Passionists

 
The old St. Joseph's, before demolition in the mid-1980s
On the opposite side of the Seine to the Irish College, St. Joseph’s Church at 50, Avenue Hoche (8
th arrondissement) was a focal point for the Irish community during much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Erskine Childers married his second wife there in 1952 (with Con Cremin, the Irish ambassador, acting as best man), and Pat Kenny tied the knot there 40 years later. The church was, and continues to be, run by the Passionist Order, with a sizeable percentage of the Paris contingent once coming from Ireland. 

Many of these Irish Passionists were quite colourful characters. Perhaps the most well known was Fr. Cuthbert Dunne (Dublin,1869 – Dublin, 1950) who, in controversial circumstances, received Oscar Wilde into the Catholic Church on the latter’s deathbed in 1900. Fr. Cuthbert remained in Paris until 1902.

Before Fr. Cuthbert, Fr. Bernard O’Loughlin and Fr. Francis Bamber officiated at St. Joseph’s. Both lived through interesting times in Paris. Fr. Bernard, born in England of Irish parents (Tunstall, England, 1823 – Paris, 1894) was sent by his superiors to establish St. Joseph’s in Paris in 1863. Under Fr. Bernard, the Passionists first took up residence at 39, rue de Berri (8th arrondissement) and operated out of the church of Saint-Nicolas de Beaujon on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré (8th arrondissement) until St. Joe’s on the Avenue de la Reine Hortense (now called Avenue Hoche) became ready in 1869. He remained in charge of St. Joseph’s until 1872, surviving the Prussian siege and the Commune in 1870-1871. He also spent the past three years of his life at St. Joseph’s and is buried in the cemetery of Colombes outside Paris. Irish Republican Brotherhood member John Denvir wrote in his autobiography, The Life Story of An Old Rebel, that he used Fr. Bernard, his cousin, as a conduit for correspondence with Paris-based Fenians. 

The French tried to seize ownership of St. Joe’s in late 1900, claiming that they had accumulated heavy arrears on taxes then imposed on religious bodies. The intercession of the British and American embassies and the kindness of a certain Miss Mackay, who paid off the French, bought only a short reprieve for in 1905, the Passionists, like other religious communities, were expelled from France on foot of anti-clerical legislation.

 
French government attempts to seize St. Joe's: from the New York Times, December 1900
Like Fr. O’Loughlin and at least one other Irish priest called Fr. Denis, Fr. Francis Bamber (Manchester, England, 1826 – Dublin, 1883) lived through the ordeals of siege and civil war in Paris in 1870-1871. His Notebook of a Passionist during the Siege of Paris and the Commune is as vivid account as any in English on this nasty episode in French history. He writes of the anti-clerical sentiment that pervaded Paris even before the Commune. He also writes of the military ambulance organised by St. Joseph’s, of the severe rationing, and of a visit to the Irish College in October 1870, just as the Prussians were tightening their noose around Paris. “Arrived at the College, we found national guards going through their exercises on the grounds, whilst the College itself was converted into a vast ambulance; but of the fathers, we found none: they, as well as the students, had taken flight from Paris.”

Bamber also refers to the mother of the four Casey brothers, who he met one day after she had paid a visit to the central market to find food during the Prussian siege. “But on seeing a long line of rates hung up for sale”, writes Bamber, “she went away without purchasing anything.” Bamber also tells us that during the Commune the Count MacMahon (a son of marshal MacMahon?) was hidden in the church.

 
 
Fr. Kenneth Monaghan
Despite the institutionalised anti-clericalism of the Third Republic in the first decade of the 20
th century, the Passionists gradually managed to creep back to Paris and recover their property. They were well ensconced when Paris was conquered by the Germans again in June 1940. During the four-year occupation of the city, the Passionist Fr. Kenneth Monaghan (Drumcliffe, Co Sligo, 1893 – Wales, 1969) stands out for his activism.

Was Monaghan a British agent whose status and origins allowed him to get away with activities that would have been impossible for almost any other English speaker at the time? There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that he was.
Monaghan, who had served as a commissioned officer in the First World War and had been captured by the Bolsheviks during the British expedition to help the White Army in 1919, had been chaplain in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during the 1940 debacle. He seems to have made it with the dregs of the BEF as far as Bordeaux, where he was arrested. For what ever reason, Fr. Monaghan was quickly released and was able to make his way back to St. Joseph’s in Paris, where he served as a kind of liaison officer between the British secret services and the French underground. Incredibly, it is claimed that in November 1943 Fr. Monaghan was approached by Oscar Pfaus of German military intelligence with a view to finding an Irish girl in Paris willing to spy for the Germans in return for help in getting home to Ireland

 
Fr. Cornelius O'Grady
Pfaus's efforts came to nought. By contrast, Fr. Monaghan subsequently established contact with the likes of Irish résistante Lily Hannigan and helped a number of Allied soldiers and downed airmen to escape capture. One of the airmen he helped was a certain Bill Magrath, who was born in Clones, Co. Monaghan. In a BBC documentary many years later, Magrath recalled his escape with another airman from a prisoner-of-war camp in northeastern France. The two managed to survive a time in occupied Paris with the help of the Passionists, including Fr. Monaghan, who also prepared their safe passage to Marseille.

When Fr. Monaghan turned up in Paris in mid-1940, Fr. Cornelius O’Grady (Ballaghderreen, Co. Roscommon, 1890 – London, 1961) was already Superior at St. Joseph’s.
Con Cremin of the Irish Legation mentions in 1938 that Fr. O’Grady was doing a lot to alleviate the financial distress of the Irish colony in Paris. Shortly after the fall of Paris in 1940, Cremin also mentions he managed to have lunch in the French capital with O’Grady and three other Irish priests (the Passionist Fr. Alphonsus O' Farrell (Loughrea, Co. Galway, 1888 – London, 1958), a certain Fr. Griffin and Fr. Patrick Travers of the Irish College). In his confidential report back to Dublin on his meeting with the Irish prelates, Cremin mentions that the Passionists on Avenue Hoche had had "a number of visits from the German authorities who have sealed up  a number of rooms in the Presbytery" and that they "intended to return to examine the contents of the rooms that they have sealed."  O’Grady, like Monaghan, was also imprisoned for a couple of months during the Occupation, probably because he held a British passport. Nonetheless, O'Grady was reluctant to exchange his British passport (by now expired) against an Irish one m because the British document enabled him "to get funds from members of the Congregation from the American Embassy (as representing British interests) whereas this recourse would be closed to him if he held an Irish passport". Apparently a highly popular figure, O'Grady's obituary states that at a time of strict rationing, he could sometimes be seen “tramping across Paris and climbing steep stairs to take a few eggs or a little butter to a poor Irish or English governess”.

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Select Bibliography
Personnel archives, the Passionists, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 

The Life Story of an Old Rebel (1910)
John Denvir 

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Volume VI, 1939-1941 (2008)
Ed. Michael Kennedy

Irish Secrets—Geman Espionage in Wartime Ireland, 1939-1945 (2003)

Mark M. Hull


“Note-book of a Passionist during the Siege of Paris and the Commune”,
Fr. Francis Bamber, in The Cross, June 1912 

“A Passionist in Occupied France”, Communitylink, July 2005

“May sell English church”, The New York Times, Dec. 19, 1900

www.stjoeparis.org





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