Missionary Studies in a World at War
by Fr Pat Boyd

A Philosopher's Panorama
by P. McComiskey

The Priory Staff: 1956 - 7

A History of The Priory

by Fr Bernard Duffy

The Priory, 1936 - 40

by Fr Bernard Duffy

    A Missionary Reminiscenc)e of Life in White Father Houses in Wartime Britain
    By Fr. Patrick Boyd WF - taken from The WF/WS magazine

    Although the Second World War was more than a year away, the White Father Philosophy students in Autreppe (Belgium) were being made to face difficult decisions. They were alerted by a British Embassy official in Brussels that war was not very far away and that Belgium would surely become once more a battlefield. He advised the students to speak to their superiors in Autreppe with a view to their immediate transfer to Britain. Thus was the scene set for a series of new openings of houses in England which allowed for the complete White Father training, from Junior Seminary right through to priesthood, to take place in Britain.

    In June, 1939, the Philosophers left Autreppe to return to England. Negotiations had been completed to open a house of Philosophy in Rossington Hall near Doncaster. But even before the outbreak of hostilities, the army requisitioned our property at Rossington. New arrangements had now to be made to house our Philosophy students. It was agreed that they should go to Kerlois in Brittany (France) which our French confreres assured was completely safe from German intentions.

    The Philosophers assembled at Bishops Waltham, and towards the end of November the students set out in groups of four for Kerlois - it was thought that smallness of numbers would ensure greater safety. By December 8 all the students, 30 in all, gathered together with their 60 French counterparts to begin their studies. How were they to know that France would fall to Germany in early 1940 and they would be interned in France for the rest of the War!
    Meanwhile, the senior students in North Africa, both Novices and Scholastics, were allowed to continue their training, but with some restrictions. All of them remained in North Africa until liberation in 1943.

    Early in 1940 with the start of the Battle of Britain, war came to Bishops Waltham. The Priory was located more or less in the flight path of the German bombers sent to destroy the two great southern England seaports: Southampton, with its large commercial centre, and Portsmouth, with its great naval dockyards. This made life very harsh for the staff and students at the Priory. Plans had to be made to safeguard the community. A long air-raid shelter was built into the raised ground above the top football pitch, running along the top fence and the stretch of drive from the farm to the cemetery.

    Almost every night the air-raid sirens would sound between 7 pm and 8 pm and students and staff would take to the trenches! The students sat on a long line of benches which ran almost the width of the football field. They wrapped themselves in blankets and waited. They could hear the regular drone of the planes and the occasional explosion of a bomb in the distance. Fortunately, no bombs fell on our property. With our regular routine to the air-raid dug-outs in the evenings, a change of program resulted. Normal studies and classes filled our mornings, but after lunch a siesta was enforced. Some study could be done in the late afternoon and after supper. Then, we waited for the wail of the siren! Naturally, sleep patterns were disturbed, nerves were affected, and there was always that nagging fear that one night we might just be hit by a bomb. The result was that at the beginning of June, all the students were sent home for their own safety. They were told to remain at home until word would be sent to them as regards their future. This was the first episode in a wartime period of disturbed studies.

    The Priory was closed down and the Junior Seminarians took up residence at St. Columba's (St. Boswells) in September, 1940. The new Philosophy students did not fare so well: they were sent to the farm of St. Helens, next to St Columba's, under Frs. Egan, Lea and Taylor, with Brother Albert in charge of farm management.

    As the farm could not be adapted to the needs of a house of Studies, there ensued a year of spartan frugality, freezing in cramped dormitories and forced to study in damp classrooms. And so it remained until 1941. With the new intake of Philosophers in September 1941, a change of venue was necessary, and so a transfer was made to St. Columba's College which was now shared by both .Junior .Seminarians anti Philosophers, under Fr. Howell.

