Carmel in new york

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The Province of St Elias, 1889 – 1906

By: Alfred Isacsson, O.Carm.

Vestigium Press

69-34 52nd Ave

Maspeth, NY 11378

April 27, 1978

Abbreviations Used in Footnotes

DA Arvhives, Archdiocese of New York, St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie

AIP Archives, Irish Province, Carmelite Conference Center, Gort Muire, Dundrum, Dublin, Ireland.

ANYP Archives, New York Province, Provincial House, Maspeth, N.Y.

AO Archivum Generale, Collegio San Alberto, Roma

CG Archivum Generale, Curia Generalizia, Roma

CONY Chancery Office, Archdiocese of NY, New York, NY

PO Provincial Office, Irish Province, Carmelite Conference Center, Gort Muire, Dundrum, Dublin, Ireland.


Mindful of the adage of Robert Burns, “The best-laid schemes o’mice an’ men gang aft agley,” I think it prudent to publish the history of the province of St Elias in sections. The plan of the work is so large that the concept staggers me at times. Rather, than leave uncompleted manuscripts in my estate, I think it prudent to issue the work in sections as each is finished. This will prevent this situation. These sections will be seen by all interested and they will have the opportunity to make suggestions and raise questions. The quality of subsequent work will thus be improved.

Besides an historical chronology, a definitive history of this province requires a number of related studies. A biographical catalog of Carmelites who worked in the province, a narration of Carmelite participation in the Irish troubles, a study of the provinces education of its students: these are examples of the work that has to be done. When these, as well as the chronology are completed, the definitive work can be done.

Each period of the province’s history has varying amounts of material. This first (1889-1906) has perhaps the most. In a definitive history, one era should not be covered in significantly more pages than others. Sectional publication would give a better overall view before the composition of the one volume definitive work.

The archives of the New York Province of Saint Elias contain almost no material belonging to this era. Much material exists for later periods.

To all of the above named, to Charles Haggerty for giving me the opportunity to pursue this work, to all who assisted and encouraged me and to my Carmelite brothers who supported me, sincere thanks. May the task of which this is but a beginning be someday completed.

Alfred Isacsson

April 27, 1978

Maspeth, NY

Chapter 1

The Carmelites in Ireland – the Late 19th Century

The 19th century saw Ireland go through troubled times. Catholic Emancipation came in 1829 but it took years to become accustomed to this new freedom. Centuries of persecution had ended and it was difficult for both clergy and people to adapt themselves to this new way of lacking the secretiveness and furtivity of former times. Mid century saw a famine and before they could recover from this plight, the Irish people were subjected to many political movements and a constant stream of ideology. O’Connell had come and gone. Parnell had appeared on the scene and was banished by his profligate actions, enlarged and disseminated by a Crown anxious to cast aspersions on any Irish independence movement. The Church of England was disestablished but the Catholic clergy had lived for years in the shadows of their Protestant counterparts and did not readily cast off their unconscious imitation of the non=Catholic clergy in life style and dress. The Land League with its great support among Irish immigrants to America found this a time of growth and influence. In this milieu, the Irish Carmelites lived and really prospered when one considers all these debilitating factors.

In 1870, there were forty-one members in the Irish province. Nineteen priests and eleven students were based in Dublin, four were in Knocktopher, Moate had three, Kinsale and Kildare had two each. Dublin was an urban area where Whitefriars Street and Terenure College were the two foundations. The other four houses were in what we would call small towns where farming was the main occupation of the people.1

The Irish Carmelites in the 19th Century were not an idle lot. Like many of their forbears, their vision stretched far across the waters that ringed their outpost island. During troubled times, they had never ceased to serve the people. They were not content to do this alone and the Atlantic horizon beckoned to them as far back as 1852. Andrew Daly wrote to Joseph R. Lobina, general of the Order at the time, that he desired his men to go to America. He wrote:

For a long time, I have thought of the needs of the Catholic religion in the United States of America. Various bishops of that region have spoke with me about this. The work is large but the workers fewest. The faith of our Irish people settled there is exposed to many dangers. I have often been invited by bishops and priests to join these missions – having thought about it for a while I would favor the diocese of Philadelphia or New York where a great part of the people are Irish or of Irish parents. But I would do this work under the auspices and authority of Your Paternity. This should be done for after a short time we should be able to erect easily some convent and church in honor of Our Blessed Lady of Mt. Carmel. To do this I now ask for the obedience needed to go from Ireland to America. After I am there I will write to you and will try to do everything according to your advice.2

An answer from the general is not extant so as far as we know, nothing came from this proposal.

