Brother Joseph Cassian Daly (1904-61)

Obituary by B. P. Dolan
(for commentary on this obituary click here)

The English Province suffered severe losses in its ranks in 1961, in the deaths of Brother Cassian Daly and Brother Solano Russell, both called to their reward in the prime of life. The Lord has indeed His own way of reckoning the length of days for each one of us. The call comes when, humanly speaking, the loss is irreparable.

Joseph Daly was born in Tullamore in 1904. His father carried on a good business in that town. Joseph was the fifth in a line of eight children, four boys and four girls. The faith was deep-seated in this good Irish family and was animated by good works, without which it is a dead thing, as the Apostle St. James says. Three vocations to the religious life stemmed from the Christian virtues practised in the Daly family. Two of Br. Cassian's sisters entered religion - one a Bon Secour nun, at present in the Bon Secour Hospital, Dublin, and the other a Sister of Mercy in St. Louis, U.S.A. The present generation is also blessed with vocations, for three of Br. Cassian's nieces have entered religion, and a nephew is a priest for the Meath diocese, at present doing temporary work in St. Louis, U.S.A.

Br. Cassian attended the local National School for some time prior to his admission to the Christian Brothers' College, Tullamore. The then Superior and Headmaster was Brother Bertrand Thompson of happy memory, and one of our late distinguished headmasters of the English Province. According to the family records, Br. Thompson was a compelling factor in Joseph's decision to become a Christian Brother.

Joseph Daly was admitted to our Juniorate, Baldoyle, 9th August, 1922. After a short postulancy he received the Habit on the 1st November 1922. Judging by his life on the mission his short years of formation must have been solid and practical. He could never countenance a put-on air. "The genuine article or nothing" was his motto. He often reminisced on those years of grace and practical training for his life's work.

Br. Cassian's first field of labour lay in Gibraltar. He joined the Community of Sacred Heart Terrace in September 1924, and remained there until 1940. His work on The Rock was set for the most part in the elementary and middle schools. Changes were few among the Brothers in that out-post in those days, and promotion to higher work in the classes was more or less on a seniority basis. One of the Assistants to the Superior-General making Visitation in Gibraltar in the middle twenties forestalled any requests for changes by telling the Brothers at the opening session of the Visitation that they were to go to Heaven from the Rock. The late war altered that directive, and many of the Brothers have since gone to Heaven, from different lands. May they all be now in possession of the eternal reward promised by the Divine Master to the faithful workers in His vineyard. Higher Superiors felt there was good reason to keep changes among the Brothers in Gibraltar to the minimum. It was considered, and wisely so, that Spanish should be the medium of catechetical and religious instruction for the boys, especially for those in the junior departments, as Spanish is the mother tongue of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Gibraltar. The need for becoming fluent Spanish speakers was impressed on the Brothers from their first days on the Rock. While not neglecting other studies, Br. Cassian took keenly to the study of this new language, and became reasonably fluent at it in a short time. He soon learned, too, that el Castillano puro conveyed more than its face value to the Gibraltar boy. He saw by the smile on the faces of his youthful audience that certain words conveyed more than he thought and he was quick to discover what the second interpretation was. . . not always an edifying one. Br. Cassian commanded respect in the classroom, and the absence of mannerisms and idiosyncrasies left little material for schoolboy jokes at the master's expense. The boys found him keenly interested in their welfare and progress and co-operated with him in full measure.

The good teacher must be a good student, and Br. Cassian spent much time during his early years on the Rock in studying the Grade subjects. The late Superior-General, Brother Pius Noonan, gave the Brothers a further interest in study by asking them to prepare for University Courses. Br. Cassian was one of the first to sit the U.C.D. Inter Arts Examination in 1936, and with excellent results. The Superior-General gave him the option of continuing his University studies or returning to Gibraltar. Br. Cassian chose the latter. As he had suffered from severe headaches and earaches for some time previous, he feared that the strain of further University studies would develop trouble.

