Father Provincial of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus : 05 August 1909-22 October 1912
Born 04 June 1835, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow
Entered 20 January 1856, Amiens France (FRA)
Professed 02 February 1869
Died 17 February 1924, St Ignatius, Leeson St, Dublin
by 1866 at Rome, Italy (ROM) studying Theology
by 1866 at Rome, Italy (ROM) Making Tertianship
HIB Menologies SJ :
He had studied Philosophy and one year of Theology at Maynooth before Entry.
1858-1866 He did Regency at Clongowes as a Teacher and later at Tullabeg, and then went to for Theology at Rome.
1870-1880 Rector of Tullabeg. Here he completely changed the method of studies. Introduced exams at London University and was mainly responsible for the Intermediate Bill.
He then went on a trip to America with Fr John Moore SJ of ANG.
1873 The Jesuits were asked to take charge of St Patrick’s House which began under Thomas Keating, James Tuite and Robert Carbery. When this house closed, a new one was opened on Temple St with William as Vice-Superior.
1881-1888 He was appointed Vice-Rector of UCD.
1892 He accompanied the Provincial Timothy Kenny to the General Congregation at Loyola which elected Luis Martin as General.
1897-1909 He was appointed Rector of UCD
1909-1912 He was appointed Provincial. When he finished he went to Leeson St as Spiritual Father and died there 17/02/1924.
“He was one of the most remarkable and distinguished Jesuits of the 19th and 20th centuries. Balfour said he was the most cultivated Priest of his time. He was called ‘Doctor’ having been awarded his LLD.
Paraphrase of Excerpts from an Appreciation published on his death :
“The death of ..... deserves more than the usual notice.... No man ever served the people better. Nation-builder........Pioneer in educational reform.........along with Archbishop of Dublin can be regarded as founders of Irish National University Education. Even before the Universities Act, the Intermediate Bill, he developed as a young Priest, standards at Tullabeg which ave become an idea for Catholic public schools.
He worked with the O’Conor Don to encourage the Government to endow Secondary Education in Ireland, and this before it was done in England. Then came the Royal Universities Act. Concentrating on Newman’s old buildings in St Stephen’s Green.......they gathered honours and prizes......His success was the final argument needed to win equality of educational endowment and opportunity.
Aside from the political success, those who came to know him as a Priest as well, were touched by his spirituality. His key gift was that of choosing the best men to teach and giving them encouragement and freedom. His short sermos (20 ins) were models. His religious zeal was the source of his public service. It was not a narrow zeal, and he worked with all sorts and conditions for the Glory of God and Ireland”
Paraphrase of exceprpts from the irish Independent article 19/02/1924 “A Pioneer In Irish Education” :
“As the ruler of a great College, whether Tullabeg or UCD, he was chiefly remarkable, I think, for his quickly sympathetic spirit and readiness to accept new ideas. He was neither conservative nor cautiious - the refuge of the weak - nor the tenacity of ideas once formed - the defect of the strong. This was equally true of the young man who made Tullabeg the leading College in Ireland and the old man who led his team to victory at UCD over three state supported rivals. He transformed Tullabeg through introducing London University Exams. His encouragement of the Societies at UCD was not only financial but borne of liberal tolerance, best exemplified in his attitude towards Irish Studies. He gathered round him very talented Jesuits and laymen. He also gave money liberally to ‘Irish” things such as “Irish Texts Society”, the Oireachtas and the Dublin Feis.
He managed to publish in his limited free time, his best being a series of Lenten Conferences “Christian Reunion” and “A Plea for Fair Play”. He could be impetuous, but had a quick mind to save himself from many blunders! He was both decisive and inspirational, and could also be very reflective, and he possessed a very generous heart.
Enough to say that the energy which inspired his untiring labours, the patience with which he gently endured trials and misrepresentations, the charity which sought to give help to all the needy, were alike drawn no more from excellence of nature, though that indeed was his, but from an intense spirit of prayer, an abiding realisation of the invisible world, a devout piety which he seemed to retain through life, the simple fervour of a ‘First Communicant’.”