    Problems were faced and overcome each year of the war with regard to the housing of new groups of students as their studies progressed. The first group to complete their Philosophy studies had now to find a venue in which to pursue their theological training. The diocesan seminary of Oscott College in Birmingham was to be the destination of this group. They took up residence there in September, 1942. Early in 1943 a house was purchased at Sutton Coldfield, where the theologians took up their abode. They finished their first academic year commuting from Sutton Coldfield to Oscott each day by bike or bus. Fr. Egan was in charge of this new house.

    In the first half of 1943, all the young ordained priests in North Africa, together with the Scholastics of the British Province were repatriated through the good offices of Fr. Gaffney WF, an army chaplain, who managed to arrange with the authorities their passage by boat to England. With their arrival new accommodation problems arose! The Scholastics were sent to St. Boswells: some time later, in June, the final year students were ordained in Edinburgh. And so it was that for a short time St. Boswells housed simultaneously Junior Seminarians, Philosophers and Scholastics! Meantime, the young priests were spread around the various houses of the province. Those first White Fathers to be ordained in Edinburgh were; A. Murphy, J. Barry, J. Tolmie, J. McSherry and G. Sweeney. The ordaining Bishop was Archbishop McDonald.

    In the second half of this year, Rossington Hall was de-requisitioned and given back to the White Fathers: it now became the Scholasticate and the House of Philosophy. St. Columba’s was now free to return to its original role of Junior Seminary. Life in Rossington Hall was not easy. There was no central heating and the huge house was freezing cold. The students foraged each day in the woods for firewood to give themselves a little heat in their rooms. Students were mostly housed together, 3 or 4 to a room. Fr. Bernard "Johnny" Brown was the rector.

    In 1944, the British Novitiate opened in Sutton Coldfield but the full Spiritual Year was not destined to be completed there. For this particular group the war had meant trooping from one place to another, opening new houses: an unsettling experience but not such a bad preparation for the missionary life! Their novitiate had been particularly stressful on account of the cramped conditions in Sutton and the unbending presence or the Novice Master, Fr. Egan, which ensured that a war of nerves was a permanent fixture.

    That same summer, the last group returned home from France: these were the lads who had been interned in 1940 in Kerlois (Brittany). After some months at home, they were sent to St. Boswells towards the end of that year: this was where it was decided they would do their Novitiate. It was at this point that the Priory was reopened with Fr. Donnelly as the one in charge. During most of the war, the farm and property had been taken care of by three Brothers, Paddy, Modeste and Auber. Fr. Burridge, then later Fr. Morton, acted as Parish Priest. For a time, postulants from St. Helens were also trained at the Priory.

    The group which had started their Novitiate at Sutton Coldfield spent the last months of their Spiritual Year al St. Boswells. The new group of Novices with their internment experience were always going to find Novitiate a tremendous change and so would the Novice Master! Fr. Egan began the year with these St. Denis students, but he became ill and Fr. Howell took his place. There were ordinations in 1946 from Rossington: Frs. M. Coughlan, F. Tryers, J. Rice, R. Dickson and W. Brennan. And again in 1947: Frs. J. Murphy, S. Collins and T. Kingston. In 1948, Rossington Hall was closed down and the Scholasticate moved to Monteviot House, where it would remain for the next ten years. That same year St. Boswells reopened as a Junior Seminary under Fr. Andy Murphy. It was during time that the college was expanded and the chapel built.

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by P.McComiskey
Taken from The Pelican Christmas 1955

From its sentinel position on the slopes of Loughan Hill the new Seminary of Philosophy commands an extensive view of the surrounding countryside. True it is not the cream of Erin's beauty that is unfolded before its many-windowed gaze. But to the non-Irishman at least there is beauty in abundance, though in the raw, in the barren stretch of County Cavan.

On all sides of the college the brown hills give way to the blue mountains, their heads wreathed for the greater part in heavy mists.

Before the front of the house a broad stretch of wood-covered plain rises and falls to the foot of a grim faced mountain with the non-descript name of "The Ben."

Through the plain cuts the main means of communication to the West of Ireland in the form of a solitary 'bus and 'bus train.

All around is the hush of silence and solitude. Even the wide stretch of water behind the house, which forms part of the ten mile long Lough MacNean, is more often than not as placid and as still as a village pond.