So, after a holiday at home and temporary work in our Juniorate at Ledsham, he returned to Gibraltar. The temporary work in Ledsham was of a very congenial nature, as the postulants were on holidays and under the kindly and generous direction of Br. Dositheus O'Connell and Br. Paul Condon. Br. Paul was quite fresh at Spanish and so they enjoyed each other's company. There were happy evenings of music and songs, and Brs. Paul and Cassian were at their best, I think, in the beautiful duet of La Virgen del Pilar. Br. Cassian enjoyed the outings provided for the postulants, and also the additional ones he and the writer had, one bringing them as far afield at Blackpool! Here, in the cycle of events, he was destined to spend some years of fruitful labour later on.

Br. Cassian returned to Gibraltar in September. For some years previous he had been choir master, and had always evinced a great love and appreciation of music. He felt that this talent should be cultivated with all diligence, and consequently took to the study of music with fresh gusto. The Superior, Br. Vincent Ryan, afforded him every facility in this respect, and provided him with a Spanish music professor. Fr. Guinda, too, of the Sacred Heart Church, a very gifted musician and organist, was always ready to assist Br. Cassian.

The Children's Mass on Sundays in Gibraltar took roots from the very foundation of the Brothers on the Rock. This Mass almost anticipated our present Dialogue Mass. The children read the Mass prayers aloud, and sang hymns in Spanish and in English. Br. Cassian raised the choir hymn singing at the Children's Mass to what we might call a fine art. There was to be no counting the cost in this work of divine praise. Perfection was the aim. . . and he ever aimed at perfection.

His reputation as a music teacher and conductor was well known in Gibraltar. He had received well-merited praise from appreciative audiences in Gibraltar's theatre for school performances. Early in 1940 he was putting the finishing touches to The Bohemian Girl to be put on in the theatre to raise school funds. When the evacuation from the Rock for women and children was mooted as Gibraltar was in such a precarious position, poised on the tip of Spain at the entrance to the Mediterranean, defence and safety measures were a priority with all, and so The Bohemian Girl had to be dropped. This was a sore blow for Br. Cassian, as it was to have been the coup de grace for that year. Br. Cassian bowed to the inevitable decision.

Schemes for the evacuation of women and children were studied and discussed by officials, and eventually French Morocco was decided on as the reception area for most of the people concerned. This was to be a major upheaval in the life of Gibraltar. The Brothers who had laboured so long on the Rock would have to leave with the children, and see their schools and residences requisitioned by the military authorities. Br. Cassian, during all this time of worry and distress, took a leading part in the arrangements and work entailed. His buoyant spirit and cheerful laughter did much to encourage his confreres in the conflict. The month of May became the evacuation month, and Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier were the reception centres. Temporary schooling was arranged, and all went reasonably well until France capitulated. After this capitulation the evacuees got short notice to quit French Morocco.

In a question of days all evacuees were back once more in Gibraltar. Pending another exodus of women and children, this time for the United Kingdom, Gibraltar was subjected to heavy bombing, with loss of life. When a fleet of ships was ready for convoy, the Brothers were asked to accompany the evacuees, and were detailed to different convoys. Br. Cassian's assignment was the invalids' ship, and a good choice was made, for he had sympathy and technique in handling the sick, acquired through his own knowledge of suffering. He had already been a victim to the operating knife, and had suffered much from a perforated eardrum. He also had been most attentive to any sick Brother, and during the short illness of the late Vicar, Br. Hubert Butler, in Gibraltar, he was a constant visitor to the sick man. He was at his bedside in the Colonial Hospital during the last moments of the dying Brother. By his cheerful and breezy manner he brought psychological if not bodily relief to the sufferer, whoever he was. Br. Cassian's convoy took three weeks to do the journey from Gibraltar, normally a three day journey by sea. He received unstinted praise for his sympathy for the grief-stricken evacuees and for his co-operation with doctors and nurses.

