Brother Jeremiah Justin Dowling (1902-90)
Obituary by L. X. Ryan
Brother Jeremiah Justin Dowling was a very private man -intensely private. In many years living in the same communities with Justin, I cannot recall him ever referring to his parents or to his closest relatives. However, it is very clear from meeting his folks that he was very attached to them and that he loved to visit them. In 1975 the Provincial sent out a pro-forma which asked the elderly Brothers to return the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of their nearest living relatives. Justin obliged by filling in the relevant facts for one of his sisters, and he then proceeded to fill in all five boxes with exactly the same data. There is no question that he did not understand the request. He surely had a wry smile on his face when he sent the form back to headquarters. I am deeply indebted to his niece, Mrs Noreen McDonnell, for making available so many interesting family matters. I am grateful also to the other members of 'Uncle Jerry's' family who passed on facts to Noreen.
Justin's parents were Martin Dowling from Co. Carlow and Mary Delaney from Ballyhoran, Co. Laois. Martin Dowling was an officer m the Dublin Fire Brigade and was stationed in Dorset Street, where Jerry was born, and later in Buckingham Street and Thomas Street, where Jerry also lived prior to joining the Brothers. Jerry had two brothers, Tommy and Martin, who both predeceased him. Martin, who died when about twenty, was studying for the priesthood with the Jesuits in England. Tommy, who worked in England as a journalist, left the country at the outbreak of the Second World War because, as a pacifist, he did not wish to be conscripted. He worked in the Board of Works in Ireland. He was married and had one daughter, Ann.
Jerry had little or no contact with his brothers. However, he was very close to his two sisters, Margaret and especially Eileen. Margaret was a music teacher who married but had no children. Her husband died soon after the marriage. Eileen, mother of Noreen McDonnell, lived at 'San Antonio', Greenhills Road, Walkinstown. She was married to Edward (Ned) Clarke, a pork butcher with a shop in Meath Street. Ned and Eileen had two children, Noreen (above) and Brian.
Noreen, who married Michael McDonnell, a civil servant, has three children: Niall, Orla and Fergal. She lives in Terenure. Brian married Ann Duignan and has five children: Louise, Derek, Eoin, Conor and Susan. He lives in Rathfarnham, a Dublin suburb. Noreen writes:
Jerry's 'real family' were Ned and Eileen, and their two children. He wrote to Eileen weekly all his life and spent his holidays with them at Greenhills Road. In his early life, when Brothers from the English Province took holidays in Ireland, Ned and Eileen usually rented a house nearby and, with their children, met Jerry regularly, although such contact was not favoured by the superiors of the time. Ned was particularly fond of him and could not do enough for him.
My memories of Jerry are of a very gentle but very private man, a trait which I particularly noted as he and I grew older. However, to me, as a child, and to my brother, he was a very dear uncle. Two words which I associate with my Uncle Jerry are moth balls. He had either an allowance of sweets or used most of his disposable income to buy sweets for us children. These were a particular treat, because sweets such as Mars Bars, etc., were not available in Ireland at the time (it was during World War II). However, in saving them up for his annual trip to us, he stored the sweets with his clothes, and they reeked of moth balls when we eventually got them. My other abiding memory of him was his photography. He took hundreds of photographs, but each one in a very meticulous way, which could be a source of annoyance to the family but was more often a source of amusement. He had a very antiquated camera and tripod which required that we posed a very specific number of feet from it. Jerry would measure the distance exactly. However, we, rather than the camera, had to move!
Jerry was ostensibly a non-drinker. He always maintained that one of the great attractions of Ireland was the quality of the tea there, which was far superior to that in England. The real quality, however, was the drop of whiskey that my mother, also a non-drinker, put in Uncle Jerry's tea. He didn't mention it, and she didn't mention it. They were both very private people!
He had a particular way with children. He visited us on holidays in Co. Wexford, and always organised games, not only for my children, but also for those of our neighbours. While there was a very small prize for the winner, there was always lavish praise for the participants. My children were very fond of him and visited him regularly in Baldoyle in his retirement years. At that time, we used also visit in Baldoyle a very special friend and ex-teacher of my husband's, Br Johnny Cantwell; but we never visited them both together. Br Johnny was very extrovert and lively, and looked after many of the very old and infirm Brothers. Jerry, apart from his privacy, never wanted to be a burden on anyone. He always felt others wanted and needed help more than he did.