Fr Joseph McDonnell SJ Past and Present Notes :
16/02/1811 At the advance ages of 73, Father Betagh, PP of the St Michael Rosemary Lane Parish Dublin, Vicar General of the Dublin Archdiocese died. His death was looked upon as almost a national calamity. Shops and businesses were closed on the day of his funeral. His name and qualities were on the lips of everyone. He was an ex-Jesuit, the link between the Old and New Society in Ireland.
Among his many works was the foundation of two schools for boys : one a Classical school in Sall’s Court, the other a Night School in Sklinner’s Row. One pupil received particular care - Peter Kenney - as he believed there might be great things to come from him in the future. “I have not long to be with you, but never fear, I’m rearing up a cock that will crow louder and sweeter for yopu than I ever did” he told his parishioners. Peter Kenney was to be “founder” of the restored Society in Ireland.
There were seventeen Jesuits in Ireland at the Suppression : John Ward, Clement Kelly, Edward Keating, John St Leger, Nicholas Barron, John Austin, Peter Berrill, James Moroney, Micahel Cawood, Michael Fitzgerald, John Fullam, Paul Power, John Barron, Joseph O’Halloran, James Mulcaile, Richard O’Callaghan and Thomas Betagh. These men believed in the future restoration, and they husbanded their resources and succeeded in handing down to their successors a considerable sum of money, which had been saved by them.
A letter from the Acting General Father Thaddeus Brezozowski, dated St Petersburg 14/06/1806 was addressed to the only two survivors, Betagh and O’Callaghan. He thanked them for their work and their union with those in Russia, and suggested that the restoration was close at hand.
A letter from Nicholas Sewell, dated Stonyhurst 07/07/1809 to Betagh gives details of Irishmen being sent to Sicily for studies : Bartholomew Esmonde, Paul Ferley, Charles Aylmer, Robert St Leger, Edmund Cogan and James Butler. Peter Kenney and Matthew Gahan had preceded them. These were the foundation stones of the Restored Society.
Returning to Ireland, Kenney, Gahan and John Ryan took residence at No3 George’s Hill. Two years later, with the monies saved for them, Kenney bought Clongowes as a College for boys and a House of Studies for Jesuits. From a diary fragment of Aylmer, we learn that Kenney was Superior of the Irish Mission and Prefect of Studies, Aylmer was Minister, Claude Jautard, a survivor of the old Society in France was Spiritual Father, Butler was Professor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology, Ferley was professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Esmonde was Superior of Scholastics and they were joined by St Leger and William Dinan. Gahan was described as a Missioner at Francis St Dublin and Confessor to the Poor Clares and irish Sisters of Charity at Harold’s Cross and Summerhill. Ryan was a Missioner in St Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin. Among the Scholastics, Brothers and Masters were : Brothers Fraser, Levins, Connor, Bracken, Sherlock, Moran, Mullen and McGlade.
Trouble was not long coming. Protestants were upset that the Jesuits were in Ireland and sent a petition was sent to Parliament, suggesting that the Vow of Obedience to the Pope meant they could not have an Oath of Allegiance to the King. In addition, the expulsion of Jesuits from all of Europe had been a good thing. Kenney’s influence and dimplomatic skills resulted in gaining support from Protestants in the localiy of Clongowes, and a counter petitiion was presented by the Duke of Leinster on behalf of the Jesuits. This moment passed, but anto Jesuit feelings were mounting, such as in the Orange faction, and they managed to get an enquiry into the Jesuits and Peter Kenney and they appeared bwfore the Irish Chief Secretary and Provy Council. Peter Kenney’s persuasive and oratorical skills won the day and the enquiry group said they were satisfied and impressed.
Over the years the Mission grew into a Province with Joseph Lentaigne as first Provincial in 1860. In 1885 the first outward undertaking was the setting up of an Irish Mission to Australia by Lentaigne and William Kelly, and this Mission grew exponentially from very humble beginnings.
Later the performance of the Jesuits in managing UCD with little or no money, and then outperforming what were known as the “Queen’s Colleges” forced the issue of injustice against Catholics in Ireland in the matter of University education. It is William Delaney who headed up the effort and create the National University of Ireland under endowment from the Government.