Brother Samuel Finbar O'Leary (1901-70)
Obituary by P. A. McKenna
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we have loved the brethren (I Jn 3:14).
The pursuit of holiness is a duty incumbent on all Christians. Our human nature is imperfect and we must constantly strive to overcome our faults. Our Lord insists on the demands of the Cross, ‘It is the man who loses his life for my sake and for the Gospel's sake that will save it’ (Mk 8:35). It has been said that God rarely dwells in a healthy body, for the nearness of God is fatal to the body, ‘No man shall see me and remain alive.’ (Exodus 33:20) The way to God is the way of the Cross.
It may not be without significance that the subject of this obituary, Brother Finbar O'Leary, found more peace and contentment during his twenty-five years in St Joseph's College, Blackpool, than he did elsewhere in the English Province. The motto on the college crest ‘In Cruce Vita’ was a constant reminder and a source of comfort to him in bearing with heroic patience the periodic attacks of asthma by which he was afflicted from early manhood. It was during an attack of this ailment that God called him to his eternal reward during the night of 5th December 1970.
Of his early life at home his brother John writes:
Samuel Christopher O'Leary was born on 23 December 1901 at Elizabeth Place, Southern Road, Cork. He was the second of the seven children (five boys and two girls) of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary. After a few years at the Model National School he went in 1911 to CBS, Sullivan's Quay, where he passed the Junior Grade examination with honours. Proceeding to the North Monastery, he sat for Middle Grade examination there in 1917 and passed.
Among the brothers who taught him I can recall Brother Pakenham in his early days and Brothers Valerian Ryan and Norbert Allen in Middle Grade. He spoke of them all with high regard but I think that Brother Allen had the greatest influence on him. In a letter dated 1952, after meeting his old teacher, he wrote to me of Brother Allen's sincerity, his goodness, his humility, and he added, 'I still remember his burning and intense instructions.'
Though never ill in his boyhood years, a serious childhood illness left its mark; he was never robust and took only a small part in outdoor games. His greatest loves, revealed early in life, were reading and music. He read everything on his father's well-lined shelves and during holidays was almost a daily visitor to the local Carnegie Library. In later life he was grateful to his father for directing and encouraging his reading of good literature. His parents were great lovers of music, and the early records of John McCormack, songs of Ireland, and arias from Maritana, The Bohemian Girl, and such like were frequently heard in the home and repeated during the family parties around the piano. The school choirs in the Quay and the Mon provided the foundation for his knowledge of singing and harmony.
His sixteen years at home passed serenely and were unmarked by anything outstanding, except for this-- I can't recall one unpleasant incident, can't remember his ever being involved in a row in the house, nor can I recall ever hearing his parents say a cross word to him. I can remember only his gentleness, his unfailing kindness to us all, and his happiness, so apparent, at being at home with his parents and brothers and sisters, which seemed to be all he needed. Music, good reading, an ardent love of country, the counting of one's blessings --- these were the priceless legacy he received from his good parents, and they filled his life all down the years.
A mention of his father's association with our congregation might not be out of place in relation to Finbar's choice of vocation. A past pupil of the North Monastery, Pat O'Leary remained an admirer of the Christian Brothers all his life, and was proud of his friendship with many of them. Perhaps his closest friend at the end of the last century was Brother Dominic Burke, the celebrated superior of the North Monastery in the 1880s, whom he actively assisted in collecting the famous museum items which adorned almost every classroom. He was honorary secretary of the Brother Burke Memorial Bazaar in 1899, a gigantic undertaking for those times, when some eight million tickets were sent all over the world, from the profits of which Brother Burke was able to restore and repair the nearly century-old school buildings, to extend them, and to set his loved school on a fair course to the eminence it reached and held in those grantless years.
The 1911 Centenary Pageant found Pat O'Leary again honorary secretary, but this time two of his sons were participants, one in the choir and Finbar as a dancer! It is not surprising then that this association was crowned with great joy for him when his second son revealed his desire to become a Christian Brother. This Joy was increased in no small measure some eleven years later when his youngest son followed Finbar and became Brother Dermot, now in St Helen's Province, Ireland. Two further members of the family took example from Finbar: one is now Sister Carmel, of the Presentation Convent, Lismore; and the other, Father Valerian O.F.M.CAP., superior of the Capuchin house in Fresno, California, and a very close friend of the Christian Brothers in Los Angeles.
