18 October 2022

Saints, seekers and many
more stories of religious
life and lives in Limerick

‘Of Limerick Saints and Seekers’, edited by David Bracken … I have two contributions in this new book

Patrick Comerford

A new book is on its way in the post, I hope. I am one of the contributors to Of Limerick Saints and Seekers, edited by David Bracken and published in Dublin last month by Veritas.

In this new book, David Bracken invites readers to journey with him and over 50 other scholars through a millennium and a half of Limerick church history with saints and scribes, poets and preachers, martyrs and missionaries, and founders of churches, monasteries and religious communities.

The book spans the whole period of Church History in Co Limerick and the Diocese of Limerick, from early Ireland to present day, with a collection of the lives and stories of extraordinary people from a variety of faith traditions and backgrounds, from well-known saints to unknown and unsung religious. There are Jesuit and Methodist missionaries, martyrs and mundane saints who lived a good life.

The book is introduced by Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, who in the past collaborated with Professor Salvador Ryan and their other colleagues in Maynooth on similar books, to which I have also contributed.

The contributors include academics and archaeologists, editors and archivists, bishops and poets, theologians and pastoral workers, priests and lay people, drawn from a wide range of academic institutions and backgrounds on both sides of the Atlantic.

These are 50 or more fast-moving papers, each a concise, compact and focussed contribution that seeks to get beyond myth and legend to present the real lives of their subjects. This book illuminates the diverse richness of Limerick’s story by highlighting the saints and seekers who have shaped its history.

The early saints include Saint Íte or Ita, described by Maeve Callan as the foster mother of the saints, Munchin, the ‘ little monk’ (Elva Johnston), Nessan of Mungret (Elizabeth Boyle), and Gille, who was Limerick’s first bishop and ‘the architect of the Mediaeval Church’ (John Fleming).

The dedication of the cathedral in Limerick to Saint Mary is discussed by Catherine Swift, and Pádraig Ó Macháin looks at the Black Book of Limerick and its unknown scribe.

The story of the mediaeval Askeaton Madonna is told by Colleen Thomas, and her ‘homecoming’ to the Askeaton by the parish priest Seán Ó Longaigh, who was my colleague in Askeaton for many years.

The stories of these Co Limerick saints stray across the diocesan boundaries in David Bracken’s own contribution, telling of Terence O’Brien, Bishop of Emly, and his confrontation with Cromwell’s General Ireton. Thady Lee, a Vincentian from Tough near Adare, had his skull smashed by Cromwell’s troops (Alison Forrestal).

My friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth tells the story of Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, and Margo Griffin-Wilson writes about the poet Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, the bard who lived at Springfield Castle.

We are brought on a whistle-stop from the US and Peru, to Soviet-era Ukraine and war-torn Iraq, to India, China, Japan and Korea, and to Australia and New Zealand.

Father Timothy Leonard (1893-1929), a Columban priest from Ballysimon, was killed by Communists in China after they invaded his Church and scattered the Blessed Sacrament to the ground, prompting him to berate them: ‘You are bad men; you are bandits who have insulted and desecrated my Lord.’ Neil Collins tells how he was promptly ran a sword through his back when he refused to kneel to his assailants, telling them, ‘I kneel only to Our Lord Jesus Christ.’

The book also honours the contribution of women to the life of the Church in Limerick. Eileen Lenihan paints portraits of the seven Cotter sisters of Killeady, daughters of Ellen McCarthy and John Cotter. All joined religious orders between 1920 and 1987, and all seven ended up as nuns in Australia and New Zealand.

Sister Angela Fitzgerald (1890-1980) was once a nun in Drishane Castle, Millstreet, Co Cork, later tutored the future Empress of Japan, Michiko, wife of Akihito, in 1938 using the chant ‘Brian, Betty and Bunny on the beach of Ballybunion’ to teach the letter B. Later, Maurice Egan writes, she survived earthquakes, war and internment in Japan.

Mother Elizabeth Moore and her Sisters of Mercy set up soup kitchens for the poor and orphanages across Limerick, while treating people in the cholera outbreak in the 1830s that killed tens of thousands across Ireland (Sharon Slater).

Mother Francis Bridgeman almost attained the fame given to Florence Nightingale: Marianne Cosgrave tells how together they provided care to the dying and wounded in the Crimean War, but later had their differences.

Mother Mary McKillop founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph, a congregation that brought 800 Irish missionaries to Australia and New Zealand, including 76 from Limerick (Clare Ahern).

The story of the Little Company of Mary, told by Niamh Lenahan, is an example of the contribution of religious to advancing and providing healthcare in Ireland, from hospitals to nursing homes and hospice provision in the 19th century.

The late Father Gerry Reynolds, was a pioneering ecumenist and Redemptorist priest who crossed many traditional sectarian boundaries. He claimed we were related on my mother’s side of the family, and he is hailed as the ‘Unity Pilgrim’ by Tríona Doherty, editor of Reality, the Redemptorist magazine to which I have also contributed.

Doubtless, Gerry would have been pleased with the ecumenical scope and breadth of this book, including not only Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists, but Jews and Sikhs too.

The contributions from the Church of Ireland include the life of Bishop John Jebb, told by Niall Sloane, Dean of Limerick, Mother Harriet Monsell of Clewer (Timothy Collins), and the poet Aubrey Vere, who is buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton (Chris Morash).