He was also very stoical and avoided confrontation, even when he was in the right. I never heard him speak ill of anybody in his life. He was, unusual for an Irish Christian Brother, totally opposed to physical punishment. He often debated this with my Christian-Brother-educated husband, who took a contrary view.
Another great interest of his was travel. He meticulously planned each trip to continental Europe. Unfortunately, it was not till his later years that he had an opportunity to travel, and it was one of his greatest regrets that he could not do more of it.
What kind of a world did Jerry Dowling grow up in? Jerry Dowling was proud to be a Dublin boy. By the time he was twelve years of age, World War I had erupted. By his fourteenth birthday the Easter Rising was under way, and Dublin centre was being destroyed by heavy gun bombardment. The Rising (24 to 29 April 1916) brought chaos to Dublin. The newspapers set the mood, describing the event as a 'Bloody Struggle for Irish Freedom'. Fifteen of the leaders were executed in prison, and it was these executions which led to a fundamental change of feeling in Ireland. By the time Jerry Dowling had been assigned to his first teaching post at the North Monastery, Cork, Britain had declared martial law throughout Ireland. The retaliations in search of IRA gunmen left whole towns ablaze.
The reaction of the people to the political, military and religious issues of the day must have influenced the thinking of Jerry Dowling to become a Christian Brother. He arrived at the juniorate, St Joseph's, Baldoyle, on 2 July 1917. The records show that Br Bernard Maloney was the superior, assisted by Louis Murphy. Both were spiritual men, and a prayerful and kindly spirit pervaded the establishment. Jerry received the habit of our Congregation on Christmas Day in St Mary's, Marino, and he was given St Justin Martyr as his patron in religion. Br Justin's noviceship was spent under the guiding hand of Br Baptist Welsh, and one could not have asked for a more enlightened novice master.
At the end of his novitiate year, his first mission was to the North Mon (Our Lady's Mount), Cork, where he arrived on 23 August 1919. He was not quite 17 years of age. Forty years later he was to write: 'I can hardly believe that, before I was seventeen, I started teaching in the North Mon a class of 130 boys, with the aid of one monitor.' He took his second vows on Christmas Day that year. Feargal O'Brien offers the following contribution:
There are few Brothers' houses in Ireland so steeped in the traditions of the Congregation and of the early Brothers as the North Monastery, Cork. It was to this hallowed community that seventeen-year-old Br Justin Dowling was missioned in 1919; indeed, it was his only mission in Ireland until his departure for England in 1925. Justin seldom shared his memories of his past with others. However, during his later years, when in mellow mood on feast days, he readily reminisced about his years in Cork.
The early twenties were anxious years in Cork where one Lord Mayor, Thomas MacCurtain, was murdered by the Black-and-Tans, and another, Terence McSwiney, died on hunger strike in England. Both were past pupils of the North Mon. More than once, the Brothers' monastery was raided by the Tans, the house searched and the Brothers questioned. Justin often assured us that, under such questioning, he never “gave anything away”. We believed him, for he appeared to have adopted the same policy right throughout his life.
He had two remarkable superiors during his six years at Our Lady's Mount: Brs Austin (Johnny) Walker and Norbert Allen. They were both renowned for their inflexibility and for their strict adherence to the prescriptions of the Rule. Justin, perhaps unconsciously, appears to have imbibed some of the characteristics of these early models.
The House Annals of the Cork community report events whilst Br Justin was in residence. For 1920, the annals record the deaths and funerals of the past-pupil Lord Mayors, Thomas MacCurtain and Terence McSwiney, and the burning of Cork city centre by Crown Forces. The burning of Cork took place in the month of December of that year. The conflagration was of an appalling nature, and the blaze of the burning buildings in Patrick Street was so vivid that a book could easily be read in the Brothers' rooms at midnight by the light of the flames.
