Castleknock College Union

Maurice Carbery, class '25

1908 - 2001

Feb 20, 2001
Maurice Carbery, class '25 -


The theme of the first reading at the Mass on the morning following the death of Fr Maurice Carbery was taken from the Book of Wisdom of Sirach and, as we prayed, it seemed to me providentially appropriate, for wisdom was a quality we certainly associated with Fr Maurice. For Sirach, God was all, the only God, the Almighty Creator who brought order to all aspects of life both natural and moral. God, the source of good, acts justly but also forgives. In the Old Testament wisdom is associate with skill, common sense and human knowledge. But, here in Sirach, wisdom is hidden in God and is understood as reverence, devotion and awe in the Divine presence. To have this quality is a great blessing and brings with it many other blessings, including long life to one who has it. The connection between wisdom and God is very close.

This extract from  scripture seems to me to encapsulate the philosophy and life of Maurice and the wisdom he practised and loved. For him life was, in fact, remarkably simple:

God revealed himself in His son, Jesus Christ.  Christ founded his Church and through it reveals himself to us. Therefore, Jesus and his Church are to be loved and served. Causa finita est.

Morning Meditation, the Mass, the Divine Office, private prayer and the Rosary took up much of Maurice’s day. The Church Maurice had grown up in until his mid-fifties was the one in which he was happiest. Meditation was always silent so shared prayer didn’t much appeal to him. When saying Mass in private he always used Canon 1. He devoted much time to saying his Office, always anticipated and disliked any variation that deviated in the slightest from the manner prescribed by the Church. His appointments he accepted absolutely and humbly as theWill of God, the duties of office to be performed to the best of his ability.

Maurice first came to Castleknock from his native Athy in 1923 and remained there until taking his BA. He entered the Vincentians and was ordained in 1923. In the first twenty-four years of his priesthood he taught for periods in Castleknock, in St Patrick’s, Armagh, until the war, then in St Paul’s, Raheny, theology in St Joseph’s, and was spiritual director in Clonliffe and St Kevin’s, Glenart. In 1959 he returned to Castleknock where he spent the remainder of his fife. For some of those years, I was with him in community, and I have to say his presence at all community exercises was a marvellous example for all of us and for me, at least, I admit, a constant spur. His regularity, devotion and reverence are greatly missed.

If I were to try to sum up Maurice in a few words it would be ‘Catholic humanist.’ I use the term ‘Catholic’ deliberately because a few weeks before he died and on one of the last occasions he was in the community room, while discussing an article in the Irish Catholic, he argued most cogently for the use of ‘Catholic’ rather then ‘Christian’ on account of present-day perception. Being a Catholic informed his whole life. At times, out of pure mischief, one of the community would voice a mild criticism of some church matter and almost automatically Maurice would take the bait and spring to the defence of the Church. He would not consider himself infallible but it was clear in an argument (‘discussion’?) that, as he said on one occasion, ‘It isn’t so much that you are wrong as that you aren’t right!’ Maurice was widely read but during his later years, being retired, he was able to read the daily papers and The Tablet thoroughly and so at table he could talk on most subjects with authority and succeeded in keeping our community meals quite lively.

Earlier, when describing Maurice I used the term ‘humanist’; it was just the other side of the coin. Perhaps an illustration would help. A confrere remarked that, when Maurice was the spiritual director in Glenart, he was with him on one occasion and, as they drove out the gates on his day off duty, a sort of metamorphosis seemed to take place. The burden of office fell from his shoulders and he visibly relaxed. For Maurice enjoyed all facets of life to the full. He liked his food, and on feast days a glass of sherry, a good wine at the meal, followed by a Benedictine were the order of the day, and ‘the custom of the Congregation from time immemorial.’ In moderation, of course.

Maurice was a very good golfer. Up to just a few years ago he made his way each year to the British Open on his motor bike. A fellow Vincentian wrote of him: ‘He was a great golfing partner...he maintained his skill for a very long time and was always a keen competitor...he was game for anything...he was actually my director in Glenart...of course, he had his own inimitable approach to things and his point to make...but charity generally prevailed...I enjoyed him.’

Maurice loved his holidays. During part of them he would do a parish supply and then become an interested, curious and observant tourist. On his return he regaled us with anecdotes, the most humorous of which surely was the icy glare he got during the 1950 Holy Year from Pope Pius XII for appearing at a general audience in St Peter’s dressed in a tonsure suit and not a soutane. It was said by some at his funeral that his death marked the passing of an era. But I’m not sure. For such a serious person it is amazing the number of anecdotes, many of them humorous, that are associated with him and by which he will live on in our memory for a very long time.

He enjoyed all sports and up to two or three years ago attended our school cup rugby matches, Lansdowne and international games. Throughout his life chess had a special interest for him. In fact, a few months before his death he travelled alone by air at the age of 92 to London to see the Chess World Championship. And he was clearly delighted when Fr Clyne supplied him with a community car for his own exclusive use. For the last year of his life he gloried in it and the freedom it gave him. “I had to wait 91 years for this! “ When he had finally returned to Castleknock, he took up seriously the cultivation of roses and it is he who was responsible for the magnificent displays that have each year helped make the college grounds a place of beauty.

Maurice spoke often of the fact that he was from Athy which reminds me of a humorous incident. It occurred some forty years ago during recreation in our community room at a time when there were fourteen or fifteen confreres in Castleknock. A group of us young priests were chatting among ourselves at one end of the room and Fr Paddy O’Donoghue made some remark about the railway and quality of land (the word ‘bog’was mentioned) in the environs of Athy. Suddenly from the far end of the room there came, “Paddy, I’m from Athy and you’re not. I know about these things and you don’t.” The space between the two protagonists opened and it was like High Noon!

Maurice’s attachment to Athy was really a family one. He had a deep affection for his family and felt responsibility for them. When his brother, Fr Brendan, became a canon in the Dublin diocese his pride was evident (incidentally, Maurice had a very soft spot for the Dublin priests as he had been their spiritual director; and at the time of his death one of them remarked that he had been “the only ray of good sense in Clonliffe during his years there.”). He visited his sister, Betty, each year in Paris, he married his nieces and nephews and followed their careers. It was  clear that they returned his affection and benefited from his wisdom, involvement and love.

Perhaps the most fitting final words about Fr Maurice were the words written by his niece, Pauline. “He remained close to his family of origin all his life, but the Vincentians were there, perhaps, even more close and important to him...We have happy memories of the celebration of his Golden Jubilee in 1983 and his 90th birthday celebration - the wonderful hospitality we received and the insights we gained into the community life and his relationship with its members and all done with such graciousness and humour. We will miss him, but he has left a rich legacy of memories. Thank you for the beautiful liturgy and the unforgettable funeral procession to his final resting place in such a sacred corner of the earth – where earth meets Heaven”.

John Doyle, C.M.

Born: Athy, Co Kildare, 4 May 1908
Entered the CM: 7 September 1928
Final Vows: 8 September 1930
Ordained a priest: 10 June 1933 in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, by BishopWall.

1933-’35: St. Vincent’s, Castleknock
1935-’39: St. Patrick’s, Armagh
1939-’40: St. Joseph’s, Blackrock
1940-’49: St. Vincent’s, Castleknock
1949-’54: Holy Cross College, Clonliffe
1954-’57: St. Kevin’s, Glenart, Arklow
1957-’59: St. Paul’s, Raheny
1959-2001: St. Vincent’s, Castleknock
Died: 20 February 2001
Buried: St. Vincent’s, Castleknock