The Methodist historian Robin Roddie, who hosted my student placement with Shankill Road Methodist Church in Belfast in the 1980s, looks at John Wesley and Limerick’s Methodists.

Rabbi Elias Bernard Levin (1863-1936) came to Limerick from Lithuania, and brought together the Jewish community in the Colooney Street or Wolfe Tone Street area. But, Seán William Gannon tells readers, the Limerick ‘pogrom’ eventually forced him to leave and settle in Leeds, where he died.

Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913), from Templeglantine in rural West Limerick, was first introduced to the Sikh religion through a colonial posting to Amritsar. Patricia Kieran tells how he became a renowned scholar of Sikh theology and scriptures, and produced a massive six volume work, The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors in 1909.

Nor does this book shy away from the present controversies besetting the Church in Ireland. Daithí Ó Corráin recalls the grim story of young Gerard Fogarty in Glin Industrial School. And how Councillor Martin McGuire sought to hold the state accountable for the young child’s flogging only to be rebuffed at every turn.

My two contributions to this book look at Barbara Heck and Philip Embury from Rathkeale, the founders of American Methodism, and the Anglican nun Sister Mary Clare Whitty, who grew up on the Crescent in Limerick and was martyred in Korea during the ‘Long March.’ But more about these stories at another time.

The editor, David Bracken, is the archivist for the Diocese of Limerick and edited The End of All Things Earthly: Faith Profiles of the 1916 Leaders (Dublin: Veritas, 2016). Now he offers a journey through Limerick’s rich tapestry of history. In his acknowledgements, he thanks me ‘for his suggestions which expanded the scope of the project.’

• Of Limerick Saints and Seekers, edited by David Bracken (Dublin: Veritas Books, September 2022), 266 pp, ISBN 9781800970311.

Praying for World Peace and with USPG:
Tuesday 18 October 2022

The Week of Prayer for World Peace invites prayers today on the theme of ‘A Prayer for the Earth’ … Arnaldo Pomodoro’s sculpture ‘Sphere Within Sphere’ at the Berkeley Library in Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Church Calendar today celebrates Saint Luke the Evangelist today (18 October).

It is seven months today since I suffered a stroke (18 March 2022). Later today, I am planning to have lunch with a friend in Oxford. But, before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year, the Week of Prayer for World Peace is from 16 to 23 October. In my prayer diary from last Sunday until next Sunday, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection from the programme for the Week of Prayer for World Peace (16 to 23 October);

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Luke the Evangelist and Physician … a stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul, and is mentioned by him three times in his Letters. Saint Paul describes him as ‘the beloved physician’ and, in his second Letter to Timothy, as his only companion in prison. He is believed to be the author of two books of the New Testament: Saint Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Saint Luke’s narrative of the life of Christ has a pictorial quality and shows the sequential pattern from the nativity through to the death and resurrection. The developed sense of theology that comes over in Saint Paul’s writings is virtually unknown in Saint Luke’s writings. But, as a Gentile, Saint Luke makes clear that the good news of salvation is for all, regardless of gender, social position or nationality.

Luke 10: 1-9 (NRSVA):

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”.’

The Week of Prayer for World Peace takes place this year from Sunday 16 October 2022 to Sunday 23 October 2022

Week of Prayer for World Peace 2022, Day 3:

The week of Prayer for World Peace takes place from the second to third Sunday in October each year, which this year is from Sunday last (Sunday 16 October 2022) to next Sunday (23 October 2022).

The Week of Prayer for World Peace is supported by a wide range of organisations, many of which I have engaged with over the years, including the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, Christian CND, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

Day 3: A Prayer for Our Earth:

We pray for the earth and all her goodness to flourish and be nurtured by humankind.

‘I visualise the earth with my inner eye, slowly revolving; I visualise the oceans, the mountains, the forests and all living beings. Whilst holding my vison of the earth in front of me, I open my angel wings of compassion and care to embrace the earth to heal the pain with love and mercy.’ – Brahma Kumaris Environment Initiative

‘Our Gaia, whose art is Nature –
abode of our life,
Your time has come, your battle won
for people’s planet – consciousness.
Teach us each day how to be and live
through observing Nature’s models,
Those models that bring us into harmony
and not into conflict with Life’s source.
Home to humanity,
in sacred diversity.
Deities in unity, our dream.’ – from The Earth’s Prayer (to intonations of the Lord’s Prayer) by Anne Palmer, Isle of Lewis, UK

‘Cease the winds from the west
‘Cease the winds from the south
‘Let the breeze blow over the land
‘Let the breeze blow over the ocean
‘Let the red-tipped dawn come with a sharpened air.
‘A touch of frost, a promise of a glorious day.’ – Traditional Maori Blessing

‘I pray for the good of the life of all the living creatures which Spirit of Wisdom has created.’ – Zoroastrian Gathas

Sunset on the River Deel and the Shannon Estuary at Askeaton, Co Limerick … the Week of Prayer for World Peace invites prayers today on the theme of ‘A Prayer for the Earth’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer (Tuesday 18 October 2022, Saint Luke):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
by the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
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.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘World Food Day.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Luke the Evangelist. May we be inspired by his Christian witness.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘I visualise the earth with my inner eye, slowly revolving; I visualise the oceans, the mountains, the forests and all living beings’ (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

‘Study for the Calf of Saint Luke’ by Graham Sutherland in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)