Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Catholic Clergy Associate with St. Michael's Parish Athy

The earliest record we have of a catholic clergyman in Athy is that relating to Fr. John Fitzsimons who was ordained in 1673 by Bishop Oliver Plunkett and who was noted as the Parish Priest of Athy in 1697. That same year Fr. Henry Dalton was recorded as the Parish Priest of nearby Castledermot. He may have succeeded Fr. Michael Dullroy who was noted as officiating in Castledermot in 1630. An earlier appointee to take charge of a south Kildare parish was Fr. Morris Dowling who was appointed to Narraghmore parish by papal provision in 1624. Over the years there have been many priests associated with St. Michael’s parish Athy. The names of the Parish Priests have been recorded since Fr. Fitzsimons’ time but regrettably many of the curates associated with the parish have not been noted at local level. Many of those unremembered curates may have had interesting life stories which we cannot now hope to discover. What I wonder would Fr. Andrew Colgan, ordained in 1835 and appointed a few years later, have had to say of his Parish Priest Fr. John Lalor who was appointed as Athy’s Parish Priest in 1835? Fr. Colgan wrote to the Archbishop’s Secretary not long after his arrival in Athy claiming that no curate would stay in St. Michaels under what he called the Parish Priest’s tyrannical treatment. Apparently Fr. Lalor had not shared the October collection with his curate, leaving Fr. Colgan unable to meet his financial obligations. He was not to know that before he arrived in Athy Fr. Lalor on hearing of his appointment wrote to Archbishops House that he was ‘well aware of Fr. Colgan’s peculiarities.’ He begged the Archbishop ‘not to inflict this chastisement on me’. Fr. Colgan, believing he was to join the Pro Cathedral staff on New Year’s Day 1840 following his letter of complaint, wrote a thank you letter to the Archbishop’s Secretary. However the records show that he was sent to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow and later to a succession of curacies and chaplaincies, never gaining appointment as a Parish Priest. Another interesting individual was Fr. Thomas Pope who was ordained in 1833 and immediately appointed as curate in St. Michael’s Athy, where he served for five years. Little is known of his time in Athy, but apparently he left to join a Jesuit novitiate in Belgium. By October 1838 he was on his way back to Ireland and from Liverpool wrote to Archibishop’s House indicating he was not able to persevere in the Jesuit novitiate. ‘I do not know what to do as I fear I will be met with scorn on my return’ he wrote. He need not have feared for he was appointed to St. Marys and was eventually appointed Parish Priest of St. Lawrences and a Canon of the church. Fr. John Lalor was Parish Priest in Athy from 1835 to 1859 and presided over the parish during the Great Famine and the subsequent arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in the town. According to the Annals of the Sisters of Mercy it was local curate Fr. Michael Byrne, with the help of some local lay people, who first mooted the idea of bringing the Sisters of Mercy to Athy. Fr. Byrne’s sudden death put the idea on hold for some time until Fr. Thomas Greene arrived in Athy in 1844. Fr. Greene who remained in Athy until 1862 spearheaded the local campaign which led to the opening of the Sisters of Mercy convent schools in the town. Fr. Greene has been described as a ‘distinguished literary man’ who used the pen name John Harold. I have been unable to discover any of his writings but strangely a fellow curate of his in Athy between 1844 and 1850 was Fr. John Harold who was ordained in Maynooth in 1844. Another curate who served in the parish of St. Michaels under Fr. Lalor was Fr. John O’Rourke, author of the ‘History of the Great Famine of 1847’. He spent a year as a curate in Castledermot immediately following his ordination before coming to Athy parish in 1851 and leaving a year later. Another clerical author who served as a curate in Athy was Fr. Maurice Browne, the author of ‘In Monavello’ and ‘The Big Sycamore’. Fr. Browne served as a curate under Canon Mackey and later Canon McDonnell between 1925 and 1935.

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