All was not completely satisfactory with the Carmelites in Ireland. In 1867, while Reconstruction was going through problems this nation on the other side of the Atlantic would feel for a hundred years, Carmelites in Ireland petitioned the general, Angelus Savini, to visit Ireland so lamentable did they feel their conditions were. Their complaints seem to have been mainly in the area of religious observance. Some of the signers of this petition like Michael Moore, Philip McDonnell, Edward Southwell and Thomas Grennan would between them serve many years in the United States.3 Perhaps some dissatisfaction like this at home was a motive that would prompt them to later seek greener pastures across the ocean. They were not content simply to ask for a visitation. The next year they, among others, asked for a provincial chapter to be held at Easter, 1868. John Whitley, then at Kildare, was the only future American missionary among the additional signatures on this second petition.4 And when two men hurried off to Rome to counteract the petition, these same five future American missioners were among those writing the general to say the two visitors did not represent the province and no attention should be given to them. The last chapter had been held in 1860 so the anxiety of the men in is somewhat understandable.

The Fenian condemnation in 1870 was specially communicated to the Carmelites. Perhaps there was rumor of support for this group by the Irish Carmelites. Judging from subsequent history, the Holy See did well to communicate this condemnation to the order.5

In 1871, when a visitation and a general chapter were held in Ireland under the personal supervision of Angelus Savini, remnants of the time of persecution were evident in the abuses they engendered. An insistence is made for the maintaining of the cloister and a plug is put in for community life by the admonition that the brethren should not go to the houses of seculars to visit and drink. Considering that the last chapter was in 1860 and the next previous one in 1846, it is remarkable that these were the only matters brought forth for correction. Southwell, Whitley, and Bartley, who would figure later in the history of our province, are somewhat prominent in this chapter.6

Some early Carmelite travelers to America were not entirely motivated by apostolic work. News, obviously false, of gold on the streets of the New World must have filtered back to the friaries of Ireland for we find some of the brethren going to America for their holidays. In 1873 this became a problem for the provincial, Simon Carr, and he wrote to Angelus Savini that in that same year at least two friars had gone to America for vacation using funds gathered from their friends. They were following the example of one man who had gone the previous year. These travels took place at a time when the Carmelites were forbidden to spend their vacations even in England or France.7 These men were obviously daring, adventurous and fund raisers far in advance of their time.

A Carmelite born in the United States, Francus Walsh, died in Ireland August 1, 1881.8

When a chapter was held in Ireland in 1875, Southwell, Whitley and John Bartley, who figured in the 1871 chapter and would later find their way to America, played similar roles. In the next year, John Bartley, now provincial, cannot see his way clear to send two of his men to America. He cites their past records at Myrther Tydvil (Wales), Ireland and Germany as reasons to believe they cannot live in the same house together. Apparently they were not to go to the then nascent Chicago province because Bartley mentions that Doctor Walsh, Bishop of London, Canada, had visited him in Dublin and offered the Carmelites a house and a large parish of Irish people as a foundation. Two would be enough to staff the place at first but obviously Bartley did not want to send the two who were either proposed or anxious to go. He had given no definite answer to the bishop but laid the whole matter before Savini. The bishop was on his way to Rome and intended to visit Savini and explain the whole affair in person. Either the bishop never got to see Savini or the plan fell through because nothing ever came of the proposal.9

The Irish Carmelites continued to come to America, one at a time or in groups of two or three. The Irish Province was growing in numbers and the needs of the people were less than the numbers who wished to serve them. So, the order established a novitiate in Traspontina in Rome and gathered there from Ireland and others places in Europe young men who wished to serve wherever the order would need them. They did their novitiate there, remained in Rome for further studies, were ordained and most were sent to America around 1867-1880. They worked in Kentucky and Maryland at a time when these failing ventures were gathering their personnel together to form what would be the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Twelve can be so traced but not all of them came via Traspontina. Some were not happy in Ireland and so sought a change of climate. Peter Thomas Meagher, Thomas O’Malley, Theodore McDonald, Angelus O’Dwyer, Cyril Feehan, Brocard and Albert Murphy, Angelus Forrestal, John Francis Walsh were their names. Thomas Grennan, Michael Reddy and John Whitley came from Ireland to teach at Mount Carmel, Niagara Falls. For a few years, Grennan and Reddy taught classics and English to the students of the then building province. Some of these twelve had served in ill-fated ventures but they moved on until the order became more established and assumed more permanent form.10 They always remained faithful to the order they had joined.

Thomas Cullen was given permission to live with his relatives in California and remain there until there is some other disposition made.11

After he had taught classics at Niagara Falls for four years, Michael Reddy did some wrong and supposedly gave scandal while back in Ireland on holidays in 1884 so that the provincial, Andrew Farrington, felt the best solution was to give Reddy an obedience to leave the Irish Province.12 This never seems, fortunately, to have taken place as he is buried in the Carmelite plot in Kinsale.

