02 June 2023

‘No man should have more
than £100,000. The rest
should go to charity’

The Wolfson Building opened on the Open University campus in Milton Keynes in 1993 with the support of the Wolfson Foundation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I recently visited the Central Synagogue in the heart of the West End in London, and how it was rebuilt in 1958 after the original building was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1941.

Central Synagogue was rebuilt thanks to the generosity of the Great Universal Stores magnate Sir Isaac Wolfson (1897-1991) and his son, the philanthropist Leonard Wolfson (1927-2010), Lord Wolfson. They lived nearby in Portland Place, and offered £25,000 towards the new building.

The foundation stone of the new Central Synagogue was laid by Sir Isaac Wolfson and the synagogue was designed by the architect C Edmund Wilford, who was appointed at the suggestion of Leonard Wolfson and who may have worked for the Wolfsons’ company, Great Universal Stores.

Sir Isaac Wolfson was a devout Orthodox Jew, and in 1962 he was appointed president of the United Synagogue, the first to be selected from descendants of 19th century Jewish immigrants.

Wolfson followed the example of his father and the mid-European community from which he came, and gave immense amounts of money to charities. Inspired and motivated by his Jewish faith and beliefs, he once said, ‘No man should have more than £100,000. The rest should go to charity.’

Wolfson is the only non-religious figure to have a college named after him at both Oxford and Cambridge, and he is one of a handful of figures, including God or the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Peter, Saint Edmund of Canterbury and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, to have colleges named after them in both Cambridge and Oxford.

As I walked around the Open University campus in Milton Keynes last week, admiring the sculpture and architecture and visiting Saint Michael’s Church, I was reminded that Sir Isaac Wolfson also gave his name to the Wolfson Building.

The Wolfson Building opened in 1993 an the Earth Sciences extension to the Gass Building. The Wolfson Foundation helped to finance the building of the extension. The Wolfson Foundation was founded in 1955 by Isaac Wolfson and his family. The foundation is a charity and awards grants to support excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities.

Sir Isaac Wolfson set up the Wolfson Foundation to distribute most of his fortune to good causes. He was a Scottish businessman and philanthropist, the managing director of Great Universal Stores (GUS) or Gussies in 1932-1947 and the chairman in 1947-1987.

Great Universal Stores was a mail order business. He joined the company in 1932, becoming joint managing director later that year. He turned the company round, and made it not only a very strong business but also the principal source of his wealth. He was succeeded by his son Leonard Wolfson.

Isaac Wolfson was born in Glasgow, the son of a Jewish cabinet maker, Solomon Wolfson, an immigrant from Rajgród in Poland, who settled in the Gorbals. His mother was Nechi Surah Wilamowski.

At school in Glasgow, he was highly capable in mathematics. But he could not afford to train as an accountant and so became a salesman for his father, who made cheap tables and chairs for local people.

He left for London in 1920, and there he started his own business, selling clocks, mirrors and upholstery. In 1926 he married Edith Specterman, whose father owned a chain of suburban cinemas and helped him financially in his early days.

Wolfson established the Wolfson Foundation in 1955 to aid the advancement of education, health and youth activities. The charity awards grants to support excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities.

The foundation supported the establishment of Wolfson College, Oxford, where he was a Founder Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge, the Wolfson Building at Somerville College, Oxford, the Wolfson Building at Trinity College, Cambridge, the Wolfson Building at the Open University, and the Wolfson Room at Saint David’s College in Wales, among many other projects over the years.

Wolfson College Cambridge was founded as University College in 1965, but was refounded as Wolfson College in 1973 in recognition of the benefaction of the Wolfson Foundation. Wolfson College Oxford was founded in 1965, and its first president, the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, was instrumental its establishing its traditions of academic excellence and egalitarianism.

Isaac Wolfson was also a benefactor of the John Rylands Library. There are Wolfson buildings in many other universities, including a Wolfson Building at Strathclyde University and at Nottingham University, and the Wolfson Science Building and the Wolfson Hall of Residence at the University of Glasgow, and there are professorships named after him at Oxford, Bar-Ilan, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Lord Bullock, one of the early Trustees, once said that Sir Isaac Wolfson ‘brought to the work of the Foundation the same acumen and experience in investing in projects, people and institutions, to which he owed his success in business.’

Shabbat Shalom

The Wolfson Building on the Open University campus in Milton Keynes … Sir Isaac Wolfson established the Wolfson Foundation to distribute most of his fortune to good causes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (5) 2 June 2023

The portico at the church at Kimmage Manor … the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Congregation moved to Kimmage Manor in 1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Fifty days of Easter season came to an end on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost (28 May 2023), or Whit Sunday, and Ordinary Time resumed on Monday (29 May 2023).

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

In this first week in Ordinary Time, between the Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday (4 June 2023), I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at an image or stained glass window in a church or cathedral I know depicting Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, or the Feast of the Day;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Kimmage Manor was the home of the Holy Ghost Missionary College from 1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

My photographs this morning (2 June 2023) are from Kimmage Manor, Dublin. I studied theology at the Holy Ghost Missionary College, later the Kimmage Mission Institute, in 1984-1987 on a course leading to the BD from the Pontifical University Maynooth, and in my final year I was a student member of the Theology Faculty Council.

