Born: 02 May 1878, Kilkenny
Entered: 07 September 1895, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 28 July 1912, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1915, Sacred Heart College SJ, Limerick
Died: 09 July 1954, Belloc House, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
Transcribed : HIB to ASL 05/04/1931
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1900 in Vals France (LUGD) studying
by 1902 at Kasteel Gemert, Netherlands (TOLO) studying
◆ Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University onlne
Hackett, William Philip (1878–1954)
by James Griffin
James Griffin, 'Hackett, William Philip (1878–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hackett-william-philip-6515/text11183, published first in hardcopy 1983
Catholic priest; radio religious broadcaster; schoolteacher
Died : 9 July 1954, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
William Philip Hackett (1878-1954), priest, teacher and propagandist, was born on 2 May 1878 at Kilkenny, Ireland, son of John Byrene Hackett, medical practitioner, and his wife Bridget, née Doheny. The Hacketts, a family of writers and bibliophiles, could trace their Irish patriotism to the battle of the Boyne (1690). Educated at St Stanislaus, Tullamore and Clongowes Wood colleges, William entered the Society of Jesus in 1896 and studied in France and Holland where he found his 'nerves' intolerable and theology intractable. He taught at Clongowes for six years and, after ordination in 1912, at Crescent College, Limerick, for nine. His friendship with participants such as Eamon de Valera in the 1916 rebellion, his republicanism and ardent loquacity influenced his removal in 1922 to Australia.
After teaching in Sydney at St Aloysius College and then in Melbourne at Xavier College, he was appointed parish priest of St Ignatius, Richmond, in 1925. Meanwhile his reputation for Irish patriotism, scholarship and energy had endeared him to Archbishop Daniel Mannix, who encouraged him to found the Central Catholic Library. It opened in May 1924 and by 1937 more than 2000 borrowers had access to about 60,000 books. Hackett's axiom was: 'a country that does not read does not develop; a community without spiritual ideas cannot survive'. Though he lacked business or administrative sense, he triumphed over financial problems owing to his humorous and courtly personality, and a showmanship backed by a wide-ranging acquaintance with literature. The library became a centre for discussion groups of graduates of Catholic secondary schools and at Newman College, University of Melbourne. Hackett fostered the emergence of an intelligentsia in the Campion Society, founded in 1931. As chaplain he took a heuristic line; laymen, he felt obliged to say, were not the clergy's inferiors.
Appalled by the Depression and the growth of communism, he helped to launch the influential Sunday Catholic Hour broadcast (3AW) in 1932 and was a frequent commentator; he watched over the foundation of the monthly Catholic Worker in 1936 and the national secretariat of Catholic Action in 1937 of which he became ecclesiastical assistant from 1943. While condemning both Nazis and Spanish socialists and extolling constitutional freedoms, he praised the pro-family and anti-communist policies of Fascist regimes. He helped to foster the Catholic Women's Social Guild, addressed the inaugural meeting of the Australian section of St Joan's International Alliance and supported the innovation of the Grail lay female institute.
Hackett's zeal did not make him generally popular during his rectorship of Xavier College in 1935-40. He ridiculed the emphasis on competitive sport (though he enjoyed vigorous bush-walking), joked about social committees, caused resignations from the Old Xaverians' Association by putting liturgical study groups before conviviality and, forming an elite student Catholic Action group, invited Campions to inspire students to reform capitalism as well as fight communism. In spite of a huge school debt he responded to Mannix's urging to found a second preparatory school, Kostka Hall, in Brighton and was held responsible for a later cheap sale of choice Xavier land to clear liabilities. His concern was less with curriculum and instruction than with activities such as the revival of the cadet corps. He farewelled the class in 1939: 'Keep fit. Don't grumble. Shoot straight. Pray hard'.
This militancy, and a vein of conspiracy, flowed through his later years. His health had been precarious: in the early 1940s he was confined to light parish work and from 1943 counselling at Xavier, then from 1948 at Kostka Hall. In 1952, however, he was appointed first superior of the pro-'Movement' Institute of Social Order. He wrote a pamphlet Why Catholic Action? in 1949, itemising its official bodies but failing to mention 'the Movement'. He voted for the Communist Party dissolution bill of 1951, admired John Wren's simple faith and marvelled at his ill-repute. He was a founder of the Aisling Society which propagated Irish culture, and he had a special knowledge of illuminated manuscripts. In 1942 he became a trustee of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria.
Obliged as a confidant to consult with and entertain Mannix on Monday evenings and to accompany him on his annual vacations at Portsea, Hackett appeared to relish both these privileges and the role of court jester but his letters show he disliked being 'a quasi-episcopal hanger-on'. A man of 'gasps, grunts and angular gestures', he was a facile butt for Mannix's friendly if sharp jibes, but he was revered by Catholic intellectuals for his kindliness, enthusiastic piety, scrupulous poverty and scattered erudition. He boasted of his schooldays acquaintance with James Joyce and then castigated himself in private for such vanity. On retreat he complained of spiritual emptiness, occasionally scourged himself lightly but wondered if this were not self-indulgence. A feckless jay-walker, he died on 9 July 1954, a week after being hit by a car on a rainy Melbourne night. He was wearing a penitential hair shirt. In his panegyric Mannix called Hackett the founder of Catholic Action in Australia, praised his vibrant humour and said he was the humblest man he had ever known. He was buried in Boroondara cemetery.
G. Dening, Xavier (Melb, 1978)
U. M. L. Bygott, With Pen and Tongue (Melb, 1980)
Catholic Worker, Aug 1954
Irish Province News (Dublin), Oct 1954
Xavier College, Xaverian, 1954
Herald (Melbourne), 28 Jan, 4 Feb 1935
Argus (Melbourne), 10 July 1954
Advocate (Melbourne), 15 July 1954
C. H. Jory, The Campion Era: The Development of Catholic Social Idealism in Australia (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1974)
Hackett papers (Society of Jesus Provincial Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne)
Note from Jeremiah M Murphy Entry
With another Kilkenny Jesuit, W. P. Hackett, he became confidant and adviser to Archbishop Mannix; this influence may explain what was, for his Order, an unusually long rectorship
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
William Hackett came from a large family in Kilkenny. His father, a doctor, was a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell who had been in trouble with the Irish clergy for his radical politics. Together with his five brothers, William was given a free education at Clongowes Wood College. He entered the Jesuits at Tullabeg, 7 September 1895, studied philosophy at Vals, France, and taught at Clongowes, 1902-09. After theology studies at Milltown Park, Dublin, 1909-13, he taught at Belvedere College, Dublin, until 1922, when he was sent to Australia.
