Sunday, May 20, 2012

Autobiography of a Stamp

Photo: © P Neil Ralley

I read a very powerful piece about moral courage, and the lack of it, by Dermot Bolger in yesterday's Irish Times.

He mentioned Fr. Kenneth McCabe:
"The young Jesuit, Kenneth McCabe, got a truthful report about Irish industrial schools to Donough O’Malley in 1967. The minister was sufficiently shocked to establish a committee that abolished these lucrative sweatshops, but at the last minute McCabe was excluded from the committee. Tainted as a whistleblower, he resigned from the Jesuits and went to work as a priest with deprived London children."
The name rang a bell but it took me a while to place it.

When I was editing the Shanganagh Valley News in 1958, Fr. McCabe had contributed a short story called "Autobiography of a Stamp, or, Converted by the Jesuits" as a vehicle for appealing for used postage stamps for the Missions.

I bet at that stage he had little idea how his career was to pan out ten years later. I checked out the priest list in the Diocese of Westminster and he is listed there as retired and in a Jesuit nursing home in Milltown.

Until today, I had no idea he had run into trouble for following his conscience. This upset me enormously. I'm not sure why. I never met Fr. Kenneth. I had only corresponded with him by letter. But he was nonetheless part of my growing up and he belonged to a more innocent era, as the story of the stamp so strikingly illustrates. So perhaps my upset was at a loss of innocence, a nostalgia for a time when things seemed simpler, and fixed, and true for all time.

Mind you, my upset is slowly turning into a cold anger at how he was treated. From what I read in the Ryan Report, he was one of four people proposed for the Committee of Inquiry, and came recommended by Declan Costello TD, but his name got "dropped" somewhere between the Government Memorandum and the final Cabinet decision. It is not clear what role the Jesuit order played in all of this but his resignation from the Order, if such, would not reflect well on them. On the other hand, he seems to be in some way under their care today.

This post is just a small contribution to making sure he, and his bravery, are not forgotten.

Of course I don't have as many readers as the Irish Times, but, never mind.

Update - 9/2/2013

In the third comment below, Fr. Kevin O'Higgins has informed me that "Fr. Kenneth McCabe died peacefully a few days ago (Wednesday, Feb 6) in Cherryfield nursing unit, at Milltown Park". He says Fr. Ken was "a genuinely great man" and I totally agree. May he rest in peace.

Fr. Kevin himself is no slouch, as his bio on the jesuit missions website shows. He says Fr. Daniel Berrigan inspired him to join the Jesuits, and as I was reading the bio I was also thinking of Fr. Roy Bourgeois who seems to have shared some of the same experiences as Fr. Kevin on the missions.

Thank you Fr. Kevin, for informing me of Fr. Ken's death, and may the force be with you.


  1. I understand that Fr. Kenneth has been very ill for the last year in the Jesuit nursing home referred to above.

    I wish all the best for him at this difficult time.

    I also understand that, over the years, he has remained on friendly terms with many of his Jesuit contemporaries, maintained good relations with the Jesuit's Irish Province, and welcomed Jesuit novices and scholastics to work with him in the Lillie Road Centre in London.

    I'm glad.


  2. Another sad case of the Jesuit order buckling. This time in 1977.

  3. Delighted to find this reference to Fr. Ken McCabe.
    He died peacefully a few days ago (Wednesday, Feb 6) in Cherryfield nursing unit, at Milltown Park.
    He was a genuinely great man.

  4. Fr. McCabe's death notice:

    The death has occurred of Fr. Kenneth McCABE of Dublin 6, Dublin

    Name: Fr Kenneth W McCabe (Westminister Dioceses) 06/02/13. (Peacefully) in the professional and compassionate care of the dedicated staff of Cherryfield Lodge Nursing Home, Milltown Park. Fr Ken, late of Lillie Road Centre, London, sadly missed and deeply regretted by his loving family, brother Ciaran, his many nieces and nephews, a wide circle of friends and colleagues in Ireland and the UK.

    Remains reposing at Cherryfield Lodge Nursing Home, Milltown Park, Dublin 6 on Monday, 11th February, 2pm to 4pm with prayers at 4pm, entrance through Milltown Park Gates, Sandford Road, Dublin 6. Funeral Mass at 11am Tuesday (12th) Milltown Park Chapel and followed by burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.

    Requiescat in Pace

  5. Father McCabe was a badass. There's a bunch of his boys from More House on Facebook

    Most of us never knew he went against the establishment and did what's right.

    While we lived there, we all gave him shit pretty much most of the time. But he really did care. He is literally the most Christian priest I've ever met. He cared when he didn't have to care. He gained nothing.

    I'd either be dead or in jail if it were not for Fr. McCabe. I am the man I am today because of him and the place he created - the lessons he taught me, I am teaching my children nearly 20 years later.

    I'd nominate him for a Knight of St Gregory if I knew how.

  6. Thanks Paul for the comment and the link to the new Facebook site.

    [This is a clickable link: More House Massive ]

    It really is galling when they make Cardinals out of criminals and virtually excommunicate the caring and the whistleblowers.

    I had a very good impression of Ken McCabe in my brief correspondence in 1958 and I was very heartened by what I read in the papers about Lillie Road when his name came up again more recently.

    It is great that you have set up a site to pay tribute to him and give those who benefitted from his care a chance to express themselves in public.

    It is some small counterbalance to the enormous amount of negative material to which we are constantly exposed.

    I hope the Diocese of Westminster has the grace to reply to your correspondence. As I mentioned in the above post, he was listed as one of their retired priests.

    I would press for his canonisation rather than a simple knighthood were it not for the fact that (i) I am an "unbeliever", and (ii) I'm not sure he'd necessarily be in the best of company with some of the motley crew that are today included in the litany of the saints.

    May the force be with ye.

  7. More tributes here.

    [Link picked up from the Facebook site, linked in the previous comment. Thanks lads (+ 1 lady) ]