And, for 1921, the annals describe an alarming and frightening experience of the North Mon community during the three-day retreat preparatory to the renovation of vows on Pentecost Sunday. On the third day of the retreat, about 5.00 p.m., a loud explosion took place in the immediate vicinity. This was caused by the explosion of bombs which resulted in the deaths of two policemen. Immediately, there followed a violent outburst of rifle and machine gun fire by the military. In the meantime the community had gone to the oratory. They were not long there when a knock was heard at the chapel door. On going out, the Director found the sacristy filled with armed soldiers and policemen, whilst other members of the RIC were searching the Brothers' rooms. It seems that they had heard that some men connected with the bomb throwing had taken refuge in the monastery. The Director assured the officer-in-charge that such was not the case. The Brothers were then marshalled on the terrace in front of the house in the presence of the military, police and Black-and-Tans, the latter flourishing revolvers in a rather threatening manner. The Brothers had to answer to their names, and various interrogations were put to them. Finally, the armed party withdrew, taking with them two men who, alarmed by the firing in the neighbourhood, had taken shelter in one of the outhouses!
There is no doubt that Justin was a complex character, but most Brothers who lived with him will agree that the complexity did not include an over-generous interpretation of how feast days or holidays should be observed. It is related that during one summer holiday, when severe war-time restrictions applied, the strongest brew served at lunch during the vacation was Adam's Ale. After the vacation, one of the community, describing the month at the seaside, observed in the presence of Justin that the sole beverage served, even on Sundays, was water. Completely unperturbed by the remark, Justin smilingly agreed: “Yes, indeed, but it was beautiful water.” The rest was silence.
To parents and employees, Justin was urbane in the extreme, and he impressed all by his beaming smile even when, on occasion, he was refusing a rise in salary. In fact, he offered to pray for the petitioner instead of granting the desired financial increase. Not all were impressed by the alternative offer!
By the time Justin had transferred to St Brendan's, Bristol, he had passed forty-six Grade examinations at levels one to five. The marks show that he had a good understanding of maths and he was rated highly in chemistry and physics. No doubt this was one of the reasons why he was directed to read a BSc in these subjects. In the meanwhile, under the headship of Br James Branigan, Justin was subjected to another period of patriarchal rule. These were arduous years (1925-1929). The school roll had been growing till, in 1924, it passed the 300 mark, but in September of that year, on removal of the 70 boarders to Prior Park, the need for reorganisation arose, and the onus fell upon the new Head. Justin laboured sedulously to consolidate the reputation of the school.
In 1929 Br Justin returned to Ireland to study for his BSc degree. He must have enjoyed those three years in Marino, running around well known haunts and avoiding 'designated streets' too lavish for youthful eyes to muse over! After graduating from UCI with a BSc in physics and mathematics, Justin was assigned, as one of the founding community, to St Bonifice's College, Plymouth. The Brothers had acquired this property in December 1930, and, after herculean work to prepare grounds and buildings, were in a position to open school nine months later, in September 1931. There were six Brothers on the staff, and the school was named after the patron saint of the diocese. The College was opened officially by Bishop Barrett on 23 September 1931, The annals of the house record in detail the long three-year battle to achieve 'academic recognition' from Whitehall (1934) and, in the following year, 'grant-recognition'. The register of 1937 shows two hundred and five on roll; this included fifty-four non-Catholics and thirty-six boarders. Thus, St Boniface's College, in six years of its existence, by skilful direction and good organisation, had developed into an important secondary school in the county of Devon. In the same year Justin was appointed superior of the community.
One year later, Justin arrived in Stoke-on-Trent as superior headmaster on 1 September 1938. He was replacing Br Carthage Wall, who had been headmaster of the school since its foundation in 1932. The school was by now widely admired. Seven months on in office, Justin was in the position to judge the herculean labours of Br Carthage: 'I come now to reap, leisurely, the fruit of his labours.' He set about forming extra classrooms, introducing a new syllabus at Higher Certificate level and planning to have a two-stream structure throughout the school by the year 1941-1942. He felt that by then the school would have really reached 'reasonable maturity'. The desire to reach such 'reasonable maturity' fired the headmaster and staff to work strenuously, and the pupils responded. Justin was very fortunate to have ten Brothers on his staff. It is no wonder that he was able to report a healthy involvement in the varied out-of-class activities, such as debating, scientific and choral societies, the successful effort of the ‘war weapons’ week, the flourishing charity collections in the school, and the valuable war-help given to the farming community in the summer vacation by the senior boys.