He performed parish duties at Richmond, Melbourne, 1924-34. From 1934-40 he was rector of Xavier College, Kew, founding Kostka Hall, Brighton, in 1936. Work in the Hawthorn parish followed, 1940-42.
From 1943-52 he lived at Xavier College and Kostka Hall, but his main work was as founding Director of the Central Catholic Library, which began it 1925. This locale became the meeting place for those associated with the “Catholic Worker”, a newspaper founded in 1936 influenced by the social teaching of the Church, especially “Rerum Novarum” of Leo XIII, and campaigned for the rights of workers. Hackett became the ecclesiastical assistant to the Secretariat for “Catholic Action” and the “Movement” in those years, roles that meant attendance at meetings, and advice given to those who sought it, but an appointment that never implied clerical control. Later, Hackett was elected a trustee of the Melbourne Public Library and National Gallery in 1942, and also became a foundation member of the “Aisling Society”, an Irish Australian cultural society whose main interests were the study of the history, life and culture of Ireland, and of the effect of Irish heritage on Australian life.
A lecturer and writer on a wide variety of subjects, Hackett contributed to “Studies”, “The Irish Ecclesiastical Record”, “Twentieth Century”, the “Advocate”, and other periodicals. He became Director of the Institute of Social Order at Belloc House, 1952-54, which was established by Archbishop Mannix as a centre for the education of trade unionists. Not only was it a place for training Bob Santamaria's Movement personnel, but also for anyone interested in exploring Catholic teaching on social justice. Hackett living at Belloc House meant that he became an important observer of Movement activities for the archbishop. Unfortunately, he had a sad end, dying ten days after being hit by a taxi crossing Cotham Road on a dark rainy night. At his funeral Mannix spoke fondly of his friend of 30 years. It was a sad loss to Mannix.
Oral history has perpetuated the myth that Hackett was deeply involved with the Republican faction in Ireland that led to the civil war in 1922. He was a friend of Erskine Childers who was later executed, and Michael Collins who was later murdered. Irish Jesuits claimed he would have been imprisoned for activities that included being a courier for an illegal news sheet edited by the rebels, as well as hearing confessions of “irregulars”. It was said that these were some reasons for his move to Australia. All through his life he kept correspondence with former Irish colleagues, usually writing in Gaelic. It was these activities in Ireland that drew him towards the archbishop of Melbourne, who also kept a close watch on political activities in Ireland.
A close personal friendship wide Dr Mannix developed, with Hackett becoming his companion every Monday evening at Rahel, the archbishop's residence, during which he reported to the Archbishop any news, local or from Ireland, from the previous week. Hackett's companionship at Raheen with the archbishop became particularly important when Mannix entertained some important dignitary. Mannix did not like to be alone with such people, and relied upon Hackett’s charm and wit to help entertain his guest. This companionship also extended to accompanying the Archbishop during his four week annual summer vacation at Portsea that in later years stretched to seven weeks, a task that did not bring cheer to Hackett. Brenda Niall in her biography wrote of Hackett that he “was the diplomat, mediator, envoy, entertainer and candid friend to the archbishop”, as “an essential link between Mannix and a new generation of intellectuals” that met at the Central Catholic Library This resulted in Hackett becoming the principal adviser to Frank Maher in founding the Campion Society the real beginning of lay Catholic Action in Australia.
Hackett was delighted when appointed rector of Xavier College, but others were not so pleased either at the beginning or at the end of the appointment. He was assigned probably because of his high degree of personal charisma and apostolic zeal.
During the course of his five years as rector, Hackett presided over the the disenchantment of teachers, parents and Old Boys, as well as the entrenchment of the school in the position of financial insolvency which he had inherited in the wake of the Great Depression. In fact, the school probably needed a man of less vision: a man focused on problem solving. His vision for Xavier was the personal formation of a Catholic intelligentsia for the purpose of rescuing the nation from the encroaching forces of evil, of which he was acutely conscious. He wanted the boys to assimilate Catholic social principles.
The intellectual and physical formation of his Volunteer Cadet Corps formed the essence of his initiative as rector of Xavier College. He was disappointed that Xavier College was not
producing more political and cultural leaders. He was aware that most Xavier boys preferred a career in medicine. law or business. Xavier's ends, Hackett insisted, were not his own but those of society in general, and the Church in particular. He singled out the Old Xaverian Association for criticism, suggesting that they should involve themselves in Catholic Action, and not just in sport and social activities.
His general lack of reverence for the traditions they valued manifested itself in particular actions such as his interference with the membership qualifications of their sporting teams, and his uncritical application of a directive of Mannix banning the serving of liquor at Catholic social functions. This last action was instrumental in dividing the organisation, rendering it virtually inoperative for several.
Hackett had a vision of intellectual Christianity for the school, and his spirituality demanded strength not of performance, but of mind. He established the Bellarmine Society, a junior Campion Society in which the students were given an intellectual introduction to modern sociological trends and to Catholic culture. The subordination of free logical thought to ideology or rules was unacceptable to him He scorned unthinking observance of positive laws, and did his best to ensure that responsibility was the keynote when it came to the observance of rules and regulations at Xavier. He even allowed senior boys to smoke on certain occasions.
His interest in debating was strong, and he introduced the Oxford Union or Parliamentary form. His primary concern was in fostering the art of public speaking rather than the
Preferring a spirit of truth to a spirit of competition, Hackett ridiculed emphasis on competitive sport and disputed the identification of good education with good examination results. He believed education had little to do with passing exams, and occurred, more often than not, outside the classroom. It was a luxury that involved financial cost and sacrifice, and was available only to the privileged, even if it was intended to benefit the whole of society. He frequently annoyed prefects of studies when he displayed a lack of deference for formal studies. He thought little of abandoning his own classes or taking students out of other classes, for purposes which he - but clearly not many of his colleagues - thought were more important.
His emphasis on responsibility was a manifestation of Hackett's adventurous bent of character, an attribute that did not lend itself to skill in administration. He had an enquiring mind, exotic taste, and often curious judgment. He managed to endear himself to many people in the school, even some of those with whom he clashed. And he was also a favorite of the
other heads of the Public Schools, who could appreciate his personal qualities, including his sense of humour and breadth of interest, without having to work under his less than efficient administration.
His adventures with his senior boys were not exclusively intellectual. Fond of bushwalking himself, he would take them on expeditions into the country, and occasionally camping, on the South Coast of New South Wales. He enjoyed the company of the boys, and they appreciated his humour, his lively mind, and unexpected comments. They respected him, but did not hold him in awe. He sent boys to Somers Camp to know those from other schools and to learn from different walks of life.