Much of Br. Cassian's life so far had been set in an atmosphere of unrest, strife, rebellion, and war. He saw the Spanish Revolution of 1931, when the churches were profaned and the priests and religious hounded down. He was an eyewitness of much of the fighting by land and sea during the Franco rising against an anarchical Communist government. During all these troubles the religious life of the Christian Brother remained undisturbed on the Rock, set as it was on the solid rock of faith. Mention had been made of his charity to the sick, his breezy cheerfulness, and his hearty laugh which would dispel all gloom. His religious observance was exemplary. He had a religious sense of uprightness. Yet his views did not always meet with the approval of those in authority, and he found it hard to submit to methods which he considered inadequate to produce desired results. He was a Community man in every sense of the word, one who could and did contribute good measure to the ordinary Community enjoyment. In his youthful days he got great fun from our excursions into the mainland of Spain, Almoraima being the favourite haunt. There, Gaelic football came into its own, with not a little rough play at times. But it was all enjoyed, and was good fun! Como se passan los dias de la juventud!

Br. Cassian was a tired man on his arrival in England after three harassing weeks on a sea, infested by enemy submarines. The convoy ships landed at different ports, and in due course the evacuees were located mostly in the London area. Pending arrangements for schooling for the children, the Brothers were directed to the different English Communities. Br. Cassian was posted to Birkenhead. After a short time there he got across to Dublin, and then to Tullamore. Here he enjoyed for a short time the native air and bomb-free landscape of the midlands. After his visit home he spent the next few months in Carriglea. In January he was transferred to St. Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent, where he spent a year. His next change was to Blackpool in January, 1942. Here he threw himself whole-heartedly into the work of the College and especially the boarding section. He was appointed housemaster by Br. De Sales Goulding, of happy memory. House-mastering in our boarding schools is a responsibility demanding many qualities in a Brother, not the least, forbearance, tact, patience and vigilance. This work was new to Bro. Cassian, but he soon learned the techniques required and set a high standard for the boarders. Strict discipline was maintained, and there was no time for the laissez-faire type of boy. Parents were complimentary in their remarks on the training the boys were getting. The many war-time restrictions made boarding school organisation very difficult. The blackout system was most trying, and the housemaster had to be constantly on the qui vive to see that no thoughtless boy left a light showing that might help the enemy. That the street patrols had no complaints was a great tribute to Br. Cassian's vigilance. He was a strict disciplinarian, and possibly erred on the rigid side at times. Maids were in short supply in those days, other careers in plenty offered more alluring rewards. During short-supply periods, Br. Cassian and the boys had to do much of the maid-work. He had at times to be both housemaster and nurse to some of the boys. With all this extra work, and demands on a not-too-strong constitution, he never failed in his spiritual exercises. The spiritual must never be sacrificed to the temporal with him.

From Blackpool he was transferred to St. Edward's College, Liverpool. After a year in St. Edward's College, Br. Cassian's next field of labour was in sunny Devon, where they say it rains six days out of seven. St. Boniface's College, trying to re-establish itself after the severe blitz of 1941, was glad to receive one on the staff of Br. Cassian's worth and experience of boarding school life. Here, as in Blackpool, he got charge of the boarders. These soon learned to know their man and the standard of discipline and social behaviour required from them. He was quick to note the difference between the northerner and the southerner, each having commending qualities, but in the aggregate the winning point might go to the southerner.

He soon set on foot improvement schemes and had rediffusion installed at vantage points. In the dining-room, during meals, the boys could hear the headings of the newsreel and listen at time to selective musical programmes, the bent was always classical.

One of Br. Cassien's favourite subjects was French, which he taught in many forms. He was as thorough in his preparation for his class lessons as in all else he took in hand. The French lesson always began with a chorus of French nasal sounds. The musical ear quickly detected the wrong sound and the right nuance correctly mastered.

The moment Br. Cassian's footsteps were heard approaching the classroom the chorus began, no time was wasted in the attack! If thoroughness marked his preparation and presentation of the ordinary lessons it was still more a feature of his religious instructions. The vocal prayers were said with reverent devotion and attention to correct articulation. It was a spiritual treat to listen to the boarders say their vocal prayers.

While his discipline was strict with the boarders he had their welfare always at heart. Nothing but the best would suffice for them and the menu and service were carefully checked. Maids had always to be in attendance. The dining room was a place where correct manners could be taught. Hence he preferred to take charge of boarders at all meals in order to secure uniform code.

