Jerome Twomey, class '30
1912 - 1979
Father Jerome Twomey’s passing will long be regretted by all who knew him, not just because he died prematurely before the proverbial three-score-and-ten. Rather, I would say, because he was such a genuine person, a man without guile. He was simple and straightforward. There were no hidden recesses, no coils or convulutions, no mysteries. He liked to talk, and he talked straight.
When our band of young recruits entered the ‘Rock in 1939, we had the good fortune to sit in due course at the feet of Matt Ryan and Jerome Twomey. Matt, in his inimitable way, tried (by night) to attune our immature minds to the profundities of Barbadette. Jerome took a Scripture class up the house, and also a Chant class at which we Juniors assisted. One still has a vivid picture of Jerome’s brisk entry into the class-hall, with his ‘strong’ Kerry face, usually lighted up with a broad grin, his high forehead, surmounted by combed-back black hair; and he had a characteristic way of carrying his books concealed beneath his cape. Mounting the rostrum he would lay the books down, toss his head back, and flashing an eye round the class would simultaneously throw back the cape with both hands. Jerome then launched into the exercise with the greatest enthusism. In the same way that he would later preach his homilies in All Hallows, at the top of his voice and under full steam, never letting up and driving his point home. With pursed lips and right hand outstretched, palm downwards and occasionally marking the swell of a cadence, Jerome would carry us along — even the most ungifted. It was impossible not to respond, though in all honesty he was not a brilliant chant master.
He was born in 1912 in Castleisland, Co. Kerry, where his family had a business. After his primary schooling with the local nuns he came to Castleknock in 1924. He was a brilliant student, with a ‘mind capacious by nature and replenished by study’. Even in the midst of a galaxy of talent which included T. Dunning, T. Cashin, R. Mackey, E. Sweeney, T. Pagan, M. Ryan, D. Moran, D. Cregan, he was not outclassed. Under the aegis of the late Father James Rodgers, while the others quaffed at the Fans Bandusiae and other delectables, Jerome had covered the whole Sabine farm — all five books — in as many weeks. He was particularly good at debates, having an agile mind and a facility for churning out rhetoric in torrents. But he was weak at Maths, which was serious; for it imperilled his prospects of matriculating.. He therefore got a rough time from the redoubtable Tom Waller, the Maths Professor. And Jerome’s discomforture was in fact not a little enjoyed by his classmates. For the truth was that Jerome was not at all popular as head prefect. He held the office (with D. Cregan) for two years in succession, under Father Bill Meagher as Dean; and he fulfilled it with a rather unnecessary zeal, as if indeed he were the Dean! At games he was rather indifferent, though not incapable of doing harm; but the harm was as likely to be done to his own side as to the opposition. As a swimmer, on the other hand — perhaps for the very reason that here he was left to himself — he was excellent. Devotees of the ‘Forty-foot’ back in the ‘thirties will recall his long plodding swims out into Dublin Bay. There was indeed something in Jerome’s make-up which left him unattuned not only to the rhythm of games but also of music. As a young student he practised at the piano, the organ, and even the fiddle, but not with any success.
He decided to join the Vincentians and came to St Joseph’s, Blackrock, in 1930. In Jerome’s case ‘the machinery just meant to give the soul its bent’ was an almost computor-like mind, which enabled him to store and conjure up at will an enormous profusion of detail. Before long he became Librarian and learned to know every book and article in the library. In a field such as that of Canon Law (for which he had no great liking at all) the identity and enumeration of the Canons came as easily to Jerome as that of innumerable Kerry friends. He did quite a brilliant Arts degree (English, Irish, plus Latin), and followed it up with an equally brilliant course in theology. He had indeed a brilliant mind and could have distinguished himself in any field of studies, but for some reason or other he was not sent forward. I believe it was felt that his health would not withstand the rigours of the Roman regime. This was a great pity. One felt — and he no doubt felt it himself — that here was a man who had never achieved his full potential. On the other hand, it has to be said that when he did get the opportunity of doing higher studies, during the year when St Patrick’s College was closed, he did not persevere.
He was appointed Principal of St Patrick’s in 1942, at the age of twenty-nine. Here naturally his knowledge of Irish served him well. At this time it was customary for the students of the ‘Rock to go over to ‘St Pat’s’every Easter for a outing. One student recalls going into Jerome’s study and finding him engaged in translating J.B. Phillips’ Modern Thomistic Philosophy into the Gaelic! He also commuted a good deal back and forth to All Hallows, where his personality and gifts did not escape the notice of Father Tom O’Donnell. The latter would take him by the arm and lead him out for a walk up and down the ‘Ash’, while he explored his mind. One of Jerome’s endearing qualities was that he never allowed the links forged over the years in various places and with various groups to be buried in the compost heap. He gave an ordination retreat in All Hallows in 1945 and he would invariably bring it up whenever, in later years, he met a priest of the same class.