Yet the grim aspect of this limestone countryside is toned down to some extent by the stretches of green fields and high pines.

Here and there the proverbial "Irish cabin" peeps out behind a hill and the donkeys and cattle wander at leisure over the unguarded extents of the farmland.

But whether it is the peace of the place or the presence of the long lines of immemorial stone dykes dividing the country, one is always inclined to think of history when gazing over the Blacklion vista. So that one is not surprised to hear of the presence and recent discoveries of relics and signs of byegone days. The antiquity in which Ireland is steeped seems to be in the atmosphere. The college itself might almost be selfconscious in such surroundings.

But on consideration the new college is not in the least out of place; for it stands as a symbol of the countryside in which it is built. Ireland since the days of its great Apostle has forever clung to the true Faith. Now on the same soil of St. Patrick an edifice has risen up with the same end in view: to glorify God by extending His kingdom in the hearts of men.

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The staff and visitors - photograph taken on the occasion of the visit
by Bishop Rugambwa of Rutabo, May 1957. (includes two of the Fathers
from Montfort College, Romsey, and the chaplain of Wickham Convent.

Staff list from The Pelican, Christmas 1956:

Very Rev. Paul F. Moody, W.F., M.A. (Superior): Senior English, Elocution.
Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald, W.F., B.A. (Director Master of Discipline): Latin
Fr. Hugh Monaghan, W.F.: French, Music.
Fr. Thomas Rathe, W.F. (Bursar): Doctrine.
Fr. Alan Thompson, W.F.: History, Geography, Dramatics.
Fr. John Fowles, W.F.: Holy Scripture, Junior English, Science, Elocution, Sports.
Fr. William Lynch, W.F., B.Sc.: Mathematics.

Fr. Gerard Burton, W.F. (Parish Priest).
Fr. William Halligan, W.F.
Brother Aelred, W.F
Brother Andrew, W.F.

School Captain—Brian M. McGuire.
House Captains—Xavierians, George Smith;
Augustinians, Brian McGuire.
Games Captain—George Smith.
Prefects—Joseph McDermott, Edward Bleasdale, Eric McCormack, Christopher McGuire, Michael Kelly

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by Father Duffy
Taken from The Pelican, Summer 1962 (Jubilee Number)

The White Fathers came to England in 1912 as a result of the decision of the Chapter of that year to found a college in England to serve as an off-shoot to the seminary of St. Laurent d'Olt.

The task of making the foundation was entrusted to the very Reverend Father Voillard and to Father Travers.

The search for a house began in the Channel Islands Jersey, to be exact, but it ended in Hampshire, at Bishop's Waltham. His Lordship, Bishop Cotter had already given the Fathers permission to look for a house in his diocese, but he would not commit himself finally until he had consulted his Chapter. Meanwhile the search went on.

After viewing several houses, the Fathers eventually came upon the Priory, which they considered to be ideal; the house was solid and spacious enough with ample grounds. Mrs. Robson, the owner, welcomed the Fathers as prospective buyers.

It was while he was staying at Romsey with our old friends the de Montfort Fathers that Father Travers received a telegram, on 27th September informing him that the Chapter of Portsmouth had given its approbation to the Society's project. .

The transactions were rapidly completed and by 30th September all was signed and sealed. On October 2nd, 1912, Fathers Travers and Coutu, and Brothers John, Max, Camille and Egbert took possession of the house.

On October 12th Fathers Bouniol and Falguiere arrived with fourteen students from France. Such were the modest beginnings of the Society in England

The history of the house they bought is not without interest. It goes back to 1864, when it was opened by Prince Leopold, son of Queen Victoria as an Infirmary, "designed", so reported the illustrated London News of August 13th, 1864, "to provide for the poor of the district those comforts in time of illness which can only be secured for them by an organised establishment."

It is built of terra cotta brick and has been described as Gothic in design. For some reason or other, it did not continue as an infirmary and became a private house until it was bought by the White Fathers.