Samuel O'Leary was one of a group of postulants who arrived at St Joseph's Juniorate, Baldoyle, on 2nd July 1917. He naturally felt somewhat disconsolate, as did the others who entered that day, as his thoughts wandered back to the home and the loved ones he had abandoned to follow Christ. However, football, rounders, and daily walks to the strand at Portmarnock for a swim during those warm summer days helped to relieve his nostalgia. Sam was physically perhaps the frailest of all, but he was in no way disposed to shirk any of the prescribed recreations. Walking had always been a favourite pastime of his and this form of exercise he indulged in all through his life. It would have been difficult to find a more congenial companion at such times, and in conversation he was never at a loss for topics of general interest stored in his memory from early boyhood.
Having spent two months in the Juniorate, Sam, together with fourteen of his fellow-postulants, was chosen to receive the habit. The retreat for aspirants in March and October was usually conducted by the master of novices, and all who were fortunate enough to make such retreats were greatly influenced spiritually by Brother Baptist Welsh's exposition of the art of communing with God. On the feast of the Holy Rosary, 5 October 1917, the fifteen were clothed with the habit and Samuel O'Leary was given the name of Finbar, patron and founder of the city of Cork. The late Brothers Daniel Gibbons and Leo Casey, who laboured for many years in the English Province, were received on the same day.
It has been said that life in a novitiate or, for that matter, a whole lifetime spent in religion does not change fundamentally a person's character. Grace accepts nature, builds on it, and perfects it, so that even great holiness develops rather than destroys one's personality. During the novitiate year Brother Finbar fostered an intense love for the Eucharist and an earnest desire to conform with God's will. This is exemplified in the last letter he addressed to Sister Carmel some ten days before his death and in reference to the death of his brother Paddy, who had never failed to meet him every summer since 1917. He wrote:
'Paddy's death was willed in the goodness of God from the aeons of eternity. He who willed so much happiness for us in the intervening years has now willed happiness of a far greater kind by calling Paddy to himself to join our beloved Mam and Dad in the mansions of the blest. I feel Paddy is still with me, or I feel in a kind of twilit world --- half in this and half in the next --- when I kneel down in the chapel in the dusk of the evening, nearer to God because of him and them.’
After the year's novitiate Brother Finbar's group proceeded to the senior side and resumed secular studies. About this time the 1918 influenza epidemic swept through the country, proving more devastating in terms of human lives than the World War being waged at that time. Despite the fact that most of the novices on both sides of the house were infected, there was no fatality; but Brother Finbar's respiratory organs scarcely escaped the evil effects, and this may have contributed to his ailment six years later.
In the six months spent on the senior side, all who aspired to teaching were expected to acquire the fundamental principles of class management under the guidance of the late Brother Berchmans Reid. Soon after pronouncing his first annual vows on Christmas Day 1918, Brother Finbar, now aged eighteen, joined the community of St Michael's Place, Limerick. He was given charge of a classroom with 133 boys. One who lived with him at the time gives his impressions as follows:
Though he was of light frame, he was healthy and vigorous, and took an active part in outdoor games. He was very talented, and being of a studious disposition made rapid progress, particularly in mathematics, Latin and Irish, becoming a fluent Irish speaker. He had inherited a strong attachment to the Institute and was keenly interested in its traditions. At that time our schools were not connected with the Department of Education and finances were low. The classrooms were large and lofty, poorly heated, and furnished with long benches which bore the appearance of having been in use since the school was founded. With so many pupils, class control was not easy. Nevertheless, though he was not severe, Finbar maintained strict discipline and from the outset showed a natural aptitude for teaching. For about three years all went well. He was happy and carefree, a most agreeable and sociable companion. Then he was afflicted with a heavy and persistent attack of asthma, an ailment from which he was to suffer with varying degrees of intensity for the rest of his life and which eventually caused his death.
When he recovered, his old verve and vivacity were gone. His whole personality had been affected. It soon became evident that he no longer had the physical energy required to deal with the large classes in the Limerick school, and he was transferred to Adare.
School work here was perhaps less exacting than in St Michael's Place, but asthma and nasal trouble persisted. Brother Finbar underwent an operation in Dublin and for twelve months he did light work in St Joseph's, Baldoyle.
In September 1925 Finbar was sent to Great Crosby, Liverpool. Though loving Ireland intensely, he accepted the mission assigned to him at St Mary's College in a spirit of detachment, knowing that annual vacations would afford him the opportunity of revisiting his native land, and perhaps recalling the words of Shakespeare's Gaunt:
‘All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to the wise man ports and happy havens.’
Now in his twenty-fourth year he began his apostolate in England and, over a period of forty-five years, taught in eight of our English foundations. In four instances his efforts were involved in tasks of a pioneering nature --- in London, in Stoke-on-Trent, in Falkland (Scotland), and in North Wales during the early years of the war.
