Belmont House was a house of formation throughout the period of its occupation by the Oblates. Its history reflects the ebb and flow of vocations and the changing patterns of formation itself down through the years.
The property consisted originally of a Georgian country villa, (c.1790), in the tiny hamlet of Galloping Green, Stillorgan, County Dublin. It was not in fact a very handsome house, but its grounds (17-18 acres, about l0 hectares) were ample and it overlooked the whole of Dublin Bay, commanding "some of the finest views in Europe" in the opinion of the provincial of the day (Cooke, II, p.317). It had previously been a preparatory school for All Hallows Missionary College, Dublin. The Superior General Father Fabre saw the property and approved of its purchase on the occasion of his visit to the province in 1863. The Oblates took possession on October 10 in that year.
Belmont was acquired for the novitiate of the British Province and to serve also as a juniorate. It remained as the novitiate until, in 1921, it was squeezed out by the expanding new scholasticate and the novices were moved to Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. The juniorate was moved to Kilburn in October l88l (Missions 1913, p. 131). Until 1862 the novitiate had been at Lys-Marie in England: in that year it moved to Glen Mary in County Wicklow, Ireland. Father Fabre judged Glen Mary to be too small and too far from Dublin (Missions 1864, p. 531).
In the period 1863-1921 some 492 novices, of whom 177 were Brothers, took the habit at Belmont. (Missions, 1939, p. 225).
The first superior and novice master (1863-1868) was French, Father Prosper Boisramé. His monthly reports on the novices to the Superior General are conserved in the General Archives, Rome, along with those of his successors, Frs. Timothy Gubbins (1868-78: 1882-87) and Dawson (1878-1882). Thereafter the line of novice masters runs: Frs. Peytavin (1887-89), McIntyre (1889-1900), John Foley (1900-01), T. Leahy (1901-02), J. Newman (1902-13), Danaher (1913-21).
Something of the flavour of the early days is caught in the following reminiscence: "Father Newman... was a member of that first group and used to relate in later life how the whole community walked the whole distance from Glen Mary to Belmont, saying the Rosary on the way. As the community walked through the little village of Cabinteely, the Church bell rang out on the evening air and all joined in the public recitation of the Angelus." (Collins, pp. 4-8). Father Boisramé himself related how this walk was undertaken to win graces for the community’s life at their new home. He playfully saw a sign that their prayer was heard in the downpour that drenched them on their journey!
Another pointer to the community’s vision is in the spirituality of the chapel. It was consecrated on December 20, 1887, by the Right Rev. Bishop Donnelly, thanks to the efforts of Father Ring and with the assistance of the Associates of the first Irish National Pilgrimage to Lourdes who are commemorated by plaques in the chapel. It was dedicated to "Our Lady of Lourdes" and is believed to be the first chapel to receive that dedication in Ireland. Admired as a fine example of the neo-gothic, its stained glass windows reveal something of the vision and piety of the Oblates of that era and the spirit they wished to impart to the novices. In the nave the windows portray four great founders: Francis, Bernard, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Dominic. We also find the English Carmelite: St. Simon Stock, and St. Francis Xavier the patron of the missions. In the sanctuary are Sts. Peter and John, flanked on one side by the Welsh St. Winifred and the Scottish St. Margaret, and on the other side by St. Charles Borromeo and St. Alphonsus, two men who influenced the Founder. Overlooking all from a niche above the high altar: Our Lady of Lourdes. The ensemble highlights the orientation of the province’s mission towards England, Wales, and Scotland, and also to the foreign missions, and its devotional heart: Our Lady of Lourdes (Cf. Tynan).
For a deeper insight into the community, one must await a study, e.g., of Father Boisramé’s notes. The spirituality of Father Boisramé himself was to be captured in his published volumes of meditations, used by generations of French-speaking Oblates.
When Father Ring became provincial in 1883 he found Belmont in the doldrums, with few vocations and the house in a serious state of disrepair. He made formation his priority, raised money and refurbished the house. It has been said that he saved Belmont (Missions 1939, p. 227).He failed in one thing: he attempted to change the name of the house from Belmont to "Lourdes House", and the letter-head on the novice-master’s notes are so styled, but Father Fabre opposed this and the name of Belmont persisted. Fr. Ring was appointed superior in 1887, the office of superior being separated from that of novice master.