On May 30th, 1913, the building of the seminary was begun, a two-storied building in terra cotta brick, in keeping with the style of the Fathers' house with which it is connected by a covered quadrangle over which is the refectory.

On the ground floor, there are the chapel and study-hall; on the first storey, five classrooms, showers and some accommodation for the staff. The second storey is reserved for the dormitory and wash-basins.

On December 13th, the new building was ready to be blessed by the Bishop of the diocese, in the presence, so the Diary tells us, of a large congregation in which there were quite a few non-catholics.


But life was not going to be so tranquil in the new college as the prospect of war began to loom large in Europe. On August 2nd, 1914, Father Travers Father Bouniol and Father Falguiere were called to the colours, leaving behind them three Fathers and thirty-seven students. At this time, Father Forbes, later Bishop Forbes, was on his way back to Uganda, but the outbreak of war left him stranded unable to get a boat to Africa. He was therefore appointed Superior ad interim, in place of Father Travers, the Superior; and Father Drost was appointed Bursar.

Father Bouniol was captured in France in the early part of the War and did not see the Priory again until after the end of hostilities. Father Travers was released from the army on account of his health and was able to return to the Priory to recuperate, Father Forbes continuing as Superior. Father Travers was reappointed Superior in 1916 and Father Forbes was able to wend his way back to the Missions.

The war went on, making further demands on the community. In 1915, the number of students, all French, had fallen to 18; by 1916, the number was further reduced to 14. Sombre as the prospect must have seemed to the staff at that time, nevertheless this year does stand out in the history of the Priory for the first two English candidates entered the seminary during this year. By 1917, only two English seminarists remained. It was in this same year that the Priory became a seminary for English-speaking aspirants to the Society.

It is worth noting that of the 56 French students who were admitted here, eight became White Fathers and three became priests elsewhere. One entered the Society as a Brother; another died as a Novice, and another as a Scholastic.

With the return of peace in 1918, the Priory took on a new lease of life. We find from the records that there were seven students and one postulant for the Brotherhood. Amongst these seven students, was Arthur Hughes, later to become Archbishop Hughes. In 1920, the first English White Father, Father Prentice, was recalled from Katigondo to be Professor of Philosophy at the Priory where there were, apart from the junior seminarists, five philosophers. This doyen of the English Province, still happily with us, was ordained as a White Father long before the Priory was conceived of, to wit in 1903.

Numbers went on increasing so that when Father Travers celebrated the silver jubilee of his ordination in 1925, there were 60 students. It is worth dwelling on this event for a moment for it shows what Father Travers had achieved here since his arrival in the country in 1912. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Cotter, assisted at the feast with several Canons, and some forty-five priests, mostly of the diocese.

The Bishop in his speech at the luncheon spoke of the great affection and esteem in which Father Travers was held by the priests of the Diocese; and in their name, a neighbouring parish priest presented him with a cheque for £100. That in itself speaks volumes for a “foreigner” who had come into the diocese only thirteen years previously. In the year 1926, the Priory garnered its first fruits, for Father A.E. Howell was ordained priest, the first of its students to reach the priesthood in the Society. In this same year, it was to suffer a great loss, for Father Travers’ health, which had never been good, took a turn for the worse; and he was obliged to go to France for several months’ rest, leaving everything in the capable and devoted hands of Father Bouniol. He returned the following September, a very sick man. He died on March 27th, 1927. The British Province owes much to this great man and to Father Bouniol who succeeded him and who was to remain Superior of the Prioy until December 1937.

Father Bouniol, apart from his work as Superior of the house, laid out the playing fields and built an annexe and a gymnasium. During his tenure of office, the number of students rose to over eight The many generations of Priorians who were under him remember him as kindly and paternal, but firm. Being the priest that he was, he must have enhanced the ideal of the priesthood in the mind of every boy who came here while he was Superior.

From the early days, the Priory was served by many devoted Fathers and Brothers, so that it would seem invidious to mention names. However many would justly take it amiss if in an article such as this, no mention were made of Brother Aubert and Brother Modeste who were labourers here from the first hour and who played such an important part m the development of the Priory.