When he joined the community of St Mary's, Crosby, in 1925, that establishment had just been granted recognition as a secondary school. Brother Patrick Duggan was superior, a headmaster who maintained a discipline that was somewhat stern and aimed at standards that were challenging and high. Brother O'Leary was one of two young brothers whose work was mainly concerned with what was known as the prep department, comprising the then forms 1 and 2, as the 11+ boys entered form 3. Here he maintained a standard of work which meant that the pupils who passed through his hands were well able to keep pace with, if not outstrip, those who entered the main school by means of the scholarship examination.
He implanted a liking for reading in the young boys he taught, and the thoroughness and accuracy of his mathematical teaching made their transition to the main school course an easy one. Not a few of those who received their initial grounding at his hands reached school certificate standard at a remarkably early age. There was a growing enthusiasm for games and on most Wednesday and Saturday afternoons he had his young pupils playing in whatever corner of the school field could be filched from the space required by the older boys. The annual St Patrick's Day concert was an important feature of the school year, and he was constantly about at practices and rehearsals doing many of the various chores demanded. Though his class work may not have required a great deal of preparation, he devoted much time to his own preparation for his university studies.
One of Finbar's pupils at St Mary's in 1925 writes the following:
A writer of fiction makes one of his characters say to a friend, 'Remember me at my best.' When a man is at his best it is difficult to say, but it is probable that this is so before attacks of ill-health or the noon-day devil appear. I am referring to Brother Finbar O'Leary at a time when he was about twenty-three years of age. I can still see him coming into the history lesson in form 3. He was dark-haired, slim of build, of pallid complexion, looking every bit the religious teacher by reason of his serious demeanour. We took no liberties with him; he had perfect control, taught us thoroughly, and expected and secured high standards of preparation and written work. Yet he was no killjoy; he could share a joke, asked us for our opinions, was always approachable. We felt secure with him. He had a plan of campaign and adhered to it, weekly and throughout the year.
He was a good religious and a good schoolmaster, ever courteous with his pupils and demanding courteous behaviour from one and all. Of course, school work was comparatively easy in those days in Crosby; there were none of the modern distractions for any of us. We went to school to learn our lessons and he gave us very real assistance to do just that. He evidently enjoyed those years, for on the few occasions we met subsequently he referred to them with pleasure. His health could not have been very good even then; six years later he had bad attacks of asthma and allied complaints and nearly succumbed when he was stationed in Stoke in the pioneer community there. Those who knew only the later Finbar may not recognise the same person, but it is well to remember the changes that indifferent health can work in a man. Characteristic was the last time we met: he handed me a photograph of my class group taken at St Mary's in 1926; he had preserved it carefully down the years, and might almost have had a premonition of his end when he parted with it after forty-three years.
On Christmas Day 1926 Brother Finbar made his final profession at Marino. Having completed the prescribed course of grade examinations he entered for the London matriculation and applied for enrolment at St Mary's Teacher Training College, Twickenham. The residence at 38 Strawberry Hill Road was acquired on 15 September 1927 as a hostel for the brothers attending the training college and pursuing London University studies. Brother Hugh McDonald was appointed superior and eight brothers, including Finbar as sub-superior, took up residence in the house under the patronage of St Thomas Aquinas. This was his first pioneering mission. Brother Gerald Bullen recalls some of his impressions of Finbar, with whom he kept in touch for forty years:
My first personal contact with Brother Finbar was made in St Aquin's, Strawberry Hill, which was then the house of studies for those who went through the English novitiate. He was sub-superior and in his third year of the programme for the BA degree. The year was 1929 and I was just out of the novitiate. Having been selected to follow a science programme I had a rather different schedule from that of the other scholastics and in particular was in laboratories each afternoon. It was a strange, and for me a lucky, coincidence that I was appointed walk companion to Finbar and in a very short time we became close friends. At the time Finbar was professed a couple of years and I had not yet made first profession --- a big difference between us in both age and status --- but this did not prevent our sharing of aspirations and enjoying mutual understanding. During this period the asthmatic condition which was to afflict Finbar for most of his life was dormant and he enjoyed good health in spite of a general delicacy of constitution. Walking was a pleasure to which he looked forward, and the former custom of the evening walks was adhered to quite strictly.
By nature Finbar was refined and easily hurt, almost to the point of being temperamental. He was very gifted intellectually and studied hard to utilize his potential, so that in later years he could handle English, Latin, mathematics, and history right to the top of the school. His performance on both violin and piano brought him and the community much pleasure. Above all, Finbar was a deeply spiritual man, his frequent references to novitiate days indicating the deep impression his training period had made on him. He once told me that he said a Te Deum every day after Communion for having persevered so far and for the grace to end his life as a brother.
