Translation of the Article THE FRIARS PREACHERS from the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité:


1. Before the 16th century.
2. The persecution.
3. The 19th century on.

1. The history of the Dominican Province of Ireland before the 16th century is not very well known, on account of the long persecution which followed the Protestant Reformation and in the course of which convents and records disappeared. However, some characteristics of religious life there can be noted.

The first convents were founded in 1224 (Dublin and Drogheda) by religious who came from England. The Order developed rapidly, but until 1484 it remained dependent upon the English Province. In 1303, that Province, which included the two vicariates of Scotland and Ireland, numbered 3000 religious and 88 houses. There were probably between 500 and 1000 Irish brethren.

The Irish Dominicans favored popular devotions; first of all, devotion to Mary. The ancient statues which, through times of persecution, have come down to us, testify to it; for instance, the ivory statue of Our Lady of Grace, which came from Youghal and is at present in Cork. Pilgrimages to St. Dominic were very frequent; and even today this devotion continues in the shrines of the devastated convents of Urlar, Ballindoon, Burrishoole, Glanwort. In the same way, devotion to St. Peter Martyr persists at Lorrha.

Another fact to be observed is the extent of the ministry of confession. This trait has survived down the centuries. It appears, for example, in the short biographies of the Epilogus chronologicus published by John O'Heyne at Louvain in 1706.

As elsewhere, conventual life was characterized, in the 14th century, by a relaxation of poverty. Convents acquired property, collected revenues, and their wealth sometimes reached considerable proportions.

The reform tendency, at first hampered by the hostility of the English religious, finally penetrated into Ireland in the last quarter of the 15th century, through the vicar of the Province, Maurice O'Mochain Moral. The convent of Athenry became the center of the reform. It then spread to Coleraine, Drogheda and Cork. New foundations were made, especially in the west. Most of them were rural, since most of the Irish population lived in the country. That explains, no doubt, the popular character of the apostolate and of the spirituality of the Irish Dominicans.

2. Persecution broke out in 1541, but the Irish never ceased their struggle to preserve the Faith in their country for three centuries. They took advantage of brief intervals of freedom to restore religious life; thus, in 1646, they had 43 convents with 600 friars. But more often the religious were obliged to live scattered among the laity. Even after the demolishing of Catholics by Cromwell in the middle of the 17th century, they continued their apostolate under more and more difficult conditions.

Little is known about the spirituality of that period, but the one hundred martyrs belonging to the three branches of the Order gave evidence of the authentic spiritual life of the time.

Persecution did not prevent recruitment among the brethren. The Provincial, Thaddeus O' Duane (+1608), called upon the Spanish Dominicans for the formation of young religious. The experiment succeeded so well, in 1597, the Irish Dominicans studying in Spain received permission to choose a vicar to govern their group. An Irish college was established at Louvain in 1624, and another at Lisbon in 1633. It might be thought that Spanish spirituality would then be preponderant in the Province. We must not forget, however, the personality of the Irishman, Ross MacGeoghegan, who dominated the whole group of exiles and was selected in 1615 by the Master General to reorganize the Order in Ireland, with the title of Vicar General. He was named Provincial at the General Chapter of Milan in 1622 and became Bishop of Kildare in 1629.

But the victory of William of Orange in 1691 marked a new dispersion of the Preachers. They began once again to live in isolation and preach from parish to parish. Some writings reflect clearly the type of their apostolate. In 1675, at Louvain, William Collins published in English a defense of the Mass, Missa triumphans. As for popular preaching, books such as The pilgrimage of Louch-Derg (Belfast, 1726) and the Vade-mecum missionariorum (Louvain, 1736; re-edited Metz, 1747, under the title De missione et missionariis) by Dominic Brullaughan (+1746), enable us to get an idea of what it was like. Works of-devotion were also published, such as The Rosary of the name of Jesus and B. Virgin Mary with answers to three curious letters, the first of the Pope's Infallability, the second of Easter Confession the third of Holy Communion and hearing Mass Sundays and Holidays (Louvain, 1725) of Edmund de Burgo, or Laurence Richardson's An Essay on the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dublin, 1736), The Manner of hearing Mass with Prayers... (Dublin, 1746) etc. The first of those books offers to the faithful a great variety of prayers and meditations for each mystery (cf. Hugh Fenning, St. Saviour's Church Dublin Centenary Record, Dublin 1961, pp. 69-70). This kind of manual was rather frequent until the 19th century, including one by Harrigan of Limerick (1810), and one by Leahy (ca. 1842), etc.

3. The 19th century marked the Catholic revival in general and that of the Dominicans in particular. Four names should be kept in mind: the two brothers Bartholomew and Patrick Russell, Pius Leahy, who became Bishop of Dromore, and Thomas Burke. Catholics obtained their emancipation in 1829. But as early as 1814 the Black Abbey at Kilkenny was restored. In 1839 a new church was erected in Cork. B. Russell appeared in the pulpit in the Dominican habit in 1851, the first time since James II. A novitiate was opened at Talla in 1856, with the celebrated preacher, Thomas Burke, as Master of Novices. A new type of preaching was inaugurated in 1854: that of missions. The number of Dominicans increased regularly and reached the 400 mark in 1961. However, the 19th century remained poor in works of spirituality. Thus, at the novitiate of Tallagh, it was the Jesuit, Alphonsus Rodriquez, whose works the novices read.

But from 1900 on, the foundation of the Irish Rosary Office, which has now become Dominican Publications, provided an opportunity to publish works of spirituality. More recently, Doctrine and Life, a review entirely devoted to spirituality, is an imposing publication. In short, since 1920, and especially since the foundation of the Studium generale in 1935, Thomist theology, in full renewal, has furnished a solid foundation for the spiritual life.

Raphael-Louis OECHSLIN

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