Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Fr. Philip Pollock and Athy's Dominican Church

Athy’s Architectural Heritage got a tremendous boost when St. Dominic’s Church was opened on 17th March 1965. The National Press in the following days mentioned the revolutionary style of Ireland’s newest church describing the church located on the west bank of the River Barrow in Athy as ‘unique in Ireland’. The Irish Times of 18th March claimed ‘yesterday Athy took its place amongst the most up to date towns of the world when its ultra-modern Dominican church was blessed and opened.’ The unusual features of the church were complimented by the artwork of George Campbell who executed the Stations of the Cross and the stained-glass windows and the crucifix executed by Kildare artist, Bríd Ní Rinn. The man responsible for the new church was the prior of St. Dominic’s, Fr. Philip Pollock. The only son of Belfast parents he was born on 14th March 1914 and educated in St. Malachys Belfast and the Dominican College, Newbridge. He entered the Dominicans in Tallaght in 1931 and spent some time in Angelica University, Rome before his ordination in 1938. He initially served as a Dominican priest in Cork and later in Dundalk before volunteering to become a chaplain during World War II. As a chaplain to the R.A.F. he served in England, North Africa, Sicily and Italy and his war experiences were later recounted in his best-selling book, ‘Wings on the Cross’. After the war Fr. Pollock returned to Dundalk and was later transferred to Limerick where he served as prior for a time. It was there that he first met the Limerick architect, John Thompson when both men were involved in the design and construction of a chapel dedicated to St. Martin de Porres. It was an association which would be renewed when Fr. Pollock came to Athy and set about planning a new church to replace the small traditional building which served as the Dominican Church for 150 years or so. The new Dominican Church in Athy was a monument to Fr. Pollock’s indefatigable spirt and organisational ability. He travelled abroad to view modern churches and in conjunction with the architect John Thompson chose an architectural style which was new for Ireland. He worked tirelessly to collect funds for the new church and made many fundraising trips to America. Fr. Pollock was a noted preacher and like his fellow Dominicans he preached parish missions, church novenas and retreats, travelling throughout Ireland and sometimes to Great Britain to preach the gospel. On 19th June 1972 Fr. Pollock was elected prior for the third time in 11 years. His sister, Mother Ephram of the Dominican Order was at the same time Mother Prioress of the Dominican convent in Wicklow. In July 1975 Fr. Pollock transferred to the Waterford Dominican priory and was replaced by Fr. Leo Clandillon who returned from Australia to take up the position. Three months later Fr. Pollock came back to Athy to receive a presentation from the people of the town. The organising committee under the chairmanship of Bill Fenlon, presented him with a new car, a Ford Escort, fully insured for a year. He was also presented a silver tankard on behalf of the ladies of St. Dominic’s Altar Society. The next day at lunch in the priory Fr. Leo Clandillon presented him with a cheque on behalf of the Dominican community. On Monday 2nd January 1978 Fr. Pollock attended a wedding at St. Dominic’s Church, Athy. He did not attend the reception afterwards as he felt unwell and instead travelled to Bangor to stay with his sister. Eleven days later Fr. Pollock died suddenly in his sister’s house. The great preacher was now silent. His remains were brought to Waterford for burial, stopping off at Athy on Sunday 15th January. His coffin was placed in front of the high altar in St. Dominics and a short prayer service was conducted by the prior, Fr. Leo Clandillon. The church was full to capacity and as the remains were carried from the church to the hearse for the onward journey to Waterford the congregation sang ‘Nearer my God to thee’. The next day Fr. Pollock was buried in the Dominican plot in St. Otteran’s cemetery, Waterford. He died two months short of his 64th birthday. Fr. Pollock was a man of many talents who during his short life used those talents to the full. His legacy to the town of Athy, where he served for 14 years, is the much-admired church building now used as a community library which will always be his monument

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