The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Fr. James Anderson OSA

James Anderson was born in the town of Drogheda in 1837.He came from a well-to-do family. One uncle , John was involved in politics and served as mayor of Drogheda. Another uncle Patrick Kelly was already a member of the Augustinian order. The Kellys would appear to have been a family of some means and made large donations towards the building of the present church in Drogheda. Opting for an ecclesiastical career young Anderson made his novitiate at Callan in Co Kilkenny. On taking his vows in 1859  he chose the religious name Augustine. He continued his studies in Italy (1860-62), mainly at Perugia. Indeed while he was still there it was occupied by the forces of Garibaldi who eventually went on to overthrow the Papal States. He would have been  one of the very few clerics who approved the activities of the famous Italian patriot. Anderson was raised to the diaconate in 1860 at Perugia, the ceremony being performed by Archbishop Pecci, later Pope Leo XIII. Finally in 1862 he was ordained to the priesthood at Bracciano.
On returning to Ireland in 1862 Anderson recieved his first appointment being assigned to Grantstown Priory in Co Wexford. It may be interesting to note that James Goold, the father figure of  of the Augustinians in Australia had been a novice there. Indeed Goold was to hold a sentimental attachment to Grantstown until the day of his death. The Crane family who were to play a prominent part in Augustinian life both in Ireland and Australia, also hailed from that parish.  Here Anderson began a practice he was to maintain in every priory in which he served ,namely,  improving the structures of priories and churches. He was a most meticulous book-keeper all his life, and every item of income and expenditure was noted in the house book.
 In 1865 Anderson was moved to the community in Dungarvan Co Waterford by the new provincial (later Australian bishop) Martin Crane. It was during his time in Dungarvan that Anderson first came to national prominence in Ireland.
  Anderson openly sympathised with a radical revolutionary organisation known as the Fenians. They aimed at the violent overthrow of foreign rule in Ireland. The Fenians were outlawed by the British and had been condemned by the Roman Church. Many of theses young idealists faced the hangman and large numbers were sent to penal colonies in Australia.In the 1860s Rome was still battling to maintain that anachronistic relic of medievalism the Papal States and viewed with disfavour rebels of any kind. For a free spirit like Anderson the Church at this time must have been something of a cold place. In the infamous Syllabus of Errors (1864) Pius IX had declared war on modernity of every kind. In the atmosphere of fear , suspicion and paranoia which characterised the final years of that papacy clerics like Anderson were walking on thin ice.
 In any event in the election of 1868 at Dungarvan Anderson publicly endorsed a candidiate (Matthews) who was openly pro-Fenian against a candidiate ((Barry) who had the support of the bishop. Matthews triumphed and in retribution Anderson was deprived of his priestly faculties. He was now forced to commute between various Augustinian priories hoping to find an episcopus benevelous. Finally he settled in the tiny priory of Ballyhaunis in Co Mayo where his faculties were restored by the local Bishop McHale. In his own words he inherited nothing  in Mayo except "dirt, debt and destitution".
In late 1879 Anderson  was appointed prior of his native Drogheda. Early in 1880 he organised "the Drogheda Pilgrimage" to Knock in Mayo where the Madonna had allegedly made a fleeting appearance some months earlier.We believe this was the first ever organised pilgrimage to Knock, a spot that was to become the Mecca of Irish popular devotion. Fortunately one of the pilgrims kept a detailed diary of the trip.
 Over the next ten years Anderson immersed himself in Irish public affairs supporting  nationalists and rebels of all kinds. This included making a visit to the United States in 1884 where he visited various exiled Fenians including a fellow Drogheda man John Boyle'OReilly in Boston.He must have been sailing "close the the wind" as the Vatican had forbidden clergy to be involved in politics. Finally at the chapter of 1891 the Irish provincial ruled that no Augustinian could be involved in publlic affairs in any way whatsoever. While this curtailed Anderson in his activities he continued to mix in nationalist circles, the Irish language movement and other cultural events. Here he met and made a considerable impression on a young man Patrick Pearse who would later lead and be executed in the Easter Rebellion of 1916 against the British.
   In the period around 1890 the Irish Augustinians became involved in a financial scandal revolving round the building of a great "National Church" in Rome.
A committee had been established to oversee this ambitious project. It included some bishops, public figures and various ecclesiastical personages. The Irish Augustinians (through a complicated process) found themselves handling the finances. In any event the project was not completed and much of the collected money could not be accounted for. Irish emigrants in America had been particularly generous in their response to the fundraising appeal. In a desperate attempt to retrieve something from the financial and moral morass the Irish Province genuinely tried to meet their obligations. Fr Anderson was called upon to join in this desperate campaign. As it was felt imprudent to try to "tap" the Americans a second time he was sent to Australia (1892-93)to work on Irish sympathisers there.His mission was not a success. Rumours of the Roman scandal had gone ahead of him and Australian bishops generally kept their distance. Augustinians such as Martin Crane and Stephen Reville did "chip in" but not much was accomplished. It did give him the opportunity to catch up with some exiled Fenians both in Australia and on his way home also in America. It is interesting to note that on his way to Australia Anderson stopped off at Ceylon and was recieved by the exiled Egyptian nationalist hero Arabi Pasha. Pasha was languishing in Ceylon having been defeated by Kitchener and Anderson "was delighted to have the opportunity of meeting such a galant hero"
The final years of Anderson's life were spent at John's Lane Priory in Dublin. While he still mingled with rebels and  Republicans his public utterances were mainly confined to cultural and educational matters. Personally in religious matters he was quite pious and conservative. Anderson's clashes with "Rome" date chiefly from the 1860/70s and resulted from his political not his religious views. 
James Augustine Anderson died in Dublin in July 1903. The two final public events in which he engaged in some ways sum up his character. Two weeks before his death he travelled to Drogheda to unveil a monument to a