Brother Aubert arrived here in 1913 and was destined to remain here until his death in 1950. He always used to say that his appointment to the Priory was temporary. Brother Modeste too, apart from a period at the Mother House and some time in Scotland laboured here for the greater part of his life until his death in 1956.

The work they both did, on the farm and in the property, must be writ large in the Kingdom of Heaven. As the years went on, these two bearded patriarchal figures became fixtures in the community. While they were here, it was difficult to imagine the Priory without them, so much did they take on a quality of permanence. They both went to their eternal reward full of years and merit.

The course of studies followed at this time was much the same as that followed in English Grammar Schools. The students were prepared in a five-year course for the University of London Matriculation Examination, usually taking the following subjects: English Language, Latin, French, History and compared favourably with those of other schools.

With the outbreak of the Second World War Father James Smith, who had succeeded Father Bouniol as Superior, had problems enough to cope with. The daily time-table was completely disrupted by bombing raids, during the night and during the day, on Portsmouth and on Southampton. As a result of that, the students were evacuated, after their summer holidays, the Irish students to the Jesuit Missionary College, Mungret, and the others to our Junior seminary in Scotland, St. Columba's College, whose founder was Bishop Walsh W.F., Bishop of Aberdeen.

The students' quarters at the Priory were requisitioned by the Army, and the Fathers' house was left in the possession of a small community.

For a time during the war, it housed the Postulants; and in 1942 it became a junior seminary again, with only eleven students-–the students' quarters still being in the possession of the Army.

Towards the end of the War, the Priory was able to return to normal, when it was derequisitioned and reopened in 1945 with 24 students, and Father Lea as Superior. Numbers continued to increase; and because of that, and questions of formation, it was decided to send the first form to St. Columba's in Scotland. This transfer took place in 1948; later the second form was also sent there. This is the system which now obtains: the Priory is reserved for students from Form III to Form VI.
Since the Priory became a seminary for British aspirants in 1917, we have had 831 students admitted. Of these, 120 became White Fathers, four became Brothers in the Society. Of the students who left us 23 became priests in other congregations or in dioceses—another two became Brothers with the Dominicans. Of the others, many are fine Catholic Laymen in the world.

The members of the staff in the current year are: Father B. Duffy (Superior); Father J. O'Donohue, M.A. (Director); Father J. Haigh, Father J. Fowles, Father M. Maloney, B.A., Father Lawrence Geraghty (Bursar), and Mr. D. J. Williams, B.A., B.D., a former Baptist minister in Wales.This article would not be complete if no mention were made of the parish which we have here. The seminary chapel served as a chapel-of-ease almost from the time when the White Fathers came to Bishop's Waltham. In 1931, it was erected into a parish under the care of the White Fathers. For many years, the Superior of the house was, ipso facto, the parish priest and he was helped by Fathers on the staff who served as curates, as the occasion arose. However that system had obvious disadvantages in that, at times, one or other of the staff had to divide his energies between the Seminary and the Parish.

That being so, it was decided in 1955 to appoint a full-time parish priest, a White Father, who would be free to concentrate all his time to the parish, which has developed considerably of late. The first parish priest so appointed was Father G. Burton who was later succeeded by Father Burridge. At the moment it is in the hands of Father H. Moreton. It is a scattered rural parish, taking in an area of 100 square miles. There are some 400 parishioners. While it contains a fervent element, there are plenty of "paschal lambs" in the parish and many who do not even enter into that category. It is a parish which allows ample scope for the zeal of the parish priest.

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THE PRIORY, 1936-40
by Father Bernard Duffy, present Superior of the Priory
Taken from The Pelican, Summer 1962 (Jubilee Number)

During 1935-6, Father Bernard Gaffney preached in many churches in this country on the White Fathers' Missions in Africa. He cut a fine figure in the pulpit, in the habit of a White Father, complete with red chechia and a magnificent little beard. It was the beard that clinched the matter for many of us: after seeing that we gaily tossed away our long cherished ambitions to be train-drivers or long distance lorry-drivers, for Africa called; and that is why in September, 1936, more than eighty students, a record number, arrived at the Priory to begin, or to continue their studies for the missionary priesthood.