On 1 September 1939, World War II became a reality. The following are snippets from the school annals:
Despite the war strain and the altered conditions in the home, the boys in the examination classes exceeded the most sanguine expectations in the extent and quality of their success...
Games every afternoon, with dispensation of all homework, proved in the eyes of the boys as good as a holiday...
The evacuees from London have settled down nicely in their new surroundings...
Five air-raid shelters were constructed on the school grounds, giving ample accommodation for pupils and staff.
For five years Justin's headship was conducted under conditions of war, with resulting restrictions in many aspects of ordinary living--food rationing, air raids, black-outs, curfew, etc. Against all odds, he was resolved that the College would be prepared for future educational developments. Applications for increased grants-in-aid were made to Stoke Education Authority and to the County Authorities. He even presented the Ministry with detailed financial estimates for 1945-46 and 1946-47. His efforts were well rewarded. These years of academic consolidation were to result in his successor being in the happy position to apply for Direct Grant Status (1944 Education Act), and subsequently to receive this recognition on the 6 October 1945. Hundreds of pupils were able to take advantage of the new status of the College to move into tertiary education and, subsequently, into the professions. This is a success story for which Justin Dowling must be given the credit.
Among the war evacuees from the island of Guernsey in 1941 was a party of boys and De La Salle Brothers who came to settle in Altrincham, Cheshire. After some time they were accommodated in a large detached house, called 'Oakleigh', outside the town. At the cessation of hostilities in Europe, the De La Salle superior of the school was directed by the Bishop of Shrewsbury to close down the building at the end of the summer term, and the Bishop invited the Provincial of the newly formed English Province to re-open the school in September 1945. To this end, Br Justin, the new headmaster, arrived at the station on 2 September and was met by Canon Donnelly. They both went to inspect 'Oakleigh' and found the place in utter disorder. The re-opening of the school was fixed for Monday, 14 September, when eighty pupils were registered. With the help of Brs David Lennon and Cornelius Carey, classes were begun in four large classrooms at 'Oakleigh House' in very adverse circumstances, but new and more suitable quarters were to be soon provided. One who was around at the time, Br Feargal O'Brien, makes a valuable contribution.
Due to the astuteness and efforts of Justin, the school was reopened on the agreed date. Again, due to the tact and energy of Justin and his companions, the school was transferred to the present house, 'Woodeaves', at Hale Barns, a beautiful residential district two miles from 'Oakleigh', in the Altrincham suburbs. The school got off to a good start in its new surroundings, but with very limited accommodation. Much work needed to be done, but a licence from the Ministry of Works was necessary for any structural building. The granting of the licence was delayed again and again. When all hope failed, Justin, in desperation, decided to commence a school novena to Br Edmund Rice. On the first morning of the novena the licence arrived in the morning post, and Justin's novena became one of thanksgiving. The alterations went ahead, and they considerably enhanced the amenities of the budding school. The seed was firmly laid for the establishment of the present, flourishing St Ambrose College. Fifty years on, the site encompasses the Provincialate, the community house of the Brothers, and a school with superb facilities, all on a beautiful tree-lined campus. This very brief account does not do justice to the sterling work undertaken by Justin and his colleagues during the stringent building restrictions enforced after World War II had ended.
Though unique and idiosyncratic in many respects, there is no gainsaying Justin's devoted labours over seventy years in the Lord's service-no gainsaying his dedication as a Christian Brother in the footsteps of Edmund Ignatius Rice.
I am indebted to Brs Titus Coffey and John Sreenan for their memories of Justin in Liverpool:
My first time living with Br Jeremiah Justin Dowling was in 1949 at St Edward's College, Liverpool. Br J. Placidus Hooper had just taken over as superior and headmaster, and Br Justin was his sub-superior and deputy headmaster. Justin taught physics in forms five and six. This was hard work for him. He had been headmaster in Plymouth, then in St Joseph's, Stoke, and finally, from 1945 to 1948, he had been in charge of the opening in Altrincham. He must have been rusty in his physics, but he did not shirk the chore, and he settled down to hard study and revision. He taught very much from the book, with little emphasis on practical work. Having said that, it is important to note that very many of his students read physics at university and were highly successful. His laboratory, cupboards and stores were all securely locked, so it was difficult to share a laboratory with him. “Yes,” he would say, “the cupboard is locked, but there is no point opening it; there is nothing in it!”
