Myles J. Dowley, class '40
1922 - 1979
The first contact of Myles Dowley with the Vincentian Community was as a boy at Castleknock College, 1936-1940, where it was honours all the way. But the story of his life as a Vincentian priest began at St Joseph’s, Blackrock, 1940-1948, where and when, just like the rest of us, he accepted and submitted to a regime of discipline, studies and spirituality which was then common the world over, but so different to what obtains today.
We used to play rugby football in those days and like everything in the Rock it was a very seriously taken exercise. The pitch on the top field was no place for the fainthearted, and when Myles got the ball ten yards from the line, the sensible thing to do was to get out of his way for he was going for the line with or without you. Going for the line was his way of life. He took his degree at University College. His subject was English. He had mastered it and he loved it, and his knowledge of English was the foundation of his easy approach to the art of preaching. Preaching was his life.
The missionary activity of Myles falls into two separate and very different eras. The first from 1949 to 1964. This was the time when it was easy to be a preacher. Vocations were flourishing, every religious order was building new seminaries to cope with the ever-increasing demand for space to house aspirants. The missioner was regarded by the people as a very special ‘man of God’. His every pronouncement was listened to and accepted. He had all the answers and no questions were asked. And we who then preached took every advantage of this fact. We could frighten people, and we did. We could smother them with the mercy of God, and we did. And the results of this double-pronged attack was evidenced in the endless queues for confessions — of recent sins and sins of the whole past life. This type of approach suited Myles admirably. He was forthright, blessed with a powerful voice, — a great asset when amplification systems were in their infancy — a very clear mind, a compelling presence and an extraordinary gift of compassion for wayward humanity.
But as the years went by, and especially in the early sixties, we were all beginning to have misgivings and doubts about our approach to missions. The world was changing, the church was changing, times were changing. We did not of course realise that the Second Vatican Council was just around the corner. The better educated were beginning to question a religion that was mostly law and little love. They could not formulate their doubts in language, so they took the simple way of proving their point — non attendance at missions. Myles was quite agitated about all this, and in the few “Missioners conferences” that we had at this time he was beginning to insist that we must change our approach. In 1964 he received an appointment that was to shelve all his thinking on missions. He was appointed Superior and Parish Priest of the Sacred Heart parish, Mill Hill, and it was during his term of office there that I really got to know and appreciate Myles Joseph Dowley.
I was Parish Priest at the same time in Dunstable which was just a half an hour away on the motorway. We met frequently to share our hopes and difficulties, and I soon valued his friendship, advice and common sense. Myles was not too keen on administration. He would have preferred to be out among his people whom he loved. He made friends easlily and he kept them. He was a tireless visitor and met all problems head on and he was very quick to admonish anyone whose style of life was not in keeping with the teaching of Christ. Even his closest friends were often on the receiving end of his displeasure, for he was totally fearless where right and wrong were concerned. This quality of honesty and genuineness won him the admiration of even those who opposed his views.
Myles had a wonderful, but quite personal, sense of humour that was not always appreciated until you really got to know him. For example, he would tell you that you ‘mean well’. This was great if knew that it didn’t mean what it seemed to mean! His infectious laugh put everybody at ease, especially the priests in the presbytery. He really enjoyed life and a day with him at the races was as good as a day at the races with the Marx brothers. It was just great fun. He loved chatting up the tipster who for a modest reward was prepared to give him the certain winner of the fourth race, or listening to the prophets of doom with their placards announcing that the end was nigh. He also knew something about horses, but would never bet on a favourite and when his outside chance failed to deliver, he would philosophically declare ‘Well, he meant well’. The parishioners of Mill Hill greatly appreciated Myles and his genuine efforts to further their interests; and there was general regret in the parish when he was apointed to Lanark in 1971. They had lost a dedicated Parish Priest and a personal friend.
So now Myles returned to a mission scene that had vastly changed during his absence in Mill Hill. There was a marked falling off in mission attendance especially in the cities and towns. Other orders were experimenting with radically new approaches — with mixed results. Our band of missioners had diminished. We were still giving the traditional type of mission, although hopefully with updated content. Missions were still, as always, seasonal and this was perhaps a blessing for Myles for it gave him the opportunity in the off seasons of talking Lanark parish by storm, especially by his house to house visitation of Douglas and Carstairs. But he was most unhappy about the mission scene and was forever calling for a complete reassessment of Vincentian policy. He was particularly anxious that all our missioners would live together in one house where we could share our ideas and update our theology. In the meantime, he soldiered on and delighted in coming to Ireland for the country missions. He gave his last Irish mission in Castleconnor, Ballina, — preparation for Pope John Paul’s visit. He was in the Phoenix Park on this great occasion, and returned to Lanark to prepare for the novena in honour of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal at St Peter’s, Phibsborough. As he prepared for this Novena, God called him home.
Myles had a great love for his family. He was in constant touch with them by letter, and whenever he got a ‘spare few days in Ireland, he would mount his motorbike and head for Carrick, Tullamore, Kilkenny, Clonmel or Porterstown bringing to all his brothers and sisters and their families his love and affection. Priestly vocations are rooted in the family, and so at this sad time for all of us we offer his family our most sincere sympathy and thanks; thanks for your gift of Myles to the Vincentian Community. We received him from you, trained him and gave him as our gift to the world. But he was God’s gift to all of us. We also offer our deepest sympathy to his countless friends, but especially to all who were so close to him in the parishes of Mill Hill and Lanark.
We all grieve for him, but grief is the price we must pay for having loved someone.
Kevin O’Kane, C.M.
MYLES J. DOWLEY, C.M.
Born: Tybroughney, Co. Kilkenny, 7 April, 1922.
Entered the Congregation: 7 September, 1940.
Final Vows: 8 September, 1942.
Ordained a Priest by Archbishop McQuaid in the Pro-Cathedral,
Dublin, 22 May 1948.
1949-1952 Sacred Heart, Mill Hill.
1952-1958 St Mary’s, Lanark.
1958-1964 St Vincent’s, Cork.’
1964-1970 Sacred Heart, Mill Hill (Superior).
1970-1979 St Mary’s, Lanark.
Died 13 November 1979.