In 1930 Brother Finbar was awarded the degree of BA of London University and then he returned to Crosby, where he was warmly, welcomed back by pupils who appreciated all he had done for them before going to London. By this time Brother Robinson had commenced his drive to raise the school to the very high academic and sporting standard it eventually reached, and Brother Finbar contributed to maintaining the impetus of the all-out effort. It was not easy, and Finbar did not spare himself --- until he had a slight setback in his health. On his recovery he did not return to St Mary's.
My own happy memories of him, writes Mr Edward LawIer, a member of the staff at St Mary's, --- are of a model young dedicated brother who spared himself in no way in giving the boys he taught the right standard of Christian thought and behaviour by example and precept, and in holding before them academic standards to strive for in their school work. The lay staff at the time, only a small one, had the happiest relations with the brothers, and Brother O'Leary was remembered with affection by staff and boys. Though his periods at the school were so short, his remarkable knowledge of it and his insight into its workings were very vividly revealed in the magnificent speech he made at the dinner which Brother Taylor, headmaster of St Marv's, arranged to follow the concelebrated Mass to mark the golden jubilee of the school. The choice of Brother O'Leary to speak on that occasion was an inspired one; his eloquence, his wit, his happy phraseology, made a tremendous and lasting impression on all who had the privilege of hearing him.
In October 1931 the Archbishop of Birmingham, Most Reverend Thomas Williams, appealed to the Superior General for the services of the Christian Brothers at Stoke-on-Trent, a large industrial city and the centre of the pottery industry. In due course the premises were prepared for the opening of the school in September 1932 and the experienced and indefatigable Brother Carthage Wall was given charge of the foundation, with Finbar and the late Brother Sebastian Monk as his first community. Pioneering is generally exacting work and it was the custom of the community to leave the oratory at 6.15 a.m. daily to attend Mass at St Dominic's, Hartshill. Classes were held in improvised classrooms with boys whose ages ranged from six to fourteen. More than half the forty-six boys enrolled on 12 September were non-Catholics and fees were usually £10 per annum.
In January 1934 Brother Finbar was admitted to the North Staffordshire Infirmary to undergo a minor operation. Complications arose and it was deemed advisable that lie be anointed. Luckily, he improved, and he was sent for a month's rest to the juniorate in Ledsham. Finbar cherished happy memories of the early days at Trent Vale and was always glad to be invited back, and particularly so on the occasion of the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of St Joseph's in 1957.
In 1934 Finbar was changed to Bristol. Mr J. F. Duggan of the staff of St Brendan's, who taught with him, writes:
Brother O'Leary, during his period of service at St Brendan's, taught mathematics and geography with a patient and methodical approach adjusted to the pace at which the less gifted were able to go; for, though no indulger of slackers, he had a very real concern for those who needed most help and encouragement. This approach earned him the respect and affection of his classes, which he controlled with surprising firmness considering his frail physique and appearance. Despite his somewhat delicate health he was rarely absent, for he had a high sense of responsibility which led him to ignore his own needs where school work was concerned. He took a keen interest in school activities, particularly music. He was a dedicated student of the violin, and played well enough to take his place with the orchestra in the Gilbert and Sullivan production of 1938. He was a genial and likeable colleague with a sharp sense of fun and an ear for a good anecdote, even against himself.
And Brother Gerald Bullen continues:
We were together again in Bristol after nine years. Our meetings during the interim had been very short and this chance to renew an old friendship was for him a new lease of life. By this time his asthmatic condition had become the cause of some concern and his occasional periods in bed were a great trial to him, though class work took a heavy toll of his strength. However, his otherwise high spirits kept tip his interest in both scholastic and community affairs.
The times prior to the war clouds of 1939 were happy ones for Finbar, as he found the Bristol boys much to his taste and the classroom was very congenial. His change to Birkenhead in September 1939 proved to be a surprise, and our contact was broken for several years during the hostilities. I spent a few days with him on vacation in 1946 in Howth. His health by then was showing a decline. The rationing and many other privations took their toll, and even he himself admitted to me that he had passed his prime as a classroom man. After my transfer to the United States I kept up a correspondence with Finbar and managed to meet him for a few days each time I returned on vacation. At these meetings I could see the downward trend in health as the years passed, but the old spiritual outlook was the same.