PROVINCIAL SCHOLASTICATE 1914-1934
After their novitiate, the students would go to France to continue their studies. Not without difficulty, a provincial scholasticate was born at Belmont between the years 1900 and 1920. Father Joseph Danaher may be said to have been its architect and he tells the story in a letter to Archbishop Dontenwill dated July 18, 1920:
"As far back as 1900, it was decided to establish a Philosophy course of two years in Belmont, so that the students might obtain the B.A. Degree at the old Royal University. It was not necessary to attend "Lectures" to obtain the Degree. It was a University Degree without a University education, and therefore meant very little. But at the time, it was the best thing to be had. In the years 1900-01 there were five scholastic brothers doing philosophy in Belmont. In 1901-02 there were nine. In 1902-03 there were six. In September 1903, the system broke down. The Philosophy course was again established exactly on the same footing in 1907, and in the years 1907-08 there were three scholastics, in 1908-09 there were six, in 1909-10 there were six. In 1910-11 there were seven, in 1911-12 there were ten, in 1912-13 there were three. Meantime Ireland got a National University, and its regulations came into force in 1912-13. Henceforward only those who attended "Lectures" at the new University could stand for the University Examinations. At the Provincial council held in London in August 1913 it was decided to dis-establish definitely the Philosophy Course in Belmont and to send all our Brothers to Liège for Philosophy and Theology ... In 1912, I followed the Philosophy Course at the Dublin University and found it excellent. Little by little the conviction grew on me that it was essential for the welfare of the Province to have our own scholasticate. The decision of the Provincial Council in August 1913 to do away with it entirely came as a thunderbolt and as a great disappointment. As Your Grace will remember in the early part of 1914 the whole question of a scholasticate for the British Province was again raised. After much correspondence and discussion on the subject the highest authority in the Congregation decided to give the British Province permission to establish definitely its own scholasticate. In September 19l4 we began again with seven scholastics. In 1915-16 seven also. In 1916-17 ten. 1917-18 thirteen. In 1918-19 we had eighteen scholastics. 1919 -20 twenty three."
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 1920, Bishop Miller was able to ordain five men to the priesthood in the Belmont chapel who had pursued all their studies within the province itself at Belmont: Frs. Conway, Ahearne, Gaffney, Doherty, and Long.
A need was soon felt for more accommodation: "There are five scholastic novices; so that at present the house is practically full. Some provision for accommodation must be made in the near future. At present (owing to some lay brothers, who are tradesmen) we could run up a wing rather cheaply here. And those, who ought to know, say that this would be the right thing to do. I am entirely of this opinion." (General Archives, Rome: Belmont papers: Danaher to Archbishop Dontenwill 25 Feb., 1917). A large new East Wing was therefore added to the house in 1917, containing dormitories, study halls and a basement refectory. Brother Gilbert Gallagher, Mr. Joe Rothwell of Rockferry, and Brother McIntyre directed operations, and the scholastics helped.
From 1921-1934 the scholasticate had sole possession of Belmont. It was a golden period of Belmont’s history, dominated by Father Joseph Danaher who was superior from 1915-1930. The first philosophy professor was Fr. W. O’Connor. Theology courses were inaugurated about 1917. There were ordinations every year except 1922.
Archbishop Dontenwill, Superior General, made a canonical visit in 1923 (Missions 7923, p. 625-6).
The De Mazenod Circle was founded at Belmont in 1925. Patronised by the Superior General, the Provincial, and Bishop Charlebois amongst others, it was a serious study group, dedicated to gathering archival material related to the province and its mission. [cf. De Mazenod Record]
Archbishop Whelan of Bloernfontein received his formation at Belmont: "Like the rest of my contemporaries, I can say quite literally that I knew every inch of Belmont. At one time or another I swept and polished all those floors and those windows (this always a more defeating task than any problem in metaphysics). For better or worse, I have painted the kitchen and one of the dormitories... Outside manual labour was always a pleasure, especially during the cold, grey winter months. Digging potatoes, snagging turnips and mangolds, gathering hay, even ringing the snout of the sow... these activities seemed to clear the brain and freshen one’s outlook on life in general and on scholastic life in particular ..." (Cited by Collins, p. 4).
HOUSE OF LATE VOCATIONS I934-40
The scholasticate body was now becoming too large for Belmont to cope with. In 1932 the theologians left, to be followed in 1934 by the philosophers. The theologians went to Jersey and then in 1934 to Daingean, Co. Offaly, where they were joined by the philosophers. Belmont became the House of Late Vocations, an institution set up five years previously at St. Kevin’s, Glencree, and known as the College of Our Lady Queen of Apostles.
For six fruitful years the dominant figure in Belmont was Fr. Doherty. In his 1938 report to the Provincial we are told that the candidates were taught "Latin, Greek, English, Irish, mathematics, chemistry, history, apologetics, Catholic dogma, liturgy, church ceremonial, plain chant, elocution and physical drill." Until 1938 candidates for the novitiate sat a qualifying examination set by the House professors and assessed by extern examiners. From 1938 the matriculation examination of the University of Ireland was made the qualification for recommendation to the Novitiate. In 1938 eight students were presented for examination, of whom six qualified (Missions 1936, pp. 117-119).
