholic representative on the Board of Registration, and was sought after for sermons and lectures. He gave the Cathedral Hall Winter Lectures in Melbourne one year, and regularly spent his holidays giving retreats.
In addition, he was not slow to comment on the education system in Victoria, all the time advocating an academic environment that would assist students to progress easily to the university.
The strong leadership that O’Dwyer exercised showed him to be a man of great zeal and enthusiasm, inspiring confidence and trust in others. He was extremely loyal to colleagues, boys and the Church. He was not given to praising people to their face, choosing rather to express his appreciation of them to others. He wasted no time on compliments. He was never familiar and not easy to know well, but was admired for his personal strength of character.
O’Dwyer was very British in outlook and spoke eloquently about the importance of the Empire and patriotism. During the Great War, he proclaimed the privilege of lighting for the
rights of King and country Vice-royalty were always welcome at Xavier College during his term of office. He strongly supported the Public School spirit at the College, a spirit that, in England he believed, had produced the best leaders in the Empire.
After his term of office as rector of Xavier College, he was given charge of preparing for the opening of Newman College at The University of Melbourne, a task he performed with
distinction. He must also be credited for the real work in founding the preparatory school to Xavier College, Burke Hall, and was appointed its first headmaster, 1921-25 . He died in office much mourned by the Melbourne Catholic community for his dedicated service to the Church and education.
It took time to know O’Dwyer as a person. He was reserved to a degree, even shy, and though he would let you know what he thought, he scarcely ever let you know what he felt. He could appear largely unemotional and lacking the finer sensibilities, keeping these emotions and feelings to himself. He was a man of action, and was impatient of delays. Yet, at the same time, he had no time for censorious criticism. If he had a complaint against anyone, that person alone heard about it. He was strong, sincere, and straight. These qualities earned the respect of his colleagues, and they seemed to treat him the same way.

Note from Toddy O’Dwyer Entry
Brother, Sir Michael, assassinated by a fanatical Indian student, Udharn Singh, 13 March 1940, in Caxton Hall, London, for the massacre at Amritsar, 13 April 1919, while he was Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab. Over 379 protesters were killed and 1,200 wounded. The “Massacre” was officially condemned, and many Indians considered Michael a tyrant.

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 1st Year No 1 1925
Studley Hall (Burke Hall) : The success of this school is mainly due to the late Father James O'Dwyer, who died on October 29th R.I.P.. His death is a big loss to Dudley and to the Mission, to which he rendered invaluable assistance.

Irish Province News 1st Year No 2 1926

Obituary :
Fr James O’Dwyer
Fr James O'Dwyer died on Thursday, 29th October, 1925. His loss was severely felt, not only by the Society in Australia, but by his brother priests and by all those who are engaged in the great work of education. The crowded congregation assembled in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the solemn office and High Mass were celebrated on the Saturday after his death gave eloquent testimony of the high opinion in which he was held by the general public. Some of the leading Protestants of Melbourne took part in this tribute to his memory.

Fr. O'Dwyer was born in Co. Tipperary in 1860. At the age of sixteen he went to Tullabeg, then a flourishing College with Fr. Wm. Delany as Rector. Young O'Dwyer was equally distinguished in the class-room and on the play-ground, and ended his school days as Captain of the College. He entered the Society in 1880, and immediately after the Noviceship was sent to Belvedere as Master. After a year he returned to Milltown for Philosophy. At the end of the third year he was appointed to Clongowes, where, during six years, he earned the very highest reputation as a brilliant master. He made his Theology at Milltown, ordained in 18957 went to Tronchiennes for Tertianship, and when the year was over he again found himself a master at Clongowes. He remained there until 1901, when he sailed for Australia. He at once became Prefect of Studies at Riverview and held that office until 1904, when he was transferred to Kew. Two years later he had his first experience of Parish work at Richmond. It did not last long, for in 1908 he was appointed Rector of Kew. During his rectorship, which lasted until 1917, Kew took its place in the very first rank of Australian schools a position it still occupies. To play a leading part in the starting of Newman College in I9I89 was Fr. O'Dwyer's next work. For the two following years he was engaged in teaching at St Aloysius' College, Sydney, and then became the first Superior of Studley Hall. Except for one year, when ill health incapacitated him for active work, he held that position until 1925 when God called him to receive the reward of his great labours.
Fr. O'Dwyer was not only a great schoolman, but as a preacher and lecturer he held a very high place. He was also much sought after by religious Communities, and by the secular
clergy to conduct their retreats.
At the High Mass and Office at St. Patrick’s, on the Saturday after Fr. O'Dwyer's death, His Lordship, the Bishop of Sandhurst, the Right Rev. Dr. MacCarthy, presided.

