THE ORIGINS OF THE FOUNDATION OF
ST. JOSEPH'S CARMELITE MONASTERY, KILMACUD
20 November 1881
Praised be Jesus Christ!
“Those who give themselves to prayer should always have a special affection for St. Joseph. For I do not know how anyone can think about the Queen of Angels during the time that she suffered so much with the child Jesus, without giving thanks to St. Joseph for the way he helped them.”
Words like these of St. Teresa of Avila giving thanks to St. Joseph, to whom she dedicated several of her monasteries, find an echo in the hearts of her nuns in the Carmel of St. Joseph, Kilmacud. And, of course, all Carmelites have a special love and veneration for Our Lady who is Mother and patroness of the Order. The presence of the Mother of God pervades our monasteries and stamps our life of prayer and self-denial, of contemplation and zeal for the Church with a distinctly Marian character. The foundation of this “dovecote of the Virgin”, as St. Teresa lovingly called her Carmels, was an answer to lifetimes of prayer and sacrifice, poverty and tribulation.
CARMELITE NUNS IN IRELAND – BEGINNINGS
St. Teresa died in 1582, and the first Carmels of nuns in Ireland were founded some 60 years after her death. We know of the existence of three of them in the 17th century, but religious persecution forced the suppression of all of them, the nuns having to ‘go underground’, in all probability returning to live with their families or friends. One of these communities did manage to get together again, and is still at Loughrea, Co. Galway, after 300 years. In the 18th century, penal laws against all outward signs of Catholic life continued to be applied, sometimes with greater force, sometimes with less. Three more Carmels were founded but again, in that atmosphere, only one of them survived; it was the one founded in Dublin by three young members of the Loughrea community, and it is now at Malahide, Co. Dublin. There are now 10 Carmels in Ireland, and all of them can trace their origins to these two communities.
The nuns of the 18th century Dublin Carmel supported themselves by taking in boarders to educate, but this prevented them from living the enclosed contemplative life as envisaged by St. Teresa. However, but for this work and the fact that they dressed as lay people, nuns of Carmel might have become extinct in Ireland.
TOWARDS CONTINUAL PRAYER
The 19th century brought much greater freedom for Catholics to practice their faith openly, and the Carmelite Sisters used this freedom to move towards the life of continuous prayer for the Church, for which they had been founded. Early in the 19th century, some of them began to teach poor children in day schools, fulfilling a crying need of the time; this day school apostolate provided the nuns outside of school hours with the more secluded life they needed for their life of prayer. It was at this time that they erected grilles. The Sisters who taught in the day schools took a fourth vow, to give free education to poor children. Eventually it became possible for all the Carmelites who were involved in the teaching and care of children to give up this work or to hand it over to the active congregations which were being founded for that purpose, and this enabled the Carmelites to live, at last, as contemplatives. Some of them achieved this goal relatively early in the century; others had to wait longer. The nuns from whom our Carmel was founded were unable to do so until the 1870’s when they handed over their orphanage at Lakelands, Sandymount, Dublin to the Sisters of Charity, establishing themselves in 1877 at Roebuck, Dublin as a contemplative community.
FOUNDATION OF KILMACUD CARMEL
In 1881 these Sisters of Roebuck Carmel obtained permission from Cardinal McCabe, Archbishop of Dublin, to found another contemplative community at Kilmacud, free also from any teaching commitments. So, with great joy, seven foundresses set out from Roebuck Carmel on November 19th, 1881 (in the third centenary year of the death of St. Teresa), carrying their small treasured statue of St. Joseph. They settled in an old residential house, previously known as Kilmacud Manor. Everything was the poorest of the poor; when the Cardinal visited the nuns a few days after they had taken possession he said: “This foundation has the blessing of poverty – it is sure to grow”. Prophetic words, fully realised beyond all expectations.
The first Mass was celebrated on November 20th by the parish priest, Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Hickey, Dundrum, who brought with him all that was needed for saying Mass. These he left as a gift. Our annals also tell us that Rev. Fr. Joseph Marmion, C.C., Dundrum, who later became the Benedictine Abbot of Maredsous and great writer on the spiritual life, celebrated Mass in our Carmel the following year.
Once the foundation was established many young girls applied to St. Joseph’s for admission as postulants. Among them was a descendant of Daniel O’Connell, and also a daughter of Thomas Scratton, a convert of the Oxford Movement and a friend of Cardinal Newman. He helped Newman to found the Catholic University of Ireland, and became one of its first Professors.
BACKGROUND ON THE HOUSE
Maps of Kilmacud from the early nineteenth century show a building on this site named: "Parson's Green". It is not clear when the house became known as "Kilmacud Manor". Our earliest record of an owner was Mr. William Snell Magee, a Dublin merchant and one of the partners in the firm of William and Robert Magee who operated from Sackville Street (now O'Connell St). He was also a director of Bank of Ireland between 1810 and 1833. Mr Snell Magee purchased the house, then known as "Parson's Green" in 1794 and lived here for 56 years. His family had an impression that it was previously occupied by the Duke of Orleans. (See this link for a query about the Duke of Orleans submitted to a journal in 1861 by later owner of the house, Mr. W.Fitzpatrick).
The house may have been sub-let quite a lot from the 1830's until 1850 when the names Deborah Willam and Edward P.Clarke (1853) appear on the house deeds. Both of these seem to have been connected with the legal profession. Mr William Fitzpatrick took possession of the house in 1856. Mr. Fitzpatrick was a well-known author of several widely read works on biographical, historical and national subjects. An obituary of Mr Fitzpatrick can be found here.
The purchase of the house for the Carmelite nuns in 1881 was made possible by family of Mother Mary Joseph. It is surely extraordinary that the previous owner, Mr. Fitzpatrick, died on Christmas Eve 1895, exactly two years to the day before the first Mass was celebrated in the new chapel here at St. Joseph's Monastary! You can read the history of the chapel on our special page here.
Over the years, the appearance of the front of the house, in particular the doorway, seems to have changed several times. The earliest photograph we have available is of unknown date - but from features visible we know it was taken earlier than 1945. Here you can see highlighted the changes in the front door over the years:
The old house was finally demolished in 2004 during the building of the new St. Joseph's monastery. You can read about the building process on our special page here.
LIST OF SOME EARLY BENEFACTORS:
Relatives and friends of the community have always been among the most generous benefactors. This was true from our very earliest days. Some of the most noteable early benefactors are listed below. Many of these people also donated towards the chapel - details are listed on our page about the history of the chapel. Click here.
© 2011 Carmelite Sisters, Kilmacud