Br. Cassian was appointed Superior of Cricklade, Prior Park Preparatory School in September 1958. This appointment gave him an opportunity of developing schemes for the boarders' welfare he had so much at heart.

Br. Finian Rowe, who lived with him during those years, writes:

My first impressions of Br. Cassian were gleaned from past co-workers, and were to the effect that he was a hearty, sociable character with a very definite musical bent. I was not disappointed when we met, as it seemed that he had been primed, all things working out to pattern. He had little predilection for Superiorship. At the time his health gave evidence of deterioration in the form of a constant lumber complaint which seemed to incommode his buoyant and spirited movements. As Superior and Headmaster of such a school, it was natural to be expected that his interests and commitments were manifold, demanding more than ordinary acumen, but he had one accomplishment which he used with consummate skill and which reduced the burden of his work and that was his aptitude as an efficient typist. Another was his interest in music, both vocal and instrumental, which helped him very much to temper his attitude to his young charges. He certainly put first things first and his vigilant attention to the moral welfare of the children was most pronounced, the slightest sound alerting him. He was a consistently strict disciplinarian, his fastidiousness in this respect seeming to detract to some extent from his full effectiveness.

He certainly made great efforts to improve the amenities of the school from every angle, and was rewarded by the generous encomiums of the education and welfare inspectors. Notwithstanding his pressing duties, he took his place in class work, and found time and occasion to relieve the atmosphere by his lilting disposition and native good humour. He seldom left the precincts of the school. To his Brothers he was kind, generous and affable.

Though a great success as Superior and headmaster, he was not sorry to be relieved from office, though much distraught to part company with his young friends, and the Great Dane, with whom he seemed to be on very amicable terms.

I called to see him in hospital some weeks before his early demise and found him cheery, talkative and resigned. "You know me very well" he remarked to me in a seeming humble and repenitent sense. "Yes Cassian" I said, "I know you to be a great Christian Brother, and thank God to have had the privilege of having worked with you".

His health indeed suffered set-backs in Cricklade. He suffered most acutely from a slipped disc. He spent periods in hospital for treatment which seemed to put matters right for some time, but the cure was far from complete.

After a period of six years Superiorship in Cricklade, Br. Cassian was transferred to St. Boniface's College, Plymouth, the scene of former useful and very active labour. Here he was appointed Councillor and Bursar, in September 1959. The latter office, together with teaching, imposed heavy demands on a suffering body. His Superior during his last brief sojourn in Plymouth writes:

The pains which were an indication of the diseases that finally caused his death attacked Br. Cassian during the summer holidays in 1960. He enjoyed the opportunity of meeting many friends in Dublin, but complained of the jabs that caused him intense pain, mercifully he thought that it was a recurrence of the disc trouble that had bothered him in Cricklade. He was clearly not well, and with the apparent intuition that those who are gravely ill possess, he mused on reaching Dublin Airport to return to Plymouth whether he would ever see it again. This was the first of a series of reflections which Br. Cassian made in the next few months, all of which turned out to be true. When the school year started, Br. Cassian resumed his bursaring and school duties and carried on without apparent discomfort. When a severe back pain put him to bed for a few days in October, he said that although his sister had recovered from an operation for cancer he wouldn't. For one of a nervous disposition, there was a surprising lack of emotion in saying this. With a half hope that the slipped disc was the root of the trouble, he went to see a bone-setter in Wadebridge on the north Cornish coast. After the first of these visits in November Br. Cassian was sure that some good had been done and for a day or so he felt less pain and discomfort.

However, by this time the deep-seated cancer of the bone in the spine and legs must have made rapid progress, and been causing intense pain. Before he went to St. Mary's Hospital, Bristol, he phoned his sister and, with characteristic thought and consideration for others, told her not to worry as he was only going for treatment. Perhaps it was a premonition of what was to happen, or it may have been a chance remark, but Br. Cassian said on leaving the house: "I am seeing Plymouth for the last time". This was true, for after two operations for the removal of the troublesome disc the deep-seated cancer was diagnosed as incurable and inoperable. When Br. Cassian left Plymouth he did so after throwing a great deal of energy into his work, as Housemaster for most of his first period and as Bursar during his second stay there.