The school year was from September to June, with Christmas and summer holidays. The students published a magazine called "Belmont Annals".
Cardinal Villeneuve paid a visit in 1935 (Missions, 1935, p.609).
The Oblate community in these years included Frs. W. Doyle, James Glasheen, C. Hennessy, M. O’Dwyer, T. Fahy, Brs. M. O’Dea, M. O’Connell, J. McGovern.
HOUSE OF PHILOSOPHY 1940-71
Belmont became a house of philosophy again in 1940.
The future of Belmont was much debated around 1950. Should all the scholastics be united in Piltown? If so, what to do with Belmont? Father D. Collier, e.g., had three ideas: "a mission training House (Home missions and Retreats); a Lay Brothers’ novitiate, taking in boys about 16, and giving them a trade - as well as religious outlook. Finally the House for the Association - completely on its own." In 1949 a part of the juniorate did move in as a temporary measure while building extensions took place at the Belcamp juniorate and the philosophers found temporary quarters in Piltown, but a plan put forward by Fr. W. F. O’Connor to make this a permanent arrangement and to set up a senior juniorate at Belmont was not accepted by the Provincial.
The philosophers were recalled in 1954. An extension was built to the East Wing in 1955-58, containing further dormitories, study halls and recreation facilities, to receive them. The work was accomplished by Brothers McIntyre, Hickey and Flanagan, with the help of the scholastics.
In 1960, in an elegant operation, the chapel was enlarged to accommodate the increasing number of scholastics.
The Superior General Father Deschâtelets visited Belmont on the occasion of the centenary celebrations and gave the scholastics a month’s holiday at home in the summer.
The life-style was of great simplicity. For the scholastics and Brothers in particular it was still a life confined for the most part to the confines of the house itself. The outlook of the scholastics was uncomplicated: a regular life of prayer and study, walks and hikes and sport. This was to change drastically as the 60’s drew to their close. A painful period of experimentation and searching had begun.
The superiors and directors of the scholasticate in this period were Frs. J. Danaher (1940-46), Frs. D. Bowes (1946-52), Peter O’Neill 1952-58, Michael McGough 1958-64, J. C. Daly 1964-6i, and Matt O’Shea 1967-70.
The community over this period included some notable characters: we may mention Frs. Henry Lennon, Patrick McGouran, James Glasheen, John Delany, William F. O’Connor, John McCarthy, Francis Forde, John Collins, Gerard Hanley, Luke Griffin, Edward Dunphy, Brian de Burca, Brs. John McGovern, James Carney, Patrick McIntyre, Hugh Dwan, James Reynolds, John Hickey, Frank Flanagan, John Delaney.
HOUSE OF PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY 1971-90
In the new climate of the Church in the aftermath of Vatican II, many argued for Dublin as the best locus for theological studies and pastoral preparation at a time when a serious drop in the number of scholastics challenged the viability of Piltown. Thus in 1971 the theologians again joined the philosophers at Belmont. This move too called for building extensions: three chalets, detached from the main building, were built in 1971, two were residences for the scholastics, one was reserved for the Sisters of the Holy Family. A community of the Holy Family Sisters moved with the theologians from Piltown to Belmont. Until then the Oblate Brothers had provided all services and also farmed the land. Now the sisters took charge of the kitchen and house. The chalet also served at times as a house of formation for the Sisters.
With the formation of the consortium of Dublin-based religious orders at Milltown Park, Dublin, in 1968, known as Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, house courses in philosophy ceased, though some students were still sent to the National University for philosophy. When the theologians arrived from Piltown, they too took up studies at Milltown Institute.
The original Georgian villa was judged to be unsafe and was demolished in 1975, to be replaced by a modem block, containing private rooms, recreation and reception rooms, a modern kitchen, and a large basement that served to house the large library. At the same time the ambulatory connecting the block to the chapel was renovated.
Meanwhile numbers waxed and waned. A portion of the east Wing was used as a hostel for lay students at the National University in the late 1970’s. For a period Belmont became an all-purpose house of formation, housing the first pre-novitiate of the province from 1979-1983, while the novices of 1983-1984 also lived at Belmont, before the novitiate moved on in the following year to new premises at Belcamp. The novice master was Fr. Michael O’Connor, assisted by Fr. A. Bissett. The directors of the pre-novitiate were Frs. McEvoy and Hynes. Belmont was also a place of retirement for sick and elderly Oblates in the 1980’s: a small part-time nursing staff was engaged.