Our last meeting in the summer of I970 in Dalkey apparently meant much to him ---perhaps after his several recent setbacks he realized that this could well be our last. Though he was far from well he insisted on going to the airport to see me off. As we said goodbye I felt that it could well be for the last time but promised to write more frequently and intensify the friendship that had lasted for over forty years. His sudden death came as a surprise but I realized that God had been kind to him in relieving his shoulders of the burden after faithful service beyond the golden jubilee mark.
In September 1939 Finbar was appointed sub-superior at St Anselm's College, Birkenhead. Early in that year a bill obliging all men on reaching the age of twenty to undergo six months military, training became law. All men born in England, and Irishmen resident in England for two years or more and within the prescribed ages were required to register. By arrangement with the Government it was conceded that religious under vows, novices in holy orders, and ecclesiastical students in philosophy whose names were registered would be posted into non-combatant services. Later on, conscription was introduced and it was agreed to exempt religious under vows from all military service.
During August, staffs in schools were ordered to return and be prepared to take charge of pupils whose parents wished them to be removed to a safe zone in the event of air attacks. Only two of our schools --- St Edward's, Liverpool, and St Anselm's, Birkenhead --- were considered to be in a high-danger zone. The parents of about half the number of children in these two establishments expressed the desire to have their children evacuated. Places of refuge were arranged in Wales and staffs accompanied the pupils. In letters to his brother John, Finbar described hardships of the days in St Anselm's, for Liverpool docks were targets for incessant bombing by German planes. Owing to censorship he said little but always appealed for prayers for the safety of all at St Anselm's. One letter told of sleeping every night in the furnace-room under the school; that is, trying to sleep to the deafening orchestra of bombs and guns and of turning to sleep when the lull came, only to be faced with a Iump of coal! From November 1939 to August 1940, he was in Dolerw, Newtown, Montgomery, Wales, in charge (with three other brothers) of 106 boys, evacuees from Birkenhead. A letter to his brother Liam (Brother Dermot) in November 1939 gives some insight into his third pioneering task:
Well, I arrived at Dolerw, escorted up the drive by two boys and a lay master to take over my first superiorship. I am acting superior here in the absence of Brother Bertrand Thompson in Birkenhead. Dolerw: shall I ever forget it! As I went up the drive there was no sign of a house till it came into view suddenly around a curve --- a two-storied straggling, darkish house surrounded by well-trimmed yew trees --- a fit setting, I thought, for a Sherlock Holmes story. It looked gloomy and sinister, as if brooding on its crimes. This impression was accentuated when I entered the hall by stained-glass swing doors. It was low-ceilinged and oak-panelled, dark, the walls bearing magnificent heads of deer and portraits of ancestors; truly a first class setting for a murder story, with nothing to be seen outside in any direction but green fields, well wooded, rising to grey hills all around. The opulence of the hall bespoke the wealth that lay behind it. The best description I can think of for the whole concern is that of Con O'Brien's house (Glenmalure) in Hangman’s House. A huge estate skirted by a mile of the River Severn, the house so hidden by big dark trees that only portions of it could be seen from any angle of the compass, set in a very big and beautiful valley surrounded by hills like a saucer --- that's Dolerw! When I tell you that the stables for the horses are of red brick you will have an idea of the size and style.
There are also stables for greyhounds, but there are only four horses and three greyhounds left, looked after by a groom. There is a very large vegetable garden, an orchard, not to speak of cows, pigs, hens, etc. We have our own electric plant. There are three brothers here, two lay teachers (one a lady), two maids, a gardener and, biggest responsibility of the lot, 106 boys billeted in houses in the town. The house is so big that we can use it as a school and a residence, with about half the available space unused. It is a funny thing to walk out of your bedroom across a corridor into your classroom. We have not the Blessed Sacrament in the house yet (and may never have!); beads every morning instead of Mass. We have Mass twice a week ---In the cinema on Sundays and in Newtown Hall on Thursdays. The owner of the cinema happens to be a Catholic (rare in \Vales).
In the house there is a magnificent billiard room where we while away many an hour. We let the boys play there too. They are fine fellows, tremendously attached to us who have come down here with them --- as loyal as the old North Mon or Quay boys at home .... Well, Liam, I could go on like this for hours, recounting one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Father Patrick Murray, who was then one of the brothers with Finbar, gives his own impressions of the man in those difficult days:
As in religious instruction so in the matter of rule he was very human; he had the deep faith of the Irish and in his parents he was singularly blessed. His observance of rule was not rigid, he allowed for circumstances, and he did much to make our life in Newtown more tolerable. He loved people and was less reserved with the parents of the pupils than was normal at the time, especially as the times required it. He was very hospitable, and this gave to Dolerw that happy family spirit which characterised the little group of evacuees in Newtown.