Br. Placidus Hooper, Consultor in the English Province, submits the following account of Br. Cassian's last months:

Br. Cassian was admitted to St. Mary's Private Hospital on December 16th 1960, and was operated on for a slipped disc before Christmas. This operation, which he had dreaded, was not successful and he had to undergo another operation. He was not a good patient at this period and was very despondent. After the second operation the specialist had him transferred to an Orthopaedic Hospital near Bristol for further X-rays. Here in a public ward the sufferings and example of others, as he freely admitted, made quite an impact on him. He gradually became much weaker and movement in bed was excruciating. The specialist broke the news to the Provincial when he was visiting Br Cassian, that there was no hope for him as he had cancer of the spine. He further remarked that the pains associated with this disease were among the most painful known to doctors. Arrangements were made for Br., Cassian's transfer back to St. Mary's, but before this could be effected, the resident doctor thought he was dying. The Chaplain was summoned and the Sacrament of Extreme Unction given to Br. Cassian, who, having heard of his condition now accepted the Will of God in a most edifying manner. He rallied sufficiently to be brought back to St. Mary's on 20th January, and there he remained in great agony until he died on 17th March 1961. His Superior and other Brothers from his own Community in Plymouth visited him often. The Superior and Community of Prior Park paid frequent visits to the sick Brother. The Superior General, too, visited him in Hospital. The Bristol Community, so close physically to the hospital, paid him daily visits and to these Brothers in particular he gave an example of wonderful growth in Spirituality as his body decayed. Neither they nor Br. Cassian concealed the fact that he was dying. He had asked St. Joseph to die on his feast day; it was on his feast day that he was buried.

Some days his mind was quite clear and his memory vivid. On such occasions he would give advice to the Brothers present and would repeatedly stress the wonderful charity which existed among the Monks. It is pertinent to comment here that the Sisters, Priests and patients in the Hospital were most impressed by the visits and obvious affection shown to Br. Cassian by his fellow religious. Some visits were quite full of fun, as when he asked the Brothers to clear home, as he was tired, and if he could not get some sleep he would surely die. If he were restless the leisurely rhythms of the Rosary recited by the Brothers, calmed him. One of the Brothers remarked "Clearly we see a monk descending cheerfully into the grave". The specialist said to one of the Brothers: "You Catholics believe in the pain of Hell, Br. Daly is suffering the pains of Hell as far as I know them in this world". The drugs had lost their effect. If the good Brother complained at all it was to God in prayer, for none of us heard any complaint other than a tired "Oh dear". Characteristic of him was his frequent apology that he was a poor host, which his visitors heard with amazement. Daily he received Holy Communion and the Superior and Sisters of the Hospital were exceedingly good to him.

On the 16th March, late at night, the Provincial and Superior of Bristol relieved Br. Barnabas Beattie and Br. Stanislaus Lovelady, who had been watching and praying by the bed of the ever weakening Brother. They remained with him all night and said the prayers for the dying and the Provincial moistened his lips and sprinkled him with Holy Water frequently. At 8.40 a.m. he passed quietly away to Almighty God. He has left an indelible memory on all who visited him, of patient, cheerful acceptance of the Will of God, of complete absence of self-pity and of love for the Congregation and for its members. May he rest in peace!

I visited the good Brother a few days before the end. He was like one ready to be laid out in the coffin. He knew death was at hand and joined most fervently in prayer. As I was leaving the dying Brother his last words to me were: "Good bye, Pat." Absolutely true to life, sincere and unceremonious.

The remains were brought to Prior Park College, Bath. After solemn Requiem Mass, celebrated in the College Chapel, in the presence of a large number of Clergy, Brothers and friends of the deceased, and the boys of the College, the mortal remains of the good Brother were laid to rest in Bath cemetery.

During the week following the funeral in Bath, Requiem Mass was offered in the parish church adjoining St. Boniface's College, Plymouth, by the Very Rev. Mgr. M. P. O'Neil, in the presence of boys and staff of the College. Great respect for the deceased Brother was shown by the Old Boys who attended the Mass. R.I.P.

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