His financial administration was not successful and it was apparent that by the end of his term as rector he was out of place at Xavier College. He was certainly visionary, hut this was not needed at the time.
As a man and priest, he was always most courteous and showed genuine charity to all people. He was a man of deep and wide learning, but also had intelligence and sensibility, an artist as well as a scholar. He was a man of action. Besides founding the Catholic Library, he established in connection with it the “Catholic Evidence Lectures”, which later grew into the radio “Catholic Hour”. He also helped with the National Catholic Girls' Movement. With all these activities, he was most unassuming and kind, and he was noted for his exemplary example of personal poverty. He was certainly one of the more influential Jesuits who worked in Australia.
Note from John Phillips Entry
In 1954 Phillips was asked to take over the Catholic Central Library after the death of William Hackett.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 2nd Year No 4 1927
The Central Catholic Library, started by Fr. Hackett, is going strong. The new catalogue shows that it already contains 5,000 volumes with a yearly circulation of about 10,000. The Third series of lectures “The Renaissance” organised in connection with the Library, are proving a great success. Count O'Loghlen gave Fr. Hackett more than £500 for the Library. Both Count and Father are connected with Kilkenny.
Irish Province News 6th Year No 2 1931
The following is an extract from a letter from the brother of the Australian Attorney-General, the Hon, Frank Brenman M. P. The writer is a leading solicitor in Melbourne :
“As I have just returned from a visit to Fr. Hackett at St. Evin's hospital I may say something about his recovery which will rank with anything you may have heard or seen at Lourdes.
Fr. Hackett had been consuming for several weeks certain tablets prescribed for rheumatism, when suddenly he broke down.These tablets were meant to be taken only for a time and then discontinued. It was now discovered that the tablets had been absorbed into his system, and were actually destroying the organs, especially the liver. Towards the end of August, I think it was, he was hovering at death's door, and the doctors pronounced the case to be absoluted beyond hope. On the last Friday of the month, at Benediction, Fr. Boylan S. J., who was taking Fr. Hackett's place, turned round and asked us to offer prayers for Fr. Hackett, as word had just come from the hospital that he was sinking rapidly and could not live through the night.
Next morning, Fr. Hackett, who was to have died during the night, called for that days' newspapers, presumably to read his own obituary notice. What had happened?
During the previous week Heaven's Gates had been stormed, and Prayers were offered up in every Church and in every convent for Fr, Hackett’a recovery. For that intention the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament offered up a special novena, and on the last day their church was packed to the doors. Their founder is on the way to canonization, and the Fathers were anxious to have as many genuine miracles as possible. They took up a relic to the hospital, started their novena, and from the first were full of confidence. This confidence was not shared by everyone. A very shrewd, level headed Jesuit put his view of the matter in this form : “Miracle or no miracle Fr. Hackett cannot live.” 1 the other hand, it was said that a certain nun received sufficient assurance to declare that he would live. During it all (as Fr. Boylan put. it) in Fr Hackett preserved an even keel. He desired neither to live nor to die, but to accept with resignation whatever was his lot,
For a week he continued to make excellent progress, but then one night the said to his medical attendant : “Doctor when this thing was attacking every organ did it attack my throat at all?” The doctor said “no, but why do you ask the question?” “Because I have a nasty feeling in my throat” was the answer. The doctor examined and drew back in horror. The throat
was gangrenous, highly infectious, and must have a fatal result.
Hopes were dashed, a miracle was denied them, and the faith of the people was to be tried more than ever.
The nun-sister in charge was told that the end was in sight, that death would now come quickly and naturally. She listened and at once made up her mind to take a course not usual in hospitals. She took a small paper medal of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, dissolved it in a glass of water and gave it to the patient to drink. Next morning all signs of infection had disappeared, nor have they been felt or heard of since”
Shortly afterwards Fr. Hackett took a trip to Queensland to give the liver which, it was said, had been dissolved out of the system, a chance to grow again.
Irish Province News 29th Year No 4 1954
The news of the tragic death of Fr. Hackett, as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident in Kew, Melbourne, on the First Friday of July, caused a profound shock to his many friends in both the Irish and the Australian Provinces.
Fr. Hackett was a native of Kilkenny, where he was born in 1878, son of the late Mr. John Byrne Hackett, M.D. Educated at Clongowes Wood College, he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus' College, Tullamore, in 1895. He went to Vals, France, for his philosophical studies and was a master in Clongowes from 1902 to 1909. He studied his theology at Milltown Park, Dublin, where he was ordained in 1912.
Fr. Hackett completed his religious training at St. Stanislaus' College in 1914, and was then appointed to the Sacred Heart College, Limerick, until 1922, when he went to Melbourne. He was master first at Xavier College, then Assistant Superior of the Richmond Parish of St. Ignatius. He was appointed Rector of Xavier College in 1934, a post he held till 1940. It was during that period that he founded the college preparatory school at Brighton in 1937. He founded and directed for many years the Central Catholic Library, which was modelled on the Dublin library of the same name. Fr. Hackett was a brother of Mr. Francis Hackett, author and historian, and of Miss Florence Hackett, playwright; he was also an intimate friend of the Archbishop of Melbourne, Most Rev. Dr. Mannix, and usually spent holidays with him at Queenscliff.
From the above brief record of the life and work of Fr. Hackett it is difficult, after the lapse of more than thirty years since he left his native land never to return, to give an adequate account of the great work he accomplished for God, the Society and Ireland during the early active years of his apostolate at home.
But we, his near contemporaries, have no difficulty in giving at least an estimate of his personality as it stands out in all its freshness in our minds today after the lapse of a generation. To us he was the living embodiment of the young man in the Gospel as he asked Christ : “What is yet wanting to me? What else shall I do?” The dominant note in his character was an unceasing, an almost restless desire and striving to do “something extra” for God, to be engaged in some work of super-erogation, especially if it was a matter of “overtime charity” for one of his own community. If there was a sick member of the community who needed special attention, it was invariably Fr. Hackett who supplied the need. If there was an extra class to be taken at a moment's notice, it was always Fr. Hackett who filled the gap.
With externs also it was the same story : if there was an accident down the street in Limerick, the odds were that the priest rendering first aid was Father Hackett. If an unruly group of schoolboys were threatening to disturb the peace of Clongowes, you could take it for granted that order would be restored as soon as Fr. Hackett appeared on the scene.
His room (like that of other restless workers for God) was more like a general stores than a human habitation : lantern-slides, photo plates, weather-charts, directories and catalogues, &c., &c., but always near the door the prie-dieu “cleared for action”, proclaimed a man who, in spite of all his activities, lived a deep interior life, hidden with Christ in God.