He also coached rugby football and took charge of the Second XV who conquered all before them but no way were players to be taken from his squad to fill gaps for the First XV. He was heard giving instructions to his forwards during half-time: “In the line-out, give the ball a good hard knock-on, follow up quickly, root with the boot, and shout feet, feet" It worked, and his results were very good. Some of his winning scores were worthy of the Guinness Book of Records.
He was patently even-tempered. Theologically, he was well ahead of his time: he never answered a question, but asked another one in a most TLC way--he would be a great leader today! His right hand did not know what his left hand was doing. He had no close friends, but he related affably and superlatively with all. (All his adjectives were in the superlative!) With time, I learned to admire Justin very much. A lesser man would have folded up after being 'shot down' following the 1947 Chapter, when he was reduced permanently to the ranks. No, Justin did not sulk, or leave. In his own way he got down to hard work, doing revision and updating himself. He taught long and well at O and A Levels, and that well into his seventies.
Justin's second visit to St Brendan's, Bristol, was in August 1953, when he became sub-superior and bursar of the community for three years. His term of office was not renewed, and he was appointed to St Joseph's College, Blackpool, as head of physics and bursar to both school and house. He arrived in Blackpool, where he was destined to labour for nineteen years, in September 1956. Given the length of time he spent there, it is not surprising that the stories which circulate about him are numerous and that the impact he made on pupils and staff was formidable. He was hardly a year in St Joseph's when the permanent arthritic condition in his right knee flared up again. He applied for the use of a bicycle on medical grounds. He even had a FRCS write a letter to support his plea. Letters went back and forth and eventually the famous bike arrived. It was to become a feature of the Blackpool skyline. Justin detested changes from one community house to another after only a short period of residence. After he had spent a 'mere three years' in Blackpool, the powers-that-be notified him of a transfer. He was extremely upset and disturbed, and decided to appeal. Reason and prayers prevailed on both sides, and he was allowed to stay.One Brother who was in Blackpool to greet Justin on his arrival was Leo Augustine Anthony. He writes:
I was in the community in Blackpool from 1955 to 1959 when Br Justin Dowling was Head of Science and bursar. You could say that there was none such as JJD, who had his own way of doing things. One incident that remains firmly entrenched in my mind is the following. I was taking private tuition for the university examination and had to present a bill to Br Dowling for settlement. After waiting for what I thought was a reasonable time to receive the cheque, I was surprised to be informed by him: “These men don't want to be paid at once; they prefer to wait. If you pay them immediately, it upsets their books.” How could I argue with that? To give Justin his due, the cheque was received in time for the next lesson.
I found him encouraging and supportive, and a good example for religious regularity. But sharing and dialogue were several decades in the future. I thought he was somewhat aloof but that was probably because we dined at opposite ends of the community table, and, as I was teaching in the Preparatory School, our paths crossed only infrequently. Br Justin was a very hard worker. He belonged to that group of Brothers who built up the high scholastic reputation of the Christian Brothers' schools in England during the middle of the twentieth century.
One of the aspects of composing a picture of a man who has entered one's own life is to gaze on facets of him that never came into focus. The broad lines of the picture fit into place, but it is the little brush strokes that make the picture fascinating, colourful and dynamic. Here Br Edward Egan makes a valuable contribution:
I first met Brother Justin (or 'Juck', as he was familiarly known) in 1961, at St Joseph's, Blackpool. At that time he was head of the Physics Department and kept a jealous hold of the keys of the physics laboratory. Justin was a powerful build of a man, with snow-white hair and a fine ruddy complexion. He used to quote phrases such as: “Keep a' it and a' it till you ge' it.” Or: “But the boys L-O-V-E to study their physics.” Or again: “You need only to tell them, and they L-O-V-E to do what they are T-O-L-D” (These quotes must be heard: print is drab, dead!) He had a soft homely Dublin accent and was a friendly man. He was also quite a character, with his own strongly individualistic ways in an age when such individualism was frowned upon by authorities in the religious life. I remember, once, when someone mentioned a contemporary film version of the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Justin was seen to blush slightly. This could indicate that he had sneaked off to view this film, which at that time would be considered a little risqué. This is another example of Justin's liberal stance in an age that was pre-Vatican II in mentality.
