Sunday, July 10, 2016


John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, 1940-72

As well as educating the poor, I assume the Christian Brothers were also expected to instill some degree of Christian morality into their pupils. As a pupil in a Christian Brothers' school, Coláiste Mhuire, however, I got very mixed messages. And the culprit here was the Diocesan Exam.

An Bráthair C. R. Ó Maitiú - Matty

To be fair we got the full range of "dos and don'ts". Do honour thy father and thy mother (and by extension the teacher in loco parentis). Do go regularly to Confession and confess ALL your sins, from dirty thoughts to the other thing. Don't let yourself fall victim to young ones who are only out to tempt you from the straight and narrow - that is before they grow into the holy mothers of Ireland. Be honest, and, by the way, honesty is not just the best policy, it is a principle. And so on.

Coláiste Mhuire. Chapel is behind granite frontage.

And then there was the diocesan exam.

Given that most of the religion classes during the year consisted of warnings about sexual predators (young girls from Scoil Caitríona) and the consequences of playing with yourself (blindness), we were usually ill prepared for this exam which covered catechetics, social ethics, church history and I'm sure a raft of other stuff I can't remember. So, during the two weeks immediately preceding the exam, most other subjects were abandoned and we sweated the religious stuff into our temporarily empty heads.

So far so good. And then came the day of the exam.

The priest from the Palace arrived with a big envelope stuffed with exam papers. He was welcomed most deferentially by the brothers, who may even have addressed him as your eminence for all I know. What I do know is that in the face of all this flattery and an invitation to come and see the beautiful chapel, the poor man failed to notice the brothers politely relieving him of his envelope.

Fast forward up three flights of stairs to the hall in the attic, where we are all assembled to take the exam. The brother extracts one exam paper from the envelope and proceeds to make sure we all understand the questions and the answers expected of us.

Even after this extensive briefing I was in some doubt about an ambiguity in one of the questions and approached the invigilating brother at the top of the hall. "Have you got your book in with you?" he enquired. "I have" sez I. "Well then, bring it up here". In handing me back my book he left his finger stuck in the page with the answer to the question.

We always got very good marks in the diocesan exam.

Mícheál Ó Doibhilín

There was once a black mark, however.

One of the questions one of the years read something like "What is wrong with the Welfare State?".

I should put this in context. The Roman Catholic (and Apostolic) Church, and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in particular, were very wary of the State encroaching on what they saw as church matters. Their view of the Church's jurisdiction included education and virtually all of the social services, including any soup kitchens that might spring up (cf. the famine). This was also only a decade after the bruising conflict between Church and State over the Mother and Child Bill (qv.).

Pagan England's post war welfare state was, most definitely, anathema.

One pupil, above, replied to the question, pointing out that there was nothing wrong with the welfare state and that we could do with a bit more of it here. Well, all hell broke loose, and the rumour was that the Palace sought an apology from the school. Whether it got one or not is still unknown. What is known is that the pupil concerned was never asked by the school to apologise for his heretical writings. I suspect the school realised that this would be a waste of time and possibly escalate the dispute to even greater heights.

Remains of secularised and abandoned chapel

I am glad to say that, to this day, that pupil has remained a republican socialist, while the lovely school chapel is gone - turned into a classroom before the whole building had to be abandoned for health and safety reasons.

If, after reading this post, he confirms the story and allows his name to go forward for secular canonisation, I will name him. He deserves to be honoured. [Update: done]

Sic transit gloria ecclesiae.

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