In 1922, Father Hackett was sent to Australia. It was the transition period in Ireland, the epoch that followed the “Four Glorious Years” and culminated in the establishment of the “Free State”. Son of a Parnellite father, Fr. Hackett, like his great friend Archbishop Mannix, was a patriot in the best sense of the word. To leave his native land forever entailed for him a pang, the keenness of which was known only to his most intimate friends; yet at the command of Obedience he was as ready to go to Alaska or the Fiji Islands, had he been ordered to do so, as he was to go to Australia.
His career in the land of his adoption, of which we have given a brief summary above, followed the same pattern as in Ireland. Always with him it was a case of : “What else is wanting to me ? What more shall I do?” In addition to his already well-filled round of duties, his laborious days and often laborious nights as well in the work of the Ministry and the schoolroom, he undertook further tasks in the form of super-erogation. We have only space to enumerate the principal ones among them :
Thirty years ago, a few years after his arrival in Australia, he founded the Central Catholic Library in Collins St. It now contains 81,000 books, a notable monument to the untiring zeal of its zealous founder. His intellectual interests covered an even wider field and in 1942 he was made trustee of the Public Library and National Gallery.
Fr. Hackett spent about twelve years as Spiritual Director of Catholic Action in Australia. For the past few years he taught Social Science at Belloc House, Sackville St., Kew. His diamond jubilee in the Society was due to take place next year. We can well imagine how he would have replied to any eulogies pronounced on him : “Si adhuc sum pecessarius, non recusabo laborem”.
Perhaps we cannot conclude this brief obituary notice of Fr. Hackett more suitably than by citing a few of the tributes that have been paid to him and that have reached us from Australia since his recent lamented death :
Miss C. Misell, head librarian of the Central Catholic Library, said : “I worked with Father Hackett for twelve years. He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humour. He was a real mine of information on literature”.
Mr. C. A. McCallum, Chief Librarian, said: “We shall miss his charming personality, his great friendliness and his delightful. puckish sense of humour. He was an authority on the most famous of the Irish manuscripts, the Book of Kells, dating back to the year 800”.
Father J. R. Boylen, Rector of Xavier College, Kew, said : “Father Hackett had a great variety of friends, both rich and poor. He was beloved by students at Xavier and the University and helped many in their careers. His death is a very great loss. He stimulated many Catholic activities with his infectious zeal”.
Father Austin Kelly, Provincial of Australia, said: “We shall miss Father Hackett in a hundred ways; he was as full of life and fun and zest as ever. We buried him yesterday (12 July) with great ceremony, two Archbishops and two Bishops being present at the Requiem, and a very large and representative concourse of people. Archbishop Mannix preached a beautiful panegyric over his dearest friend”.
An extract from the panegyric will show how highly the Archbishop estimated his friend :
“But the greatest achievement of Father Hackett - and his achievements were many - was, in my opinion, that he laid the foundations of the Lay Apostolate of Catholic Action in Australia. That may seem a startling statement, but it is well founded. A quarter of a century ago, Father Hackett, with wisdom and foresight, establisbed the Central Catholic Library, and the young people who availed themselves of that Library were those who made it possible to start the Lay Apostolate in Melbourne and afterwards throughout the whole of Australia. That Library, I hope, will remain as a monument to Father Hackett. At the moment, the Central Catholic Library is, I think, without an equal of its kind in Australia or probably elsewhere. It was Father Hackett's foresight and his courage that established the Library and kept it going. He was always in debt, but he never faltered and the Library now has probably 40,000 or 50,000 volumes that stand to the credit of Father Hackett.
With all his work he was before all things a man of God, a man of deep faith and deep spirituality, who attracted many to seek his advice and direction. They were never disappointed. In spite of all his achievements, Father Hackett was the humblest man that I have known. I can speak from knowledge, because I knew him well. He was so humble that he never seemed to realise his own power or his achievements. He had a most attractive side of his character wish we all had it - he was able to laugh at himself. That is a great thing for any man to be able to do. He was probably too honest to be always supremely tactful, but his humour and his humility covered over any lapses from convention that he may have had. Father Hackett has gone. His place will be supplied, but I doubt if it can be filled. He was a man of God, truly unselfish, all things to all men. We shall miss him sorely, but he has gone to his Master with a splendid record of work in Ireland and in Australia. He traded with the ten talents that his Master gave him, and I am confident that he has entered into his rest. In the name of this great congregation and of all those who grieve with us for Father Hackett, I bid a fond and sad but proud farewell to this great Irish Jesuit priest”.
Ar dheis Dé, i measg fíor-laoch na h-Éireann, go raibh a anam, agus go dtugaidh Dia suaimhneas agus síothcháin do ar feadh na síorruidheachta.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father William Hackett 1878-1954
When people enquire after you twenty years after you have left a place, that’s a sure sign of a remarkable personality. So it was with Fr William Hackett. Many, many years after he left Limerick, people used still ask for him.
He came originally from Kilkenny, being born there in 1878, of a family distinguished in letters. His brother, Francis Hackett, was an author and historian, and his sister Florence a playwright.
In 1922 Fr Hackett was sent to Australia. It was a bitter wrench for him because he loved Ireland and everything Irish with an intensity, only excelled by his love of God and the Catholic faith. However he took the land of his adoption to his heart.
He was six years Rector of Xavier College during which time he founded the preparatory school at Brighton in 1937. He founded the Central Catholic Library in Melbourne, and also laid the foundation of the Lay Apostolate of Catholic Action in Australia. No mean achievements, and yet the give quite an inadequate view of the man.
He was a human dynamo of spiritual energy, ever on the go working for God and souls. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his character is the fact that he was the long and intimate friend of one of the greatest men of his time in Australia, Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne.
He died as a result of an accident on July 5th 1954.
Interfuse No 36 : February 1985
‘TIS SIXTY YEARS SINCE
Francis J Dennett
The archivist of the Australian Province gives a fascinating account of the involvement of an Irish Jesuit in the Anglo-Irish War and in the Irish Civil War. Michael Collins is reputed to have said that “Father William Hackett was worth five hundred men to the Irish cause”.
For the title of this article I have stolen the sub-title which Walter Scott gave to Waverley, his novel about the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. It is now rather more than sixty years since the start of that complicated struggle, which the Irish very aptly term “The Troubles”, and in which Fr William Hackett became so deeply entangled that he had to be forcibly cut loose by being sent to the antipodes.