The type of regular life known hitherto passed away. This is not a foundational article on the evolution of formation and religious life itself: but the changes as they were experienced in this formation community can be recalled in a general way here. Gone was the high table. Gone were the cassock and cross as normal daily wear. The scholastics moved more freely outside the house, going to Milltown, going to pastoral tasks in the locality and elsewhere, travelling to Oblate houses in Britain for summer work, going home for holidays. Newspapers were no longer forbidden reading. Television became a normal facility. Meetings to give shape to and review the new life-style took up much time. Admission of the scholastics to an active role in the mainstream of the life of the Province was a marked feature of the 1987 Provincial Congress, some preparatory sessions of which took place at Belmont. The talents of scholastics were called on and proved surprisingly effective. The white marble high altar (consecrated by Bishop Gaughren of Australia while in Europe for the 1898 Chapter) was replaced with a simple wooden altar "facing the people". The organ was displaced by the guitar. There were many departures from the scholasticate at all levels. Ordinations became fewer and fewer. "Formators" took the place of "professors". Priests and scholastics from other provinces came to Belmont for language study in ever greater numbers. In 1987 scholastics were sent on "regency" for a year to placements in Britain. These were but some of the signs of the great transition taking place in Oblate life as it affected the formation community at Belmont.
The superiors of the scholasticate at this period were Frs. Colm Hennessy (1970-19-13), Malachy Sheehan (1973-79), Edward McSherry (1979-85), Michael Hughes (1985-89), Maurice O’Connell (1989-90), and Antoin Hanley (1990-91). The community included Frs. Brian McNamee, Frank Dromey, Luke Griffin, O’Driscoll, Raymond McEvoy, Patrick O’Toole, and Brs. Michael Dunne, Daniel Casey, Dan Foley, O’Doherty, James Conroy, Thomas Cosgrove, John Hickey, James Curtin, William Kelly, Seamus Walsh, Teigh Cronin.
Superior General Father Zago visited Belmont when he attended the provincial congress of 1987. The European provincials met there in 1988.
By now the city of Dublin was in full expansion, swallowing up the countryside around Galloping Green. The road passing the gates was transformed into a modern highway. A large portion of the grounds was sold for building private houses in 1987.
The year 1989 was a final turning point for Belmont. In that year a decision was made to move the scholasticate to smaller premises in poorer areas of Dublin.
At first the intention was to constitute a new residence for students who had returned from regency. It was felt that their needs were different from those of the pre-regency scholastics: a community life style with greater personal responsibility and more involvement in ministry were called for.
A more radical decision quickly overtook this: to move all the scholastics out of Belmont on various grounds, namely, that Belmont was too large a property for a shrinking group of scholastics, and that the affluence the neighbourhood had acquired over the years since the Oblates acquired the properly made it less suitable as the setting for an Oblate scholasticate. The 1980 Chapter had said: "Our formation houses will be located, whenever possible, in poor areas and they will be characterised by a simple lifestyle so as to provide a concrete experience of poverty" (MTW 160).
The senior group of students moved in October 1989 to premises in 72, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin. The remaining group moved in December 1990 to Goldenbridge Walk, Inchicore.
In an independent decision the Holy Family Sisters withdrew for reasons of the mission in July 1989.
Finally, the Provincial in Council carried out a review of the province’s properly in Dublin. It was decided that Belmont was surplus to requirements and should be sold. The house was suppressed by reof the Superior General. The sale is still pending at time of writing.
In 1891 the scholastics of the Congregation then residing in Belcamp were moved from Belcamp to Holland. Before their departure they went to Belmont to say goodbye to the novices. In the sadness of the departure, the Provincial Fr. Tatin had this to say: "It is good when obedience gives us a little push from time to time, in case we start putting down roots anywhere. We must never be attached to anything, we must not be like snails carrying our shells on our backs" (Missions 1891, p.491).
Precisely one hundred years later these would be words to remember!
Sources and Bibliography
Angle-Irish Papers, General Archives, Rome.
Minutes of General Council, Rome.
Missions. Cf. Tables Analytiques. Note especially:
1864, p. 531-533;
1939, p. 222-230.
Publications of the Anglo-lrish Province:
Missionary Record & Lourdes Messenger.
De Mazenod Record.
John Collins, "Belmont Over the Years", De Mazenod Record 1963, pp. 4-8.
Robert Cooke, Sketches of the Life of Mgr de Mazenod, 2 Vols, London and Dublin, 1882.
Katherine Tynan, Missionary Record 1891.
Michael Hughes omi