He was appointed to Strawberry Hill in 1948 and remained there for twelve years as head of the religious department and Vice-principal of the College. He made countless friends among the students, and never forgot them. Years later, at All Hallows, whenever he met parish priests from up and down Britain, he would still enquire about them. His conversational gifts served him well in entertaining the many inspectors, ministry officials, and other distinguished visitors who came to the College. As Vice-principal he had to travel the length and breath of the country interviewing each year candidates who had applied for entry to the College — a job which he particularly relished, and for which he was eminently suited. When the count-down came, Jerome needed only to be presented with a photo and he could turn out a full inventory of relevant detail. The story is told that he once spent a whole afternoon interviewing a chap at the fountain outside the Waldegrave building, while the victim sat with his feet in the water, keeping cool!
His greatest gift was for conversation, even if — as must be admitted — he tended to ‘hog’ it. And how often one heard a repeat of the record! But then he was a Kerryman, with all the sharpness and wit of the Kerryman — and the copiafandi. If Jerome got wind of the forthcoming visit of a Kerry-born priest, he would surely be found sitting outside at the front waiting for his man. The two would then remain closeted for hours, exchanging news of the Kingdom. In his earlier years, especially, he had an extraordinary memory for people and faces. But in all his conversation about people and places, nuns and clerics, delinquents and relatives, and all the rest, there was never the least lapse contra caritatem. He could not abide hearing bad things said about people.
He liked to be the first to purvey news of some ‘funny thing’ he had heard from some ‘bod’. Or, perhaps, an article, or a new book that had come on the market. On one occasion Father Rodgers had to give a retreat in Kerry diocese, where he had already given one a few years before. To vary the fare he was looking round for something new, and was able to avail of Bernard Buckley’s The Priest at Prayer, which had just come out. But to his great dismay he had no sooner started the retreat than he found that most of the priests were already familiar with The Priest at Prayer. Jerome had already blazed the trail!
From 1960, to ’66 he was Superior in St Joseph’s, Blackrock. Jerome was a very loyal Vincentian and keenly interested in the history and the affairs of the ‘Little Company’ at home and abroad. He was delegated on three occasions to go to a General Assembly, and would probably have been delegated again in 1968 had he not withdrawn his name. Appointed as Superior to Blackrock he brought with him his characteristic enthusiasm and an informed and deeply loyal Vincentian spirit to help towards the guidance and formation of the young students.
He was quite at home with students, to whom he spoke in a man to man way and without pretensions. The ‘thirty-niners recall how in the grim days of the war he used to come down to the student hall in Blackrock and regale us, bringing news of the latest in sport, politics, and — of course — the war. There were no newspapers then. Our only communication with the external world was by means of an old loudspeaker perched on the chimney piece, which was turned on for special occasions ad nutum superiorum. Jerome was kind enough to warn us that the old machine worked both ways, and that our flippant and unholy remarks could be heard amid the spiritual gloom upstairs!
The same friendliness was also shown to the students in All Hallows, where he came in 1966 to lecture in theology and liturgy. Very many of them sought spiritual guidance from him. He also carried another portfolio, which was unofficial but no less demanding on time. He was always on hand for entertaining visitors and came to know in a remarkably short time most of the alumni of the College. His lectures had the usual tempestuous flair. Not long after his arrival there appeared in the College Rag a cartoon: Jerome on the rostrum declaring to the class, with the legend, ‘Weather Forecast’: gale force winds — 180 words to the minute, with gusts of up to 250’.
His interest in theology and the needs of the busy pastoral priest led him to bring out a series of ‘Booknotes’ — type-written, nicely produced, containing lists of useful books for the priest in the parish, with comments and potted reviews in Jerome’s own very characteristic style. They were found to be helpful, and soon he was doing a similar service for The Furrow.
But the years were taking their toll. It was harrowing to see a man of Jerome’s enormous vitality ‘dying by degrees’, slowly but inevitably wearing away. Not that he was confined to bed; not that he suffered great pain. But he was constantly racked with giddiness, shortness of breath, coughing, disorientation, and a gradual but unrelenting breakdown of the machine. During the last month of his life he was a living cadaver. When at length he had to stay in bed, he fell into a coma within a couple of days and died soon afterwards, on May 25th, 1979.
The final rites were celebrated in the College Chapel and he was buried in the adjoining cemetery on a beautiful May day. His brother Paddy (now retired), his sister, Mother Alphonsus (of the Loreto Order), many nephews and nieces (his younger brother David had died only a few months previously), and a host of friends, paid him a final tribute.
May he rest in Peace.
Kevin Condon, C.M.
JEROME J. TWOMEY, C.M.
Born: Castleisland, 10 February 1912
Entered the Congregation: 7 September 1930
Final Vows: 8 September 1932
Ordained a priest by Bishop Francis Wall, Auxiliary Bishop of
Dublin, in Clonliffe College on 3 October 1937.
1938-1942 St Joseph’s, Blackrock
1942-1948 St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (Superior and Principal)
1948-1960 St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill
1960-1966 St Joseph’s, Blackrock (Superior)
1966-1979 All Hallows College
Died 25 May 1979.