It is interesting to note that Dolerw is now a convent school, so that Finbar blazed the trail and helped to strengthen Catholicity in Wales. This is not a trite observation, since the evacuation was a big factor in the history of the diocese of Menevia. The Catholic evacuees helped to stimulate the Welsh people, who are deeply religious, and at the same time they were responsible for breaking down bigotry. I could develop this and show Finbar's contribution to an important development in this diocese, but he deserves to be remembered as a pioneer.
His letter to his brother about Siberian conditions in January 1940 is of interest, for this period brought out all that was good in him. One night we had a temperature of -10° F, the River Severn was frozen for weeks, and ice-hockey and snow fights were the order of the day. He knew how to relax at such times and soften the hardships of the boys during those wartime years. He gave me every necessary freedom to this end and encouraged initiative.
He understood boys, sympathized with their difficulties and encouraged the slower ones. He had a knack of seeing the humorous side of things, a trait which endeared him to his pupils. There was no guile in him, for he loved the simple things in life which struck an answering chord in his sensitive nature. He was an accomplished violinist and loved to play the songs of his native Ireland, finding in their beauty the balm which soothed his restless spirit, in quest of perfection in all he did. He often quoted Shakespeare, his favourite poet, and savoured the beauty of expression which clothed the richness of an idea. To say all this is not to say he was a pedant, for he disclosed himself only to kindred souls. He needed friends and he was a true friend to those whom he had chosen and tested. He was a kind and gentle religious who could divert conversation away from the verge of criticism by a humorous remark which put things in their proper perspective. He represented a generation which is passing away, a generation which observed the rules and yet remained individualistic. He was as much at home with young men as he was with his own contemporaries, for having given his life to the education of youth he remained always young at heart.
He was now in his thirty-ninth year; and bearing in mind his intense zeal in imparting religious instruction in all the classes he had taught in six of the colleges during fifteen years, the experience he had acquired in caring for the schooling and general well-being of the evacuees in Wales, and his outstanding academic qualifications, he might have been considered eminently qualified to hold office as superior and headmaster at St Anselm's, and some brothers thought, he was disappointed at not being selected. Doubtless, higher superiors kept in mind his physical condition and were reluctant to impose responsibilities that would entail strain and worry; in September 1942 he was changed to Blackpool. Here again he had Brother Richard Murray as confrere, who pays tribute as so many have done to Brother Finbar's zeal in religious instruction:
Now he had worked out an approach for his senior pupils which scorned the scholastic and appealed to the human needs of young men who were already heralding a change in Christian attitudes. He was one of those many teachers who were ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ahead of the clergy in this vital question of renewal in catechetics. His devotion to spiritual reading placed him in the main stream of theology in the Church which has developed so rapidly in this century. It is here that the greatness of men like Finbar lies, even though they did not realise it at the time.
I was Finbar's walk partner in Blackpool and came to know his disappointments, especially that he had never been made headmaster. He knew his own merits and weaknesses, and this is humility, but he kept bravely on to the end. How admirable in the light of so many defections in the Church today! As Brother Dominic Taylor said to me last year, 'Such men were taken for granted.' Their devotion to work was taken for granted; not so today. I need not say that his personal religious life was an example to all, with enough of human weakness to make him all the rnore lovable. He wanted to be buried in Blackpool; 'I will leave my bones in Blackpool,' he used to say, and that saying required courage from a Corkman who remained intensely Irish as long as I knew him.
Mr Thomas Duddy, a pupil at St Joseph's, Blackpool, from 1945 to 1953, tells us how Finbar was regarded by the schoolboys of those days:
I can truthfully say that in the whole course of my education from infant school to post-graduate studies I never encountered a better teacher. My first memories of him are of his playing the harmonium in the chapel for school benedictions and his playing of the violin in what was then the tiny school orchestra. Indeed, one of the pleasures of being ill at St Joseph's was to be visited by Brother O'Leary and to hear him practise the violin in his room, which was adjacent to the sick bay. Another of my earliest memories of him was the facility he had for mending fountain-pens -- a very useful and much-utilized skill in the days before ball-points.
We youngsters in 1945 were not of course his pupils. We watched him walk down corridors in the company of sixth formers and were struck with awe, suspecting even then that to be taught by Brother O'Leary was something special. And indeed it was, as we found out when we were privileged to have him for mathematics in our fourth Year. For me at any rate he made mathematics come to life. Who among his pupils could forget that the theorem of Pythagoras could be proved in three lines by means of similar triangles? And surely all remember his pack of numbered cards (each number corresponding to a particular pupil) so that no boys would be favourably questioned or unfavourably neglected. I have used the method in class myself.