At that time the staff consisted of Father Bouniol, Superior and genius loci, beloved of many generations of White Fathers, and Fathers Keane, Kingseller, Rykers, Ryan, Haigh, Burridge and Stanley, with the venerable Brothers Modeste and Aubert, and young Brother Patrick. Of these, Fathers Bouniol and Stanley and Brothers Modeste and Aubert are now we hope, in Heaven, enjoying the reward of their labours here. Of the others, Father Keane is in Germany, Father Kingseller is working in Nigeria, Father Haigh, after long service in the Missions, has returned to the staff, Father Ryan is at Dorking and Father Burridge in London. Brother Patrick is in Ireland, where he went in 1956 after spending twenty-two years at the Priory.

There were tensions and crises enough during these years, 1936-40, and I suppose they had their effect on us. There was the anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan, there was the abdication of Edward VII; there was the Munich crisis in 1938 when Europe was on the verge of war—and when Finchley Grammar School was evacuated to the Priory.

We no doubt thought about and discussed these events, but it must not be thought that they provided the sole topics of conversation. Out of what did Brother Modeste brew that home-made beer which we were given on feast-days? (Looking back now, I feel that had the government known of the existence of this remarkable concoction England would have had a satellite in orbit long before the Russians.)

What would we have for supper—pease-pud or "dead baby"? What ingredients went into the soup that we used to have for lunch? Was the recipe really, as some believed taken from the witches' brew in "Macbeth" ? Questions like these did preoccupy our minds and hearts, at least on occasions.

Then again, there was the problem of Father Rykers' classes, which were a ding-dong affair in which, willy-nilly, one had to learn.

The problem was how to sit through them without calling attention to oneself. How could one avoid being called out to the blackboard, for, once there, there was no defence against "love's uplifted stroke". Many of us will never forget his enthusiastic and successful teaching of Latin.

Life in those days moved at a more leisurely pace that did not prevent us, however, from rising at 6.15 a.m., with a study of three-quarters of an hour before breakfast to tone up our intellectual muscles, such as they were, for the rest of the day, and to act as an aperitif to our appetites. Every class was preceded and followed by a study. We had the same amount of manual work and the same spiritual exercises as the boys have now. Night Prayers were at 9.15, a rule about which there was never any complaint. The food with which we were provided would not have satisfied a gourmet, but it sustained in rude health the student body, amongst whom were many built on the proportions of prize fighters.

In the latter part of 1937, Father Bouniol was appointed Treasurer to the French Province, after many years of devoted service to the Priory. When we returned from our Christmas holidays in January 1938, Father James Smith had taken over as Superior. The War broke out in September, 1939, and it brought many problems to the new Superior. With the invasion of the Low Countries, air-raids became a nightly occurrence. We could count on spending a few hours of almost every night in the air-raid shelter which we built on an embankment down the "mine". After a few nights of this, Priory beds took on a mystic aura of peace and comfort, especially when contemplated from the dank depths of the air-raid shelter.

Thus sleepless, we became even more dull-witted and ponderous than before; our minds could no longer grapple with Geometry or abide Latin unseens. We were only aroused from this inertia and torpor when Father Superior informed us that we were to go home immediately for an extended holiday and that we would begin the next school year at St. Columba's, there to carry on our studies, as we did, in peace and tranquillity.

Thus ended a long chapter in the history of the Priory. Shortly after this, it was requisitioned by the army, and it was only in 1942 that it was partially re-opened as a Junior Seminary.
Certainly it was a fruitful era in the history of the Priory. Many students of that time are now White Fathers, working at home and abroad; and the Old Boys' Association reminds us of the fact that many of those who were called elsewhere by God are excellent Catholic laymen in the world. One can do no better than pray that the Priory may be similarly blessed in the future.


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