Scott felt compelled to write Waverley before all living memory of the Forty-Five had vanished, and I feel something of the same compulsion, for Fr. Hackett's part in the events of 1914-22 is becoming vague and distorted. Mr. B.A. Santamaria, for instance, writes in Against the Tide that Fr. Hackett “had left Ireland ‘for his country's good’, his close association with supporters of Michael Collins during the Civil War making continued residence in Ireland impossible”.
When I read this (which is very nearly the opposite of the truth), I thought that I must do something to set the record straight. Ill-qualified as I am to write on the matter, there are materials in our Australian archives which make possible an (at any rate) not-misleading reconstruction of Fr. Hackett's career as an Irish revolutionary, and this is what I have attempted. It has its importance; for no one can understand Fr. Hackett without understanding what was, after the Society of Jesus, the deepest influence in his life.
Annamoe, in County Wicklow, was the seat of the Barton family. The Bartons, Anglo-Irish and Protestant, had been landlords thereabouts for generations; by 1914 most of their land had been acquired under the Lands Acts by the former tenants; only the home farm, of a few hundred acres, remained Barton property. During the Troubles it was being farmed by Robert Barton.
Bob Barton, unmarried, lived there with his sister and his younger cousin, David Robinson; from time to time he was visited by another cousin, Erskine Childers, whose wife and two small sons, Erskine and Bobby, were also living at Annamoe. A quiet Anglo-Irish Protestant household, you would think. But Bob Barton was a Gaelic Leaguer and a Sinn Féiner, and an elected member of Dáil Eireann, the illegal parliament which in 1919 proclaimed itself the parliament of the Republic of Ireland and organized a clandestine provisional government and a national army (the first IRA); Erskine Childers was the co-ordinator of the IRA for southern Ireland; and Annamoe was the centre of a web of communications that ran from Dublin to Waterford and Cork and Kerry and Tipperary and Kilkenny and Limerick. The British eventually got round to arresting Barton when he was in Dublin as a member of the Dáil; I don't think they ever suspected Annamoe.
In 1920-22 Bob Barton's and Erskine Childers' visitors generally chose to come this way. In particular, a black-coated cyclist might have been seen fairly frequently, had there been anyone to see, pushing his way over the Featherbed and through Sally Gap. Dublin Castle would have paid good money for the papers in his saddlebag. But who would have suspected a bespectacled cleric toiling through the hills? At any rate, Fr. William Hackett was never stopped, either going to or coming from Annamoe.
Unfortunately I do not know just when or how Fr. Hackett made friends with the Barton or Childers families - but it must have been well before the Troubles. I imagine it was through the Gaelic League, of which they were all enthusiastic supporters, and possibly when he was a theologian at Milltown in 1909-13 and used to spend the Villa at Greystones on the Wicklow coast. What is quite clear is that a very close friendship sprang up between them, and especially between Hackett and Childers and young Erskine (”Erskine Óg”, as they called him). Perhaps I can best make this clear by quoting from a letter written by Barton to Hackett in 1923, when the tragedy was all over and Hackett was in Australia :
“I was released at Xmas and am nearly well again... Gaol begins to tell on one after you reach the age of 40... David (Robinson) was released 3 weeks ago... He did 42 days hungerstrike and was beaten and kicked about a good deal... The mountains are just as glorious. Sally Gap is still the same great melancholy friend. I drove over it not long ago and sent a few words of affection to you as I passed its crossroads. Do you remember the day you came to see us and lost your hat? Some day we shall do the journey again together... The next generation, seeing everything in perspective, will be able to love all Ireland and all Irishmen as we did. I send you all the beauty and love of the mountains as well as my own great affection. R.B.”
And again in 1931:
“You were always so fresh and enthusiastic after your ride across Sally Gap. When will you return again to talk over many things with Erskine, David and myself? There is no other priest living with whom we can talk absolutely freely and without offence, or Protestant clergyman either if it comes to that. And, re Erskine Óg, I think you would love this boy even more than you did when you used to take him out walking”.
Fr. Hackett's part in the Irish struggle cannot be understood apart from his special relationship with this little group - it was typical of his large-heartedness that it should be an Anglo-Irish and non-Catholic enclave in the Sinn Féin movement. He admired de Valera, but was never specially close to him, still less to Arthur Griffith or Michael Collins or the other IRB men; though of course till the Treaty they all worked and fought together,
Fr. Hackett's revolutionary activity began after he had emerged from tertianship in June, 1914 - six or seven weeks before the outbreak of the First World War.
Ireland 1913 - 14
In 1913, when it began to look as though the Home Rule Bill would be passed, the Unionists, helped by some elements in the British Army, formed the Ulster Volunteers to resist it by force of arms. (It is important to note that the Unionists were the first to appeal to force). In response, Sinn Féin combined with the Home Rulers to form the National Volunteers; early in 1914 Erskine Childers used his yacht to land 1,000 rifles for them; other arms were smuggled in by the efforts of the IRB. This was the Ireland, poised on the brink of civil war, into which Fr. Hackett emerged in June, 1914.
Then, as so often happens in human affairs, the unforeseen upset all plans. On June 28th Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo, and by August 4th Europe was at war. The Ulster Volunteers were taken into the British Army as the Ulster Division. Redmond pledged the support of the Home Rulers and a large number of the National Volunteers also joined up for service against Germany. In the euphoria of the moment the Home Rule Bill was passed, but its operation was suspended till the end of the war. No one expected the war to last long. In the Jesuit status Fr. Hackett found himself posted to Crescent College, Limerick, and took up his duties there in September.
It seems probable that during that fateful summer he visited Annamoe; it is certain that during his years at Limerick he was in constant communication with it. He later wrote a brief account of those years. As it was written from memory, it is not entirely accurate; but it does give some vivid pictures which I shall quote.
Limerick 1914 - 20
When Fr. Hackett went to Limerick it was still thought that the war would not last long, and it seemed likely that, at its close, the struggle for Home Rule would have to be renewed. His first objective, then, as soon as he had settled in at the Crescent, was to get in touch with the local leaders of the volunteers and with their help to establish a Volunteer cadet-corps among the senior boys of the College. (He evidently had the approval of his Rector, Fr. Charlie Doyle). His motive in doing this was quite unambiguous: “I wanted to train my boys to fight for Ireland when their turn came”. It came sure enough: several of his cadets fought later in the ranks of the IRA. A local Volunteer and Sinn Féiner, Ned McLysaght, had an estate near Lough Derg called “Raheen”; he provided a quiet place for the annual summer camps of the cadets from 1915 to 1920.
These camps were run on strictly military lines, with daily drill and weapons-training (euphemistically described in Commandant Hackett's “Order: of the Day as “musketry exercise”). Where the weapons came from is not stated, but Hackett remarks that in 1920, when the possession of fire-arms was prohibited under pain of death, the boys had to train as well as they could without rifles. In any case, by that time I fancy that all available rifles were being used by the IRA.
