16 October 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
140, the Friary, Wexford

The Italianate tower of the Friary seen from High Street through the houses of Mary Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am putting the finishing touches to tomorrow’s sermons in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert. But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (16 October 2021) are from the Franciscan Friary in Wexford.

The striking interior of the Friary Church with its exquisite stucco work and panelled ceiling (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For some years in 1970s, I lived in School Street and then in High Street, Wexford, just a ‘stone’s throw’ from the Franciscan Friday. Before that, generations of Comerfords were baptised in the Friary church in the 18th and 19th centuries when they lived in John Street and the neighbourhood.

The Franciscan Friars have been an intrinsic part of life in Wexford town for almost eight centuries. They first arrived in Wexford in 1230 or 1240, when a friary was founded by William Marshall and they have been present in the town ever since.

The Franciscans survived throughout the ages through the collection of alms, and donations from the townspeople of Wexford. Their friary was suppressed at the Reformation, the friars were expelled in 1540, and stones of the old friary were used to repair Wexford Castle in 1560.

But the friars remained in Wexford, and in the early 17th century were renting a house in Archer's Lane, off High Street, on the site of the present Opera House, and opposite the house I once lived in on High Street.

In 1649, Father Raymond Stafford, a Franciscan was killed in the Bull Ring as he pleaded with Cromwell’s soldiers to stop the slaughter of the people of the town. Six other friars – Richard Sinnott, John Esmonde, Paulinus Sinnott, Peter Stafford, James Rochford and the blind Didacus Cheevers – died at the altar in their church as they led the people in prayer before the onslaught of the Puritans.

Local lore says a shot fired at a crucifix held up by Father Raymond Stafford in the Bull Ring was deflected and killed a Cromwellian captain. There are also tales that other shots failed to penetrate the habits of some of the Friars.

Despite the sacking of Wexford, some Franciscans remained in the community incognito. At Easter 1654, four Franciscans were captured and hanged near Wexford Friary. In 1658, a Franciscan Guardian was re-appointed in Wexford, and with the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 the Franciscans were free to come out of hiding.

By 1690, the Franciscans had returned to the site of their original friary, renting it at a nominal rent until they were able to purchase the site where School Street meets John Street. An 18th century member of the Franciscan community in Co Wexford was Father James Comerford, who was parish priest of Tagoat and Rosslare from 1709 to 1734.

The present church is largely an 18th century building, when extensive renovation work took place, although two of the walls date from pre-Cromwellian times. The church is architecturally striking with its exquisite stucco work decorating the panelled ceiling, on which the brothers Richard, Robert and James Comerford worked in the early 19th century.

The grounds of the church hosted huge Temperance rallies addressed by Father Theobald Mathew in the 1840s.

Before the Twin Churches were built in Wexford in 1851-1858, the Friary Church also served as the parish church in the town.

The Franciscans led the way in terms of ecumenism in Wexford town, and during major renovations of the Friary Church in the 1980s, they accepted the friendship and hospitality offered by the Church of Ireland parish, and celebrated their Masses in Saint Iberius’s Church.

In 2007, the Franciscans of the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM or brown friars) left the Friary, and the Franciscan presence in Wexford is now maintained by the Conventual Franciscans or grey friars.

The tomb of Canon John Corrin in Wexford Friary was designed by AWN Pugin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 8-12 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 8 ‘And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; 9 but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’

The reliquary of Saint Adjutor in the Franciscan Friary Church in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 October 2021, World Food Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for a more equal distribution of food across the world, ensuring that all have enough food to eat. May we remember those suffering from malnutrition and starvation.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The spire of Rowe Street church glimpsed through a window in the Friary church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The Franciscan Friary in Wexford Town and John Street, seen from the gates of Rowe Street Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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