Thursday, October 3, 1996

Grotto in St. Dominics

On Sunday the 14th May, 1933 the blessing of the Grotto and unveiling of the Statue of Our Lady of the Rosary in memory of the late Fr. John O'Sullivan O.P. was performed before thousands of spectators in the grounds of the Dominican Church, Athy.

So began a report in the Irish Press on the morning following of the ceremony which was given extensive coverage in all the Irish Daily Newspapers. The Grotto which had taken almost a year to complete consisted of a Statue standing on a high pedestal in a rock garden setting with an artificial pool while on a slab of white marble was reproduced a special prayer for the dead in Fr. O'Sullivan's own words.

Any account of the Dominican's in Athy whose presence in our town stretches back to 1253 is invariably linked with a mention of Fr. John O'Sullivan. Born in Clane on the 25th March 1857, he entered the Dominican Order at Tallaght at 18 years of age and was Ordained on the 20th March, 1881. In the early years of his Priesthood, he spent short periods in Newbridge, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny and came to Athy in 1886 where he remained until 1910. He returned to Athy in 1917 and died on the Altar while celebrating Mass on the 6th January, 1932.

The Provincial of the Dominican Order, Fr. Finbar Ryan before unveiling the statue spoke of Fr. O'Sullivan who had been a familiar sight in and around the Athy countryside as he travelled around in his pony and trap. A saintly man, he had great faith in the efficacy of prayer and for many years was Director of the Rosary, Confraternity in the Dominican Church. Fr. O'Sullivan was highly thought of by the people of Athy amongst whom he had spent the happiest years of his life.

The Grotto was designed by Fr. Michael Kinnane C.C., Athy a close personal friend of Fr. O'Sullivan and Brother Dolan, Superior of the local Christian Brothers Schools. The construction of the Grotto was a voluntary act by the people of Athy to commemorate Fr. O'Sullivan and members of organising committee included Dr. Jeremiah O'Neill, Mr. Sydney Minch and Mr. Lawler the local Town Clerk. Mr. Guilfoyle who was a Gardener for Myles Whelan of Tonlegee House was in charge of building the Grotto while Frank O'Brien Snr. of Emily Square was responsible for organising the dedication ceremonies.

High Mass was said in the small Dominican Church which could not accommodate the vast numbers which attended. The crowds overflowed on to the church grounds and as the newpapers reported "broadcasting apparatus had to be installed so that the congregation outside could follow the Mass". The celebrant was Fr. Michael Kinnane C.C. assisted by Fr. Maurice Browne C.C. who acted as Master of Ceremonies, Fr. P. McDonnell P.P., Athy, Fr. Hipwell P.P., Ballyadams and Members of the Dominican Order. The singing of the Mass was by the joint choirs of Athy Parish and the Christian Brothers and at the conclusion of the Mass, the Clergy proceeded to the grounds for the unveiling and blessing of the Grotto by Fr. Finbar Ryan, Provincial of the Irish Dominican's.

Fr. Ryan had spent five years in Athy four, of which he had shared with Fr. John 0'Sullivan and so he spoke with personal knowledge of the saintly Priest who was been remembered that day. Fr. O'Sullivan's massive figure he said was "An index of his big heart and his all embracing love for the people of Athy". He recounted how on each visit to Athy as Provincial of the Dominicans, he met Fr. O'Sullivan, who constantly pressed him to use his best efforts to ensure that the Dominican's would always remain in Athy. Concluding his address, Fr. Ryan mentioned the members of the organising committee and also the members of the local guild of painters and decorators, Messrs. Brogan, Bracken and Webster who had done so much to beautify the Dominican Chapel and grounds for the ceremony.

The Grotto was to remain a feature in the grounds of the Dominican Church until removed to facilitate the building of the existing Church. At the same time, the small Cruciform Church which had stood on the site since the early part of the 19th Century was demolished. The Grotto built to commemorate Fr. John O'Sullivan is now but a memory to older members of the local community. The well known Dominican Friar who died on the altar while celebrating mass in January 1932 is no longer commemorated in the town where he spent almost forty years of his priestly life.

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