It was unfortunate for us in Blackpool that he was required to serve in other places for three years, but we welcomed him back in 1953 when I was spending a third year in the sixth form. And it was during that year that I came to know him well and love him, as we all did, as teacher and friend. This was especially so in religion classes where what you are is more important, in my opinion, than what you know. Brother O'Leary was everything that an ideal teacher and religious should be. He loved God, and his pupils for God's sake. He was the first person I heard give real meaning to the word charity, told us of its, importance and how to practise it, but most of all showed us how to practise it by the example of his everyday life. Those of us who were boarders were fortunate indeed to live in comparatively close association with the brothers.
Brother O'Leary had a marvellous knack of keeping in touch with past pupils. His Christmas post was phenomenal both in its volume and in the diversity of its origin. Small wonder that people wished at least to remember him at Christmas. At all important and significant moments of my post-school life I have received letters, help, and encouragement from Brother O'Leary, and I am sure that many others can say the same.
After two short years in Falkland and one in Prior Park we find him once more in Blackpool, where he was to remain until the end. His superior there for six of these years comments on Finbar as a religious teacher:
Cordial relations with his pupils were obvious in the case of Brother Finbar. Never a driver, but always guide, philosopher, and friend, he led his pupils smoothly along the paths of learning. An omnivorous reader, he was well equipped for his main task, the instruction of senior boys. This was especially the case with regard to the teaching of religion. Understanding that the best that one can get by consent is better than the very best achieved by other means, he consciously adopted a sympathetic approach. He ensured that every member of the class participated in discussions and in the choice of topics to be discussed. The order in which the topics were taken was dictated by the length of time Finbar foresaw would be needed for reading and note-taking to master each subject. Thus, each discussion found him well prepared and, with the extraordinary command of English for which he was noted, he shed a clear light on spiritual truths as he 'lured to brighter worlds and led the way.'
Of course, not all the time was given to discussion. He was well aware of the religious needs of boys in their later teens. All aspects of religion essential for them received due attention as time and circumstances dictated. His eloquent discourses stirred the hearts of the boys as with gentle touch he helped them to achieve the fullness of their stature in Christ. Many past pupils wrote to express their gratitude and appreciation, and not a few declared that never in after life had they heard a religious discourse which could compare with those delivered by Finbar.
And to complete the picture of this Christian Brother, Norbert Glespen, who lived with him at Blackpool when his life was in its final stage, gives us the following insight:
When I first came to know Finbar he had just returned from a long period of hospitalization and convalescence in Ireland. He was a jubilarian and his active teaching career was finished. He was terribly enfeebled and incapable of anything beyond the minimum in the way of physical activity. He tended to fret under his physical handicaps and regretted his inability to take his share in the ordinary work of the community. The loneliness of inactivity weighed upon his spirit.
Mentally he was as active as ever and, humanly speaking, his greatest solace lay in conversation, correspondence, and reading. On matters literary, theological, and historical he was a brilliant conversationalist. Proposition followed proposition with an inexorable logic worthy of a medieval philosopher. His ideas were always expressed in fluent and elegant English. In style he was, perhaps, a little too didactic -- for Finbar was always the schoolmaster -- but then such topics often lent themselves to such a style.
He did not shine to the same extent in general conversation, principally because of a lack of objectivity in his outlook. In such conversation the matter under discussion would soon cease to be abstract and would be treated in a highly subjective fashion. His contributions would be interlarded with copious anecdotes of how he, or some other stalwart of the past, had at one time or another dealt with a situation similar to that being discussed. These anecdotes at times imposed a strain upon the faith of his auditors. Finbar was, at least in his last years, very much laudator temporis acti. He scarcely troubled to conceal his opinion that matters spiritual and temporal were better ordered in former days. This tendency to hark back to the days of yore tended at times to alienate the sympathy of younger listeners.
In conversation Finbar was always courteous, but sometimes allowed the strength of his convictions to lead him to take a stand in argument which, on intellectual grounds, he would himself have been the first to condemn. Thus, on general topics where no conclusion commanded general acceptance and where the matter was open to argument, he could sometimes be shatteringly illogical. So much so that people were driven to wonder, and some even to ask openly, how a man so obviously intelligent could be guilty, apparently quite unconsciously, of such sophistry.
Reading was Finbar's greatest consolation. He did not despise, or even affect to despise, fiction. Works of fiction were to be tasted but they did not form the staple of his literary diet. The books which he chewed and digested, those to which he returned time and time again, were of a more serious kind. A glance at the titles of the many books he had collected confirms the impression one gained from his conversation that his favourite authors were Knox, Belloc, Chesterton, Lunn, Merton, and Newman. To these must be added a sort of odd man out, George Bernard Shaw. Most of his books had been given him by members of his family, and other friends, for it had long been recognised that, in Finbar's case, a book was the most acceptable present at Christmas-time or on feast-days or birthdays.