In his unique way Justin impressed on staff that money was a valuable possession and, like precious metal, not easy to come by. He felt that he should hold on to it as long as possible - interest was accruing! A newly arrived member to the College staff, Mr Michael Butterworth, tells his story:
I first met Br Dowling in September 1966. At that time ‘Joe Snow', as he was called by the lay members of staff, was the College Bursar and hence responsible for pay. I went to see him, armed with various documents, P45's, etc., in order to sort out my salary. First impressions of him were of a soft-spoken person of a kindly, gentle nature, and apologetic because it would not be easy to fix my salary. He was a tall gentleman, but showing slight signs of a stoop. His words were measured, and I almost had to strain to listen to him. Clearly, he was held in much affection by the boys of the College, for, as they passed by whilst he talked, they all spoke to him and were genuinely pleased to see him. He knew them all by name and was more than ready to talk to them rather than discuss my pay. There was a twinkle in his eye and a shy smile as he conversed with them.
The end of September came, but no pay for me. So, at the end of the morning school, I waited at the foot of the flight of stairs which led up to the advanced physics laboratory, but Br Dowling did not appear. The next day I was successful in meeting him but, unfortunately, he was unable to pay me, since he awaited a reply from my previous employer to his questions. Another month passed, and it was the end of October. Surely I would now be paid. Apologetically Brother said: “I am very sorry, Mr Butterworth, but I cannot pay you yet, as 1 do not know where you are placed on the salary scale. However, I could lend you some money. Would you like to borrow £5?” Eventually my pay was resolved. I remember the hand-written cheques and the pay slips. It does not seem it is almost thirty years ago since I admired the unmistakable style of writing, the clarity of the figures and the neatness of the pay envelope with my name on the front. Everything was orderly and well presented with Brother. He was a shy, retiring person, but always pleased to hold conversation when we met. I remember the warmth of his greeting and handshake at the start of each new term, the aroma of TCP in the morning following his ritual gargle, and, above all, that shy smile and soft brogue. He was a true gentleman and a fine teacher. My only regret was that I did not know him when he was younger.
Br Colmán Ó’Briain writes from Dublin:
Justin was a tall strapping man of late middle age with a slight limp. He ran his physics department efficiently. Although talkative almost to the point of garrulity, he always kept his cards close to his chest. He took part in the thrust and parry of community gatherings, but he seldom committed himself to topics under discussion. He always avoided confrontation, and I seldom saw him display signs of irritation or annoyance. My relations with him were always cordial, but we were never really very close. I had the feeling that he did not always approve of my activities, especially if they cost money. He taught his selected students well, and his exam results were well up to par. In later years, when I visited him in St Patrick's and his memory was fading, he was still the flatterer of old! But he fought the good fight.
In 1975, the Brothers withdrew from St Joseph's College, Blackpool, and Br Justin went to Prior Park College in Bath. St Joseph's amalgamated with the nearby Convent School and so formed the new St Mary's RC High School. The present headmaster of this school is Mr Peter McCarthy, a former pupil of Justin and a former teacher at St Joseph's. He writes:
Br Dowling-an enigmatic and eccentric character! I can only remember him from about 1958, when I was in the sixth form and he was the sixth form science tutor. He taught me A Level physics. As a tutor he insisted on morning and evening prayers, including the full litany of the Blessed Virgin-no mean feat to get away with in a male Sixth Form. Even when he failed to arrive at the end of the day, we still said it! Sixth form RE was always difficult; his technique was to make us read Radio Replies, and Sheehan's Apologetics. In spite of refusing discussion of issues and explanations, I still remember much of the content, and his unassailable, apparently simple, faith. “It's the gift of the faith, boys!”, he would say. I don't think I ever saw him upset, angry or disturbed, in spite of the challenge of the uncouth youths that we were. His personal life made little impression on us, other than the fact that 'Joe Snow' rode his bike in all weathers. He was never off ill and always looked disgustingly healthy, with rosy cheeks. I think we used to try to catch him out with various tricks and pitfalls, even in the sixth form! He never succumbed; he probably knew what was going on and avoided or subverted our attempts. Years later, when I returned to St Joseph's on the staff, he was still going strong as bursar. I was struck by his efficient and effective organisation. Documents, PAYE, salaries, were never wrong, unlike what pertains with today's computer-driven LEA administration. All was impeccably written in copperplate.
