This morning we had a special reading after the Office of Vigils. It was from St Bernard – a sermon he preached in his Church at Clairvaux – 920 years ago for the anniversary of the Dedication of his Church. We celebrate the anniversary of the Dedication of our Church today – so with Bernard we say: “Brethren, we ought to keep this festival with special faithfulness, because it is a family affair. We share the other saints’ days with the other Churches, but this is our own. It is our festival because it is our Church. It is ours, because it is about ourselves.”
Count Arthur Moore, a great Catholic MP of South Tipperary purchased Mount Heaton property 1st March 1878 for Abbot Bruno Fitzpatrick of Mount Melleray. It consisted of c. 400 Irish acres and its mansion-house – (present Guest House). It cost the massive sum of £15,000! The Count funded £10,000, and the remaining £5,000 was raised through a mortgage on the property.
All this preparation caused great excitement in Mount Melleray, our blessed Mother House, and on 21st March, Feast of St Benedict, the formal foundation of Mount St Joseph was announced by Dom Bruno, and Fr Athanasius Donovan was appointed its first Superior. It was he who was responsible for building of our Church. During April and May 32 monks in all came to the new foundation. Incidentally the house itself was in poor shape and the farm land greatly neglected. But the eager founders quickly got it into reasonable shape, making the large sitting room in the Guest House their first Church.
On the 22nd May 1879 Abbot Bruno of Mount Melleray laid the foundation stone of our new Church, a stone which had been taken from the Catacombs in Rome. The Church was designed by William Beardwood, the brother of Fr Camillus Beardwood, bursar of Mount Melleray and at a later stage Abbot of Mount St Joseph.
The monks, their employed staff, journeymen stone cutters, masons and gratuitous labour of many of the locals, had the walls – mostly of stone from a quarry on the property, and the roof of Killaloe slates in place, so that on 18th September 1881, imagine – just two years later, Rev. James Ryan, Coadjutor Bishop of Killaloe performed the Solemn Blessing of the Church. It had only a clay floor and temporary altars and confessionals, but it was fully opened to the use of the public. There were massive crowds of the faithful at these various ceremonies who generously supported the great expenses of the building. £540 was contributed on that occasion.
Work of completion of inside of Church continued. Donors for one thing or another made it all possible. Altars, paid by donors, cost £20. Mrs Kennedy of Strabane, Co. Tyrone, donated the High Altar – £50. Within a few years the inside of the Church was fully equipped, so the monks wondered about having it solemnly consecrated. However there was a problem. According to Canon Law a Church had to be free of debt for that to happen. The £5,000 raised by mortgage had not been paid off. However the monks had been absolutely faithful to the agreed regular partial payments – so the mortgagers agreed to free the monastery and eight acres around it including the two avenues from the area mortgaged. A parchment Deed still exists with the area marked in blue on the map. So Consecration went ahead on 9th August 1884.
The Consecration is one of the longest ceremonies in the Ritual of the Church. It began here at 8 am and lasted till 11.45 that morning. The Consecrating Bishop blessed the walls with special Holy Water, spread lines of ashes in a St Andrew’s Cross form from one end of the Church to the other, and then he anointed with Chrism the 12 crosses carved into the pillars – you see our twelve crosses each honoured today with a lighted candle. Only a young and active Bishop could do all the climbing, so the newly consecrated Bishop of Cork, a Dominican, Dr. O’Callaghan, was our Consecrator. Five of our altars were also consecrated by the other prelates present, Dr Ryan Coadjutor of Killaloe, the Abbots of Melleray in France, of Mount Melleray, of Mount St Bernard in England, and of Gethsemani in United States – Thomas Merton’s monastery.
The Mass next day at 12 noon was celebrated by the Vicar General of the Cistercian Order. The famed Archbishop Croke of Cashel – after whom Croke Park is named – preached the sermon. The “Freeman’s Journal” gave it in full the next day. The Church was packed for the Consecration Ceremony and entrance by ticket only, priced according to your situation in the Church! Loads of people came by special train, from Dublin including Lord Mayor, William Meagher, a native of Roscrea, from Limerick and its Mayor Maurice Lenehan, and from all the local areas. The train company charged single fare for the return journey. It was estimated that about 15,000 people were here that day. Yes and bands too. This is what we are celebrating today 138 years later, without any bands, but with thumping hearts, full of gratitude for what the good God and hundreds of our monk predecessors and tens of thousands of benefactors have given us – our Church, to give it its full title: “Church of the Immaculate Mother of God Queen of Virgins”