That these books by his favourite authors were not merely read but critically studied is evident from the notes containing his reactions to passages of special interest; and from the many pencilled annotations, queries and cross-references in the margins. No one looking over his copy of, for instance, Ronald Knox's A Retreat for Laymen would be left in any doubt as to the seriousness with which Finbar had read and pondered such essays as 'The Problem of Suffering' or 'The Fear of Death.' Two factors seem to have attracted him to these writers -- their sturdy, uncompromising Catholicism and their respect for what is best in tradition.
Finbar had taught Latin to senior classes for many years. Consequently he was familiar with some of the best Latin prose and poetry. He was particularly fond of Horace's Odes and was always happy to discuss a memorable ode with anyone who shared his appreciation of them. Significant of his fondness for some classical authors is the fact that among the handful of books he took with him to La Sagesse nursing home was a copy of the Satires of Juvenal -- a somewhat surprising choice for a man who, although neither he nor his confreres suspected it at the time, was sick unto death.
Many of Finbar's friends have borne witness to his assiduity as a correspondent. His family circle was a wide one and with all its members he kept in touch by means of regular letters. To the very end of his life he used the letter as a means of keeping warm friendships, many of them dating back a goodly number of years. Those of his former pupils who wrote to him were always sure of an appreciative letter in return. These letters he regarded as part of his apostolate and one feels that their recipients, many of them scattered in far-flung corners of the world, must have benefited from them.
One of his correspondents in later years was the late Thomas Merton, Cistercian and world-famous author. Finbar used to tell the story of his reading in one or other of Merton's books of the loneliness he had felt on a certain Christmas morning when there was not a single letter for him among those distributed by the abbot in the chapter room. Here, thought Finbar, was a situation that could easily be remedied. A man who had experienced loneliness himself, he could appreciate its effect on others. He wrote to Father Merton the following Christmas, thus initiating an annual exchange of greetings which continued until the priest's death a few years ago.
Among Finbar's most treasured possessions was a piece of correspondence from the late Brother Nicholas Kealy, one of the small band of brothers who laboured in China in the 1920s. It consists of two small notebooks in which Nicholas wrote a day-by-day account of the voyage to China. It is a very interesting and moving document, a testimony both to the noble spirituality of the writer and to the depth of his esteem for Finbar. One regrets that Finbar's letters to his friend have not survived, for they would surely have revealed a deeply felt reaction to the observations of his confrere.
We are indebted to Sister Carmel for the account of his last months on earth:
In 1968 he complained of internal pains and was put on a diet by the doctor. He continued in school from February until May, when he got a severe chill. This played havoc with him and the old complaint, asthma. which had lain dormant for years, returned. He came to Ireland in July to see a specialist and underwent a major stomach operation in St Vincent's hospital, where he remained for four months. Asthma attacks did not help, but he slowly recovered and went to Booterstown for some time. Early in 1969 he went to the old family home in Cork, where his eldest brother, Paddy, lived. Here he made wonderful progress and went back to England feeling fine. Of course, the asthma never left him, but he carried on after each attack.
In 1970 when his eldest and dearIy-loved brother was struck down with a fatal illness and given only three months to live, Brother Finbar's heart was torn in two. He came to Cork in May, to visit his brother in hospital and remained about two weeks. He was sad on leaving, as he knew Paddy had not long to live. He returned in a fortnight for the funeral, and no one was more lonely than Sam as he stood at the coffin. Afterwards he returned to England but came back in August for the annual vacation to Dalkey. Here he spent a happy month and seemed to be his old self. Before returning to England he visited his brother John in Dundalk. There he got a very severe attack of asthma and was removed to Louth Hospital and anointed. Again he recovered.
He wrote frequently during the autumn term; so no one suspected that he had not long to live. He had another bad attack on 5 December and went to the nursing home in the city for injections. He remained there overnight and on Friday was in good form, reading and chatting. On Saturday morning he was found dead in bed. There was not a ruffle and he lay there as if quietly sleeping. He died as he had lived, slipping away to the Lord he had served so well. The shock to his family and to his brothers was great, but he was free from pain at last and no one would call him back. He missed his brother more than we can say, and he joined him for Christmas. His funeral was sad but beautiful. The boys sang the Mass and he was laid to rest in Blackpool, where he had served for twenty-five years. May he rest in peace!
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