When the Brothers left in 1975, I was responsible for clearing the house with Denis Martin (R.I.P.). We discovered that Brother's room had never been modernised: he had stocks of tinned food dating back years, and unwrapped but dated physics apparatus in drawers, cupboards and under floorboards. I think he used to stay in the house all summer and fend for himself. He always seemed a man of inner peace and independent strength, who in one sense was otherworldly, but whose management of finance indicated otherwise. I suppose my memory will be of a man who was confident in his faith, unflappably calm in all circumstances, with an inner serenity that was both infuriating and something to envy.
Justin was 73 years old when he moved to Prior Park, where he was community bursar. Br Coffey (Provincial) recalls:
He still kept up his exercises and walks and enjoyed meeting with pupils and staff. At this time he had a hip replacement operation because of arthritis. The care he received in hospital was not the best, and his heels became sore from having to lie all the time on his back. Justin bore all this suffering with great patience and cheerfulness, and the nurse at Prior, Nurse Keighery, was amazed at his endurance in spite of the agony and discomfort these sores must have caused him over many months. When Prior Park was handed over to lay management he had to move to St Joseph's Boarding House, Plymouth. He had, at long last, trained himself to accept change cheerfully. Plymouth held many happy memories for him from his young days.
Edward Egan takes up the story:
Justin was less mobile now, and needed a walking stick for his bad hip. He still had a smile and a word for everyone. However, because he lived in the small gatehouse to save a lot of walking, one did not meet him as often as one did the rest of the community, except at meals and in the chapel. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, Justin had begun to show signs of senility, and, while waiting outside the chapel hours before the time for prayer did not do any harm, his getting up in the middle of the night to cook breakfast could have resulted in danger to the boarding-house and its occupants. One severe winter's day, when Plymouth was snow-bound and there was no traffic on the roads, Justin toddled off without hat, scarf or coat and nearly succumbed to hypothermia. After that, it was decided that it would be prudent to arrange for his transfer to the Brothers' Nursing Home at Baldoyle, as he had become a danger to himself and others. There he would receive excellent medical care and have constant supervision. But, even in Baldoyle, he learnt to slip away. Br Justin impressed me as a sincere religious Brother, with great kindness and humanity, and a healthy dose of liberal thought. It was a privilege to have shared his life, if only for a brief time.
Justin arrived in Baldoyle on 9 April 1986. He suffered from senile confusion during his four years in St Patrick's. In other respects he had remarkably good health. He loved walking, and he loved meeting people, even those who were complete strangers. As a native of Dublin, he availed of his intimate knowledge of the city to make his way from time to time to the scenes familiar to him from his youth. This was often an occasion for concern for his safety in getting across busy roads and streets. Yet, somehow, he came through safely. All his life he never failed in courtesy and affability, and so it was to his dying moments. He retained to this 'second birth' those characteristics that identified him throughout his seventy-three years as a loyal son of Edmund.
He died on Monday, 21 May 1990, at 12.30 p.m. For some weeks before, he was noticeably declining. His passing out of this world was free from pain and distress. His sister, Eileen, his nephew, his niece, other family members and many Christian Brothers from the English and Irish Provinces were present at Holy Mass on Wednesday morning, His funeral was to the adjoining cemetery. Brother Justin Dowling accepted the great challenge-not only to live well, but to die well. He presented to his Creator his greatest gift, and he adored. Now he knows, as never before, that God indeed is Love.
May be rest in his love.
May God grant us all the grace of perseverance in his holy service.
May our endeavours to diffuse and establish the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the hearts of his little ones be attended with success, to his divine honour and glory and the salvation of their immortal souls.
(From the oldest surviving History of the Society, 1802-1822)
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