A John Cullen, whom his provincial described as a gifted man but a problem who would be better outside the province, desired to go to America. John Bartley, the provincial, seems to have received a request from Savini, the general, for men but we cannot discover whether or not Cullen ever attained his wish.13

An attempt seems to have been made by Pius Mayer to bring the Irish Carmelites to the Archdiocese of Toronto. The conditions Mayer proposed were viewed impossible by the Irish and the matter was dropped.14

1878 saw another chapter in Ireland and three, later to work in our province, petition for voice at the chapter though they do not hafve the necessary requirements of confessional faculties. This favor seems to have been granted for Michael Daly, Joachim Brennan and John Whitley. This chapter elected Michael Moore provincial and he later will be instrumental in bringing the Carmelites to New York. Paul McDonnell, to be in the first group to come to New York, is elected prior of Moate at this chapter and in the following year is cited as a prudent and approachable man and given permission to build a new convent at Moate.15

Michael Moore, while provincial in 1879, sent a visitation report to Rome in which he proposed to send Peter Ward and Philip McDonnell with the consent of his definitory to South America in quest for funds from the Irish immigrants living there. Moore hoped this trip would be successful in liquidating the large debts of the province. He also said he turned down a military chaplaincy in India and the offer of a college in Trinidad because he had hopes for a stable mission in England and planned to see the Bishop of Liverpool very shortly on this matter. The general seems to have been in favor of the English venture.16 The following year, Moore did another visitation, this time at the behest of Savini.17

In late 1881, the Irish Province consisted of fifty0four priests situated in six houses: Whitefriars Street, Terenure, Kinsale, Knocktopher, Moate, Kildare and Gawler in Australia. Andrew Farringron was the provincial, living at Whitefriars Street with three former provincials and a host of ex-priors. Twenty-two was the population of this house. The college and novitiate were at Terenure where four priests with Michael Moore as rector, two deacons and nine professed clerics made up the community.18

For the chapter of 1881, John Carr was appointed preses and although he asked that John Bartley be named in his stead, he still was the preses when the chapter opened on May 9 in Dublin.19 At this chapter, it was reported that Philip McDonnell and Edward Southwell had gone to South America on a quest and had returned with the sum of £900 which went to the relief debts. £10,000 in debts still remained.

Joseph Butler and Joseph Leybourn had left behind them, when they departed to start a foundation in Australia, their votes for provincial and definitors. This was done with the permission of the general.

Andrew Farrington was elected provincial at this chapter. Philip McDonnell and Joachim Brennan were the prior and vicar-prior respectively of Moate. Southwell was the vicar-prior of Kinsale.20

In preparing a report before the chapter for his term as visitator and preses, Carr gave a summary of his personal appraisal of the candidates for provincial. They are of interest:

Thomas Bennett - “optimus et maxime idonaeus”

John Spratt – “Bonus sed minime idoaeus”

John Carr (self) – “Indignus et minime idonaeus”

John Bartley – “Vir bonus, sed provincilis riger et iners”

Michael Moore – “Bonus religious sed solido judicio et capite caret”

Andrew Farrington – “As Bennett dignissimus ac maxime idonaeus”21

Philip McDonnell, prior of Moate, had been sent in 1874 by the general, Angelus Savini, to Merthyr Tidvil in Wales. McDonnell did not want to go and cited his reasons to Savini but Carr, then provincial, felt McDonnell should go to Merthyr so that he could get him away from Moate and the creditors he had there. It would give the province a chance to satisfy the debts he had incurred there.22 Probably this is the reason there was a vicar-prior in the house.

Michael Moore seems to have been a bit of a wanderer after his term as provincial. While he was in Rome in 1881, he wrote to Savini to see of he could spend some time in Rome at Traspotina. He cited his desire to see the Pope, visit the holy places and talk to the general about the Australian missions. He also mentioned that he had been ordained for twenty-five years and felt that he needed a little vacation.23 Joseph Butler, by this time on the Australian mission, wrote the general to bolster Moore’s petition.24 The general replied to Farrington, the provincial, and though we know not what he answered, the provincial later replied that Moore was now content as the rector of Terenure and would remain there.25

In May of the following year, he left with two others for Australia but the next month, the general sent him permission to collect alms not only in Australia but in North and South America.26

