McSwiggan, Francis, 1896-1981, Jesuit priest

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McSwiggan, Francis, 1896-1981, Jesuit priest

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  • Mac McSwiggan

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14 April 1896-26 October 1981


Born: 14 April 1896, Forkhill, County Armagh
Entered: 29 March 1921, Manresa, Roehampton, London / St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1933, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 02 February 1936
Died: 26 October 1981, Coláiste Iognáid, Galway

by 1935 at St Beuno’s, Wales (ANG) making Tertianship

◆ Fr Francis Finegan : Admissions 1859-1948 - Clerk before Entry; Transcribed from ANG to HIB 05 January 1922

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 57th Year No 1 1982


Fr Francis McSwiggan (1896-1921-1981)

Born in Forkhill, Co Armagh, in 1896. Fr McSwiggan entered the Society at Manresa, Roehampton, on 29th March 1921, and came to Tullabeg during his noviceship. We (fellow-novices of his, who had entered on 31st August 1921) understood that he had been working in England, and so joined the Society there. As he was hoping to work in Ireland, the transfer to the Irish noviceship was arranged.
He was then 25 years old, while most of us, just out of school, were 16, 17 or 18. “Mac”, as we came to know him, was quiet, not talkative, with little sense of humour. He was not amused by the fiddle-faddles which sent young novices into fits of giggles.
Noviceships are normally uneventful, the one event of his noviceship which stands out in memory was his vow-day, Easter Sunday, 1923, when he could easily have been shot dead. We novices were out on a long-table day walk to Bellair hill some eight miles away. The road from Tullabeg to Ballycumber, after passing the Island chapel, crossed the railway line from Clara to Ferbane and Banagher. The hump-backed bridge over the line has since been demolished and the railway itself is closed.)
The Civil War was on at the time, and the “irregulars” (as those of the IRA who would not accept the Free State were called) had blown up a railway bridge over a stream about two hundred yards from where we crossed the line. They had set in motion a train from Clara, with no one on it, and when it came to the blown-up bridge, it overturned and rolled down the embankment.
On their walk, several novices went down the line to inspect the wreckage. It was guarded by Free State soldiers under a jittery young officer, who was highly suspicious of several groups of young men converging on him across the bog. Someone explained that we were clerical students out for a walk: but when he saw three more standing on the bridge staring down, he yelled and signalled to them to move off. Perhaps they did not hear him. They did not move, just stood staring; “Mac” in the middle, Fr Charlie Daly (Hong Kong) and if I remember aright Jock Finnegan who later left us. Seizing his rifle and taking aim, the officer announced in lurid language that he'd soon shift them to hell out of that. An older novice prevailed on him not to fire: they were only four fellows and hadn't heard him: he (the novice) would run up the line and get them to move on: which he did. Thus Fr “Mac” could easily have been shot dead on his vow-day.
Instead, a long life of faithful devoted work was opening before him. The 1923 Status sent him to Milltown for philosophy. In 1926 he went as Doc to Belvedere for four years, going on to theology in Milltown (1930-34, ordained 1933) and tertianship in St Beuno's (1934-35). Fr Geddes, the Instructor, asked the next year's tertians where those of the previous year had gone. “Wot?”, he exclaimed, “Fr McSwiggan, Prefect of Studies at Galway! Is he then supposed to be a very learned person?”
Whatever about that, he filled the post for five years before going to Clongowes for four years teaching, when he was a very popular confessor with the boys. In 1944 he moved to the big study in Mungret for two years, then back to Belvedere teaching till 1956, when he transferred to St Ignatius, Galway, as operarius, long in charge of the Apostleship of Prayer. Of those years, those who lived with him, All of us, however, who knew him are glad to think of him enjoying at the end his Master's welcome: Euge, serve bone et fidelis ... (Mt 25:21).

Mac, as he was known to those who lived with him, was a man of his period and his North of Ireland upbringing. He grew up in the faith of the minority, a minority that had to struggle for its rights and even its existence, and whose members were second-class citizens, for the most part poor and despised. Because of this a certain amount of iron and hardness had entered his soul, a certain intolerance and dogmatism, Everything in faith and morals as taught and interpreted in his upbringing, schooling and training became de fide definita, to be held rigidly: everything was either black or white; nothing was shaded or grey. He had a touch of bigotry in him, and if by chance he had been born into the other faith, he would have been a fundamentalist, an extremist.
His views were rigid, but in application to the individual and in giving direction tempered by his innate kindness, so it is easy to understand how he was a popular confessor to the boys in Clongowes and later from 1956 onwards, in the church in Galway, till deafness first and ill-health later forced him to give up church work. He carefully prepared his sermons, but his delivery was not the best: he was inclined to rush and elide words. He was assiduous in hearing confessions and indefatigable in bringing holy Communion to the sick and housebound.
For many years he was Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, which entailed the giving of the Holy Hour month after month. To increase the attendance he tried various ways: promise cards, handbills etc.; but berated those in attendance for the shortcomings of those who did not attend and who did not respond to his efforts and appeals. As Director he visited various schools in the city to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart and to increase the circulation of the Messenger. In his earlier years, as a priest teaching in the colleges, as well as giving retreats here and there around the country, he spent a good part of what was left of his summer holidays acting as chaplain to the staff and children of Sunshine House. Balbriggan. In later years when attached to the church he spent his villa period doing supply work in Liverpool. He was a man of zeal, a hard worker and a man of prayer.
He was very competent in Irish and keen on poetry. He even made some translations of Irish poetry into English, faithfully reproducing the metre, internal shyness, assonance and other features of the original in the translations. Unfortunately he wrote these (as he wrote his sermons) on odd scraps of paper or in already-used copybooks between the lines or in the margins, so few will have survived. In his last years, when he was more or less confined to his room, he became interested in puzzles, intellectual problems and short stories. He tried out his puzzles on his friends, and often spoilt the stories by enjoying their humour so much that he would break down with laughter before his hearers could see the point. He was fascinated by the universe and awed by its vastness and complexity, so he took an interest in astronomy and space exploration. To the end his mind remained clear and sharp and he kept it so with these interests.
Being a man of a fixed mould of mind, even more perhaps than others who had received similar formation and training, he found the post-Vatican II period disturbing and found it hard to accept some of the new thinking, new developments and adaptations: some of these he criticised quite openly, and his criticisms could be quite harsh! He was a keen observer and a sharp critic of the faults and failings of Ours, for he judged us all by the yardstick of his own self, and if we did not measure up to that, he let us know. Yet while his criticism was often sharp and hurt somewhat, because of some innate human quality in the man, no one ever resented it too much: all still had an affection for “old Mac”.
His death must have been the easiest event in his whole life. On 26th October 1981 he took his lunch in his room and lay down to rest, Shortly afterwards the good nun who looked after him came and found him on the point of passing away. She called the Minister, who anointed him, and before the end of the rite he had gone to his Lord and Master without stress or strain like a child dropping off to sleep. May he rest in peace.


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

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


McSwiggan, Francis, 1896-1981, Jesuit priest

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