Irish Province News 1st Year No 3 1926

At Kew, Dr, Mannix paid the following tribute to Fr James O’Dwyer “I was very sorry to hear of the death of my dear friend Fr O’Dwyer desire to-night to sympathize with the Jesuit Fathers, and to assure them that I should like to be allowed to share the loss they feel. Fr O'Dwyer was a man in a thousand. He was one of the greatest educational experts in Australia. The debt that Victoria owes to Fr O'Dwyer will never be paid - but his work still remains.

◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973

Father James O’Dwyer 1860-1925
Born in Tipperary on September 24th 1860, James O’Dwyer went to Tullabeg at the age of sixteen. It was then a flourishing College with Fr Delaney as Rector. Young O’Dwyer was equally outstanding in classroom and on playing field, and ended his schooldays as Captain of Tullabeg. He entered the Society in 1880.

He made his name as a brilliant Master in Clongowes, where he spent six years as a scholastic. After his ordination in Milltown and his Tertianship, he returned to Clongowes until 1901 when he sailed for Australia. He at once became Prefect of Studies at Riverview.

In 1908 he was appointed Rector of Kew, a post he held until 1917. During his Rectorship, Kew took its place in the very first rank of Australian schools. He played a leading part in the starting of Newman College in 1918, and he became the first Rector of Studley Hall, a position he held until his death.

Fr O’Dwyer was not only a great schoolman, but as a preacher and lecturer he held a very high place. He was much sought after by the clergy for their retreats.

He died on October 28th 1925.

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A file of letters from Fr James O'Dwyer SJ to Fr Provincial. Many of the letters refer to Xavier College and the administration of the school e.g. teaching staff, subjects taught, equipment needed (laboratory/scientific materials), finances. Includes a letter referring to the Premiership in football '...which we won last Thursday from the Scotch - you would think it was a reversal of the Battle of the Boyne.' (26 August 1910, 2pp). Includes a letter enclosing the Rector's report of Xavier College, Kew (27 December 1911, 2 items). Includes a letter referring to the war. Remarks 'As I write from this side of the globe we hardly know whether the British Empire is still standing. We still hope the sea is clear - but we are really being kept in the dark. All we know is that Germany is pressing on and Namar has fallen. We know that the Holy Father and Father General are dead and Franz Joseph is dying.' (25 August 1914, 5pp). Includes a letter discussing the opening of Newman College. Remarks that the prestige of the Society is at stake and suitable men must be appointed to it, particularly the position of Rector. (17 see also June 1917, 7pp). Includes a letter referring to a crisis that has occurred over the opening of Newman College. Remarks that Fr Superior (Fr Ryan SJ) has raised queries over the amount of money to be paid to the Jesuits, a sum he (Fr Ryan) regards to be too little. Remarks 'The trouble is we cannot exactly see what Fr Ryan's position is. He has a vague fear that he is outwitted by Dr Mannix and a vague recollection of possible better terms from Dr Carr at a time when more money was expected to come in and when the cost of building was lower...You may remember that one of my reasons for pressing you to visit Australia was that I held that Fr Ryan was not the man to do business with Dr Mannix. There is a temperamental difference between them. Dr M. thinks Fr Ryan shifty and Fr Ryan thinks Dr. M. most exacting.' (15 October 1917, 6pp). Includes two letters referring to the appointment of Fr Power SJ to the position of Rector of Newman College and how this was achieved. Expresses his extreme disappointment and annoyance at being put in a very embarrassing situation. Points out that everybody assumed he (Fr O'Dwyer) would be appointed even though he accepts that no official confirmation of this was sent by Irish Fr Provincial Thomas V Nolan SJ). Remarks 'Newman College Council met...only laymen were present. It was before Fr Power's name was disclosed to the public and I was greeted as Rector by the members...When Dr. M entered the room business was begun by asking for information re Rector. Then to the consternation of all he repeated your cable to him without any word to his council, without a hint to me, over the heads of the Mission CCs. I was publicly repudiated and humiliated not only by my own superiors (which might be considered part of the game) but by Dr M. acting as superior of Ours.' Concludes 'I have been rejected and snubbed so often by superiors and have always found myself so much better off as the result, that I have great trust in Providence. I should never have got to Australia if Fr J. Murphy had not turned me out of CWC (Clongowes Wood College) as a dangerous character. And I should not have got to Melbourne...if Fr Ryan had not declared me unfit for Riverview...All that does not prevent me from writing strongly...nor prevent me from saying again that my poor efforts for the Society in Australia deserved more consideration.' (23 February 1918, 3pp & 3 July 1918, 6pp).

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