He accounts of the Irish Province have been preserved for the 1880’s and 1890’s. They are replete with figures but that give an idea of how some of the Carmelites, who later came to America lived. While Michael Daly, Simon Byrne, Cyril Feehan, Romaeus Stone, Elias MJagennis and Joachim Brennan were at Knocktropher, they read the Freeman’s Journal, supported by the Land League, read United Ireland, visited friars, traveled a bit up to Dublin and took vacations – usually for a week or so – a couple of times a year. The quest was performed regularly and some of these beggings resulted in a collection of produce which was sold and the funds placed in the community accounts. Personal expenses seem to have been few beyond an occasional bath, gloves or other apparel and “sundries”.27

While in Australia, Romaeus Stone seems to have been in some problem with the bishop, Doctor Reynolds, and Stone seems to have had to return to Ireland in 1884.28

Thomas Grennan was taken from the Irish Province and sent to Pittsburgh to work with the Carmelites there.29 Three years later, he is given permission to go to the United States “pro suis negotiis.” This is obviously in answer to a request from Grennan but the petition cannot be found so the nature of the business is not evident.30

Because of the large debts of the Irish Province, there were a number of quests made in others parts of the world to bring about some solvency. We have already seen a report on a successful quest of McDonnell and Southwell at the 1881 chapter.31

Peter Ward and Philip McDonnell were given permission to collect for the relief of the Dublin convent in 187932 and in the following year, McDonnell and Joseph Butler were given permission to collece in Australia for the same purpose. It is shortly after this that Butler leaves with the first group for the Australia mission.33

When McDonnell and Southwell returned in 1880, besides the £900, they also had a request from the Bishop of “Bona Aura” [Buenos Aires] for a foundation if the general consented. McDonnell was of the opinion that an answer should be made quickly and positively. Letters of affiliation with the order were sought for those who gave large sums in the McDonnell-Southwell mission.34 These were quick in forthcoming from Rome.35

Later on, more letters of affiliation were given for people in Cuba and the Diocese of Manregalensis. The Bishop of Camayagua was also so blessed in giving indications that these fund raising missions continued though we have no records of them.36

Moore, when he was Assistant General, used this same device to gather funds for the new house in Rome, San Alberto. In 1891 he was given letters of commendation to show bishops in North and South America and was given the general’s blessing for this mission.37

The Irish chapter of 1884 saw the election on the second ballot of John Bartley as provincial.38 In 1887, he would be reelected on the third ballot.39 Many of the voters at both of these chapters would at tome time or another serve in the United States and indeed, it is during these terms of Bartley that a definitive effort is made by the Irish for an American foundation.

The men in Australia, looking for the best personnel they could find, asked for Michael Moore, Edward Southwell, Michael Byrne and Joseph Cowley. These were thought to be good men and though nobody in Ireland wanted to go to Australia and Bartley felt he could order no one to go,40 it is of interest that all of these men would eventually go to the United States.

In 1889, the Irish Province numbered forty-six priests and fourteen clerics though this figure does not include any of the men working in the Most Pure Heart of Mary province.41 In the following year, among the ten students at Terenure were Louis McCabe, Dominic McDermott, Richard Colfer, Denis O’Connor (1890) and Elias Magennis. All would figure prominently in the foundation of the New York province. The debt of Terenure was £2052 so there was still a need in the province for funds beyond the ordinary running expenses. Romaeus Stone, now thirty-two years old, was at Kildare and Whitefriars Street was staffed by twenty-three priests and two clerics.42

Chapter 2

The McMahon Affair

Early in 1887, Father Nevin, a Discalced Carmelites from Ireland wrote Archbishop Corrigan of New York requesting a foundation of his order in the city.43 Nevin’s compatriot, a Father Nolan, wrote three months later with the same request and to tell the archbishop that even though their general had written to say they were absent without leave, they did have permission from the Sacred Congregation of Religious and would obtain permission from the prior of their monastery in Clarendon Street, Dublin. Nolan also cieted the archbishop of Dublin as one who could attest to their character if necessary.44 The Discalced had an offer from a woman who would build them a church and convent in New York.45 No response of any nature is evident for this venture.

An offer of a very similar nature was made to the Irish Carmelites of the Ancient Observance in the same year. Michael Moore, who was involved in this offer, wrote an account, Di Un Cospicio Dono, of all the transactions after they have been completed. This was published in Rome and remains the main source we have of these dealings. With the account, however, there are a few problems. The first is the accuracy of Moore’s quotations. Scrap copies of part of his text exisiting in the archives of the order in Rome, a few extant letters with he purports to sue in their entirety and external sources indicate that he did take quite a bit of liberty with the original texts of letters. In no instance are we able to find that he changed the sense or meaning of material but the fact remains that he was not faithful to the original texts in a word by word manner.

The dates of letters sent and letters received are too convenient. There is never a wait for a letter. Unless the mail was extremely fast in those days, the dating of some letters can easily be called in question.

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