Not all Fr. Hackett's patriotic activities were warlike. He writes: “The real need in Limerick was, and is, EDUCATION. To try and remedy this we started a League for the study of Social Questions. We got magnificent premises and had the nucleus of a Library, and had some lectures from Fr. Kelleher, Erskine Childers, etc. The Hackett of the Central Catholic Library was already in existence, though in a green uniform. But the whole Irish situation was radically changed in 1916.
The Easter Rising and its Aftermath
When it became clear that the European war was going to drag on for a long time, the IRB began planning on armed insurrection. They had enough influence in the volunteer movement to make this possible, and they hoped to obtain more arms from Germany through the efforts of Sir Roger Casement. The details of this affair are still far from clear (largely owing to the secrecy in which the IRB men shrouded their activities); what seems clear is that they failed to carry the mass of the volunteers with them, and in the event the insurrection of Easter 1916 was carried out by only 2000 men, and only in Dublin, instead of throughout the country. It was suppressed within a week. But, although so badly bungled, it achieved its object.
For the British High Command committed the appalling blunder of executing its leaders as traitors - only de Valera was spared, because he was technically an American citizen. But no Irishman, not even an Orangeman, could really regard as a “traitor” another Irishman because he had rebelled against the British Government in Ireland. The executions produced a revulsion of feeling throughout the country, of which Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin party was the chief beneficiary. Fr. Hackett's view was that, lamentable as was the loss of so many Irish leaders, the British had dealt themselves by far the heavier blow. Most historians, I think, would accept this verdict.
In the 1916 affair Hackett played a small and yet rather an important part. When the insurrection broke out, communications between Limerick and Dublin were cut, and the Limerick Volunteers were left wondering what to do. Many of them were ready to rise, but they had received no orders. Their leaders consulted Fr. Hackett. His advice was that if they attempted to act without orders they would only make a mess of things and be destroyed - better keep their organization and arms intact and wait for another opportunity. As it turned out, this was excellent advice: when the Troubles really began in 1919 the Limerick Volunteers could be incorporated without difficulty into the IRA. But what is striking about this is the remarkable influence which Father Hackett had already gained by 1916; it helps one to understand the remark which was later attributed to Michael Collins: that Father Hackett was worth 500 men to the Irish cause.
Well, the European war ended at last in November, 1918, and the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, at once held a general election. It turned out well for him except in Ireland. In Ireland, except in the north-east, Sinn Féin swept the country; the Irish Parliamentary Party was practically annihilated, and down with it went the whole idea of Home Rule.
Arthur Griffith could now put his own plans into action. The 70 or so Sinn Féin M.P.'s (including Robert Barton and Erskine Childers) did not go to Westminster; they met at the Mansion House, Dublin, in January 1919, proclaimed themselves the Parliament of Ireland (Dáil Eireann), and declared Ireland an independent republic, with Éamon de Valera as President. They proceeded to set up all the regular organs of government, and Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy (both of the IRB) organised what had been the volunteers into the Irish Republican Army (the first IRA - not to be confused with its bastard offspring of today). The British government then attempted the forcible suppression of the whole movement; Sinn Féin responded by going underground. Shooting began in 1919, and soon became a full-scale guerilla war; the first modern-style guerilla war, with the bombings, shootings, ambushes and reprisals with which the whole world has since become familiar.
Fr. Hackett, still in Limerick, was in the thick of it. He has left an account of a couple of illuminating incidents. In 1919 a general strike was staged at Limerick as part of a campaign of non-cooperation with the British authorities. The military threw a cordon round the city, and no one was allowed in or out without a permit. “I made up my mind”, says Fr. Hackett, “not to get a permit and also to enter the city when I wanted to... on one occasion I had left the city, and in a friend's house I discovered great alarm because they had a lot of cartridges and they were liable to search (sic) and did not know what to do”.
“In a moment I solved the thing by taking the things in my pockets". (He means the deep and capacious pockets of an old-fashioned Irish Clerical greatcoat). I came to the bridge (over the Shannon), was challenged by a sentry who put a bayonet to my chest and said, ‘Your pernit please’. I tried the usual bluff, ‘I have not got one with me’. Again came the demand, more peremptory than before, ‘Your permit, please’. The wind came to my aid by blowing off my hat. I immediately started off in pursuit, The sentry followed in pursuit of me, shouting all the time, ‘Your permit, please’. Then one of those things happened that could only happen in Ireland. A bobby stationed at the far side of the long bridge, seeing me pursuing my hat, ran after it, captured it, politely dusted the edge of it on his sleeve, and handed it back to me and waved his hand to the sentry and said in a very superior tone, ‘Oh, he is all right’.”
A more serious affair was the raid on the Crescent College. Fr. Hackett, anticipating some such move, had blockaded the door of his room so that no one could come in without waking him. “About 1.20 a.m. I was awakened by people scrambling into my room. The leading figure carried an exposed candle in one hand and a revolver in the other. Three coated figures entered my room. To my challenge came the answer of a brandished revolver... They proceeded to go through my papers and presses... I felt fatalistic. My room was seething with sedition and there was a rifle up the chimney and the Shannon File full of Dáil correspondence against the wall. However, nothing happened... I heard afterwards that this raid was unauthorized and was undertaken by officers, one of them being Chief Intelligence Officer... Before leaving our house they wrote in the Visitors' Book \Three Strangers, Nov. 12th’.”
From this it is clear that Father Hackett was in it up to the neck. It is exasperating that he give no details of his work (perhaps the habit of secrecy still held him); but the “Dáil” was, of course, Dáil Eireann, the illegal parliament of the Illegal Irish Republic, and the correspondence dealt with the clandestince operations of the republican government.
What the rifle was doing up the chimney I cannot make out, for Father Hackett was not a fighting man: he regarded himself as the chaplain to the IRA and a non-combatant. Had it been discovered he would have been liable to be shot. Note the curious ineptness which characterise British intelligence work in Ireland, displayed also a couple of months later in the raid on Milltown Park in February 1921. They knew enough to be suspicious, but did not really know what they were looking for. IRA intelligence, on the other hand, was able to tell Fr. Hackett the background of the raid.
Dublin, 1920 - 22
Soon after this incident (because of it?) he was transferred to Belvedere College, Dublin, where his Rector was again Fr. Charlie Doyle. He is listed in the Catalogue as “Assistant to the Editor of the Messenger”. For a man of Fr. Hackett's talents and energies this assignment is laughable; one can only suppose that he was otherwise occupied. It was no doubt at this time that he became a regular visitor to Annamoe.
He has left us no details of his activities. One presumes that he acted as a courier, perhaps especially between IRA headquarters and Erskine Childers; it is clear also from surviving letters of Miss Barton and Mrs. Childers and young Erskine that he was a powerful support to the little family at Glendalough House, especially in early 1921 when the struggle was reaching its climax and when Bob Barton had been seized and imprisoned in Dublin.
But the British government, under pressure from many quarters, was weakening; by mid-1921 Lloyd George had had enough and was willing to negotiate; in July a Truce was proclaimed in Ireland and a peace conference was arranged to take place in London. It seemed that the fighting was over.
In the election of June 16th, 1922, the Irish people returned a considerable majority in favour of the Treaty. Nevertheless, fighting broke out almost immediately. De Valera did not want this, nor did Barton nor Childers, but their hands were forced by more extreme Republicans like Rory O'Connor, Cathal Brugha and Ernie O'Malley. The old pattern of bombings, raids, ambushes, shootings and reprisals was resumed, but now by Irishmen against Irishmen - Republicans against Free Staters.
All this was pure anguish for William Hackett. He was himself a convinced Republican; but he was in any case inextricably involved with the Barton-Childers group and could not have disentangled himself even if he had wanted to. But the Free Staters, unlike the British, knew all about Annamoe and its influence, and were determined to put a stop to it. It was at this point, in September 1922, that Father Hackett was suddenly ordered to Australia.
What lay behind this I do not know. Years ago I was told by Irish Jesuits like the historians Aubrey Gwynn and John Ryan that Hackett must have been arrested if he had stayed in Ireland; the most likely conjecture is that the Free State government, not wanting trouble with the Church, privately asked the Irish Provincial (T.V. Nolan) to remove him. We shall never know the truth about this.
What is certain is that, when Hackett was safely in Australia, the Free State forces staged a raid on Annamoe and seized Childers, Barton and David Robinson. Childers had a revolver in his possession. On this pretext (but really as a reprisal for the repeated killings by Republican gunmen of members of the Dail) he was court-martialed and shot on November 24th, 1922. Rory O'Connor and others were executed likewise. Bob Barton lived for weeks in daily expectation of the same fate, but for some reason was spared to return to Annamoe.
The Society and the Troubles
To understand the Provincial's action in “deporting” Fr. Hackett, one must try to realize how very difficult these years were for the Irish Province. Its members were as deeply divided in their sympathies as were Irishmen generally.
Perhaps I can best make this clear by giving two examples. Fr. Seán Mallin's father was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916; he was shot by the British after the surrender. On the same occasion. Fr John Fahy, the Rector of Belvedere College, received this letter from Dublin Castle :
It is a pleasant duty to record my thanks for your good service during the late rebellion in Dublin. I am informed that your personal influence persuaded many rioters to remain at home, and was a powerful factor exercised towards the restoration of order.
Yours very truly,
The signatory of this letter was “Bloody Maxwell”, the British C-in-C in Ireland who had Mallin shot, along with Pearse, Connolly and the rest. Fr, Fahy kept this letter all his life - one of the very few documents he did keep - one can only suppose that he remained satisfied with the part that he had played.
What brought the Irish Province through this crisis was the f'undamental loyalty of all its members to the Society. When William Hackett was ordered to Australia he went without a murmur; nor is there, in the later correspondence which survives with his friends in Ireland, a single hint of criticism of the Provincial's decision. Almost the first news that came to him in Australia was of the killing of Erskine Childers. It broke his heart. But it did not break his spirit, as we in Australia have good reason to know.
◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 2019
Belvedere’s Revolutionary Priest
Father William Hackett SJ
Dr Barry Kennerk
This inaugural history paper was delivered by Dr Barry Kennerk at Xavier College, Melbourne in June 2018; it emphasises the time-honoured link between Belvedere College and its sister schools in Australia
On 25 September 1922, The Orient steariship, SS Ormonde, left Colombo, Sri Lanka, bound for Australia. The passage had already been a challenging one. The boat departed from London at the beginning of the month, sailed around Spain into the Straits of Gibraltar, and on to Naples where it picked up two hundred Italians, bound for the Northern cane districts. From there, it entered the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea. An Irish priest, Fr William Hackett, was one of the 1300 or so passengers on board but he did not have to share his passage with the farm Workers in steerage. He had a private berth in first class with his travelling companions, Fathers Edmond Frost and Daniel O'Connell. Given Hackett's friendly and outgoing personality, he might well have made the acquaintance of many of his fellow first-class passengers during e six-week voyage. They included Coadjutor Archbishop, Dr Sheehan, a friend of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, who felt that Ireland's political future depended on the revival of the Irish language, Liberal parliamentary MP, Mr A Wams and Mr Arnott, works manager of a Sydney biscuit factory, who would later profess to be glad to be back among the smell of the gum trees.
When the Ormonde reached the Red Sea, the heat was unbearable. There were two deaths on board - that of a Mrs Rickards and a Mr Groome, who was due to meet his son in Tasmania. Groome was presumably buried at sea but the body of Mrs Rickards remained on board all the way to Australia. “There would have been more deaths”, a ship's officer later told the Queensland Times, “but for the fresh breeze that commenced”. Every vessel that the Ormonde passed in the Red Sea reported similar distress among the crew and passengers. One cargo boat even signalled that there had been nine deaths? Today, the trip to Australia from Ireland takes little more than a day; the traveller gets little more than jetlag but very little to impart a proper sense of distance; the feeling that one has travelled thousands of miles. For the 44-year old Fr, Hackett, future rector of Xavier College, the experience must have been very different. During his six-week trip, he must have had time to reflect on the country that he was leaving behind and on the events in his life up to that point.
Fr Hackett was born in Kilkenny in 1878 and he entered the Jesuit order at the age of seventeen. He was ordained a priest in 1912. Prior to that, he taught at Clongowes Wood College where he and his brothers had been students. Hackett's involvement with the republican movement in Ireland almost coincided with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. At that time, Hackett was a teacher at Crescent College, Limerick, known colloquially as “The Crescent” and in 1915, he set up a Volunteer cadet corps with the aim of preparing senior boys “to fight for Ireland when their turn came”.
Historian, Brian Heffernan, puts Hackett's revolutionary activities into context; he was just one among many priests who took part in revolutionary activities, some were more disposed to radicalism than others and one or two even owned rifles. Heffernan reveals that some seventy or so priests helped the IRA; whether by “sheltering men on the run, storing arms for the IRA, informing on the police or the army and helping with IRA communications”. Although Hackett's efforts at the Crescent were apparently stopped by the rector there in 1917, his name appears frequently in various Bureau of Military History witness statements; a set of oral history documents that outline the entire period of the Irish revolutionary period.
However, Hackett was not partisan in his views and he was a peacemaker at heart. One of the more interesting accounts concerning him an be found in the witness statement of George Berkeley of the Peace with Ireland Council, who came to Ireland during the spring of 1921. The council was active during the Irish War of Independence, prior to the signing of a treaty that divided the island and when Berkeley visited the country, the atmosphere was politically charg. d; stories were rife of republican suspects who were taken from their beds and interrogated or even killed by forces of the Crown; of soldiers and Dublin Castle men being targeted by Michael Collins' squad of assassins.
Having reached Limerick, Berkeley was introduced to Fr Hackett by Lord Monteagle. On the day they arrived, Hackett took them to Cross-question a boy who had been allegedly tortured by a local policeman to obtain evidence but there was a sudden change of plan and they ended up interviewing some local girls instead. Berkeley recalls what happened next:
“It was one of the most curious interviews in my life. I sat at a table with Father Hackett beside me and took down everything they said. They were three farm girls and a young boy. it was the story of a police attack : on them when they had been enjoying themselves at a dance. They told me how their elder brother had been in the IRA and had had a rifle. He was in constant danger, being known to the police, in fact being ‘on the run’... she spoke very rapidly, as though afraid of omitting any point within the given time, and her whole manner often changed in one single whirling sentence, from half impatient explanation to me to affection and reverence for the priest, and then back to the general flow of bitter resentment for the wrongs done them and for the death of her brother”
When the police raided the dance, they searched the house from top to bottom and they hit the men and girls with the butts of their rifles. The police alleged that the dance had been arranged as a fundraising event so that policemen could be shot. The girls were herded into one room and their brother, Martin, tried to make a break for freedom, but was shot and killed. Before Berkeley left Limerick, he was taken by Hackett to visit a woman whose son had been killed. On the way, Hackett told him about several cases; in particular an incident
Lahinch, County Clare, where, according to Hackett, Crown forces had set fire to a house and threatened to shoot anyone who came out. Afterwards, the priest saw the body of a man who had been burnt to death inside. Evidently, Fr. Hackett was extremely well connected in Limerick. He was able to introduce Berkeley to the mayor and clearly, Lord Monteagle considered him to be the 'go to person. A couple of months after Berkeley left, arrangements were made to establish a commission of inquiry and it had been arranged that Hackett would play a role in the Peace with Ireland council under the direction of Sir John O'Connell in Dublin. The aim was to bring atrocities in Ireland to a stop by collecting evidence, under the direction of a lawyer.
Fr Hackett's biographer, Brenda Niall has described how the priest was under observation in Limerick during the Terror of 1920. Eventually, his room in the Crescent was raided in November 1921. He was later transferred to Belvedere College, Dublin, where, according to Niall, he had no teaching duties; being relegated instead to publication of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart whose offices were, at that time, off to one side of the school yard. I think Niall is correct in her assertion that this was something of a sideline activity for Hackett and that it did not make the best use of his talents. Examination of the school archive confirms that he did not participate in any teaching at Belvedere but Hackett's wide sphere of influence and connections outside of the school could never have permitted him to remain in the shadows. For instance, one wonders what the Jesuit authorities might have made of the letter he received from Roger Casement's cousin, Gertrude Parry in November 1921:
“(George Gavan Duffy) tells me now a good deal about your Irish Messenger, & I write to say I will be very glad indeed to help you in any way I can about publishing a life of Roger Casement. I hope to be in Dublin some time in the not too distant future & if I may I will call on you”.
One of the things I have struggled with, however, is the sequencing of events. According to our school archive, Hackett arrived at Belvedere on 5 April 1927 and the school catalogue confirms that he was indeed assistant director of the Messenger. Aside from that, another of his duties was to give “points for meditation to the brothers” and to act as “house confessor”. The journal account for April reads: “Fr. Hackett arrived at 7pm; sleeping for the present at Lr Leeson Street”. The following day, we are told: “Fr Tomkins left for Galway today and Fr Hackett occupies his room”. If Hackett was back in Limerick in November 1921, he must have still had considerable latitude to travel around the country. This is borne out by close examination of papers held at the Jesuit archives in Dublin which confirms that during his time at Belvedere, Hackett continued to interest himself in the plight of political prisoners. On 24 November 1921 for instance, Mr Waller of the Peace for Ireland Council wrote to him there about the treatment of noted academic, Alfred O Rahilly, who had been arrested and imprisoned in Spike Island off the Cork coast for his political writings. Just two months earlier, Berkeley had informed Hackett that no less than eight professors at Dublin's Trinity College were prepared to support O Rahilly's release.
As an independent thinker, Hackett would certainly have found the atmosphere at Belvedere quite stultifying at times. A directive, issued to the Rector of Belvedere on 4 September 1922, urged the Jesuit community to avoid “free conversation” at breakfast as that was “especially objectionable”. Cycling was also discouraged without leave in writing and in particular, long runs or “Record Runs” of the type that Fr Hackett so clearly enjoyed were proscribed. At that time, the rector at Belvedere was Charles Doyle. He had only recently taken up the post after the departure of the previous incumbent, John Fahy, whose views would have been quite different to those of Hackett. Fahy had taken up a new position as Provincial of the Jesuits in Ireland but he returned to Belvedere on at least a couple of occasions while Hackett was working at the school. He was also vice president of the Belvedere College Social Service Club.
Unlike Hackett, Fahy had taken a decidedly apolitical stance towards the revolution in Ireland. Doyle, it would seem, held similar views and close study of the school's annual journal, The Belvederian confirms this. Articles on topics concerning current events did of course appear during the period 1916-1922 but the editorial line was explicitly non-partisan. Alongside stories about the fighting during Easter Week, one finds news of past students who were fighting in the First World War. The following wry comment appeared in the 1916 edition of the magazine:
“Stories of hair-breadth escapes are the order of the day, their name is legion, but their reliability-doubtful. If a prize were offered it should be won by the boy who was near Liberty Hall when a shell passed between his legs. Relic collecting is another natural outcome of the week's fighting. Bullets were the chief trophies. If a bullet could blush many of them must have blushed themselves out of existence at the stories that were told about them”.
When the Rising broke out in Dublin in Easter 1916, the sisters at nearby Temple Street Hospital considered Fahy to be “a true friend” who was “untiring in his efforts” and he took great pains to keep priests and pupils off the streets during the fighting - something for which he was later praised by Ireland's interim military governor, General John Maxwell. He and his fellow priests were granted permission to hear confessions and administe