Pioneer magazine

Dec 08: The Legacy of Fr. Cullen

Bernard J. McGuckian, SJ

One of the best known and loved periodicals in Ireland is the Messenger of the Sacred Heart. Its red cover has been a prominent feature. of life in countless thousands of homes since it came into existence 120 years ago this year.

Here at the office of the Pioneer magazine we think of the Messenger as our elder sister. It was founded all those years ago by the same Fr James Aloysius Cullen who founged the Pioneer Association.

The original Messenger offices were situated in 'Denmark Street, Dublin beside Belvedere College, were Fr. Cullen was a member of the Jesuit community aethe time, before moving to their present location in Leeson Street. Now exactly twice as old as our own magazine it would be impossible to exaggerate the positive contribution of the Messenger to strengthening faith in families and promoting devotion to tbe Sacred Heart, both here in Ireland and in countries all over the world. Fr Cullen was largely responsbile for the once wide-spread practice of lighting a lamp before a 'picture of the Sacred Heart in every Irish kitchen.

The following excerpt from Fr Lambert McKenna's biography indicates that it was not all plain sailing for Fr Cullen:

'From its very first number, Fr Cullen used the Messenger, not merely to spread the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, but to promote many subsidiary objects as well,the encouraging among lay-folk of charitable works, the reviving of the St Vincent de Paul Society etc.'

A full year elapsed before he began - as from the beginning he had secretly intended - to use the Messenger for the furthering of his Temperance Campaign. He had to go warily. His critics-and they were many- were to have no opportunity of saying that the journal was merely a magazine camouflaged as a Messenger. Besides, his whole conception of Temperance as a positive thing, and act of love - and not a negative thing, an act of fear or flight - dictated the necessity of first establishing firmly among people Devotion to the Sacred Heart before calling on them to practise Temperance as a part of that devotion. The Rev. R. Canon O'Kennedy, P.P. Fedamore, Co. Limerick in some recollections of Fr Cullen, contributed to the lrish Monthly (1922), says that Fr Cullen had written to him during the first year of the Messenger: "When the circulation reaches 2000, I will cry, in the words of Fr Mathew signing the Temperance Register, 'Here, goes, in the name of God'." And so, when at the end of the year he had a circulation of 5000, he writes to the Canon: "Here goes in the name of God and begins forthwith in the issue of 1889 special articles on "Temperance in the Interests of the Sacred Heart".

In the meantime literally hundreds of millions of this little magazine have brought a message of hope and salvation to the ends of the earth. We send our best wishes to Fr John Looby SJ. current editorand all the staff of the Messenger who carry on this valuable and vital work.

Pioneer Club

Those who lived with Fr Cullen were always wondering what he would do next. They saw him "eaten up with zeal for souls" and conscious that his fertile mind was always thinking up things to do to promote what he saw as their salvation. One hundred years ago this year he founded the Pioneer Club which is still going strong at Fr James Cullen House, 27 Mountjoy Square, Dublin. He established this so that Pioneers in the metropolis could have a place where they could feel completely at home in an alcohol free environment. We send our best wishes to Mrs Mary O'Reilly, currently Chairperson of the Club Council and her co-workers in this, their centenary year. Mary's family have been connected with the Club since the beginning.

Work for priests and others

He directed Priests' Retreat in most of the dioceses of Ireland as well as further afield; he went on two extended missionary journeys to Southern Africa. At a meeting in Clonliffe College in 1913 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the re-establishment of the Apostolic Union of Secular Priests (it had gone out of existence during the French Revolution), Fr Cullen told the assembly that it was he who had introduced it to Ireland in 1886. No one there present was even aware of this. This Union still helps priests who wish to deepen their spiritual lives. All his life he directed a Conference of the St Vincent de Paul. He himself is a remarkable example of the living out of a spiritual maxim of Saint Vincent himself: "Charity is endlessly creative".

His years at Clongowes

Fr Cullen received his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare before going to Carlow college for priestly studies. After ordination in 1864, he spent some years as a diocesan priest in Ferns Diocese before joining the Society of Jesus in 1881. The rest of his life was an unending series of apostolic activities, marked by great creativity and fired by his love for the Sacred Heart.