I was studying theology full-time there while holding down a full-time position as a journalist with The Irish Times. Although I was a complete outsider – most of the other students were members of religious communities, such as the Spiritans and the Redemptorists – I was made welcome and I still keep in contact with friends I made over those three years.

All the lands of Kimmage, Terenure and Milltown were owned by Peter Barnewall in 1641, and they included a castle on the lands of Kimmage. Through the years that followed, there were various owners and tenants, and Rocque’s map from the mid-18th century shows extensive buildings on the site of the present Manor House.

Frederick Shaw (1799-1876), his wife Thomasine-Emily, and their children came to live in Kimmage House in 1829. Shaw was the second son of Colonel Sir Robert Shaw (1774-1849) of Bushy Park, Co Dublin. The Shaw family originally came from Co Kilkenny and Frederick Shaw’s grandfather, Robert Shaw (1749-1796), first leased Terenure House (Terenure Castle or Terenure College) from Joseph Deane in 1785. His younger brother, Bernard Shaw (1768-1826), was the grandfather of the playwright and Nobel Prize laureate, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).

Sir Robert Shaw, who inherited Terenure House, was MP for New Ross, Co Wexford, in the Irish House of Commons and voted against the Act of Union. Later, he was MP for Dublin from 1804 to 1826 in the British House of Commons. He was a founder of Shaw’s Bank, which later became the Royal Bank of Ireland.

He inherited a vast estate in south Co Dublin, including Bushy Park House and Kimmage House (now Kimmage Manor), through his marriage to Maria Wilkinson of Bushy Park, a wealthy heiress.

His second son, Frederick Shaw, was Recorder (or part-time municipal judge) for Dublin and Dundalk. A year after moving into Kimmage House, Shaw was elected MP for Dublin City in 1830, and was then sat MP for Dublin University (1832-1848).

Shaw rebuilt Kimmage House on the banks of the old Dublin watercourse in the style of Tudor manor, with high, triangular gables, spiral turrets and tall chimneys. The windows, especially the projecting oriel window, the doorways and the interior designs – including the vaulted vestibule, miniature great hall, panelled ceilings and ornate mouldings – are all modelled on Elizabethan architectural styles.

The Shaw family lived in an L-shaped section of the present manor house. The historian of Kimmage Manor, Father Paddy Ryan, who was my lecturer in Church History, estimates this L-shaped section of the house is at least 250 years old.

Within two years of their arrival, the Shaw family had built a two-storey addition to the south side of the L-shaped existing building and more than doubled their floor area, building the front entrance, entrance hall, reception area and staircase.

Frederick Shaw’s younger brother, the Revd George Augustus Shaw (1815-1839), was the perpetual curate or Vicar of Rathfarnham when he died of typhus fever at their father’s house, Bushy Park, at the age of 24 in 1839.

When his elder brother, Sir Robert Shaw, died in 1869 and Sir Frederick Shaw inherited the family title, he decided not to move to Bushy Park, and continued living at Kimmage Manor. He died at Kimmage House in 1876 and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross. His eldest son, Sir Robert Shaw (1821-1895), became the fourth baronet and the moved with his family to Bushy Park, where he lived until he died.

Kimmage House was leased to various tenants. Edward Chetwode later sold his lease to Edgar Kenyon, but the house was often unoccupied. Mrs Mary Ida Clayton leased the house and lands in perpetuity in 1898, and came to live in the house with her two sons. By the beginning of the 20th century, Kimmage House was known as Kimmage Manor.

The Spiritans bought Kimmage Manor in 1911, and the new foundation was named the Holy Ghost Missionary College, Kimmage, Dublin.

Students from other orders, including Redemptorists, and lay people were accepted in Kimmage Manor from the 1970s, and from the 1980s students received our BD degree from the Pontifical University Maynooth. The college church became the Kimmage Manor Parish Church in 1990.

The Kimmage Mission Institute of Theology and Cultures (KMI) was founded in Kimmage in 1991, in association with other Irish missionary congregations. KMI moved to the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in 2003, and formally merged with Milltown in 2006

The Milltown Institute closed in 2015. Kimmage Manor is now the location of the Spiritan Mission Resource and Heritage Centre. Training for Transformation, which has worked with the Spiritans, is based in Kimmage Manor.

Kimmage Manor … remodelled by Sir Frederick Shaw as Kimmage House after moving in 1829 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 8: 1-4 (NRSVA):

1 When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; 2 and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’

The oriel window at Kimmage Manor … part of the Elizabethan and Tudor restyling of Kimmage House by Sir Frederick Shaw (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Pentecost.’ USPG’s Chaplain, the Revd Jessie Anand, introduced this theme on Sunday, reflecting on Pentecost and languages.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Friday 2 June 2023):

Let us pray for peace and stability in the Philippines. May its government build a nation free from fear and oppression and work to build a society that is just and fair.


Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

The Spiritans offered me a warm welcome at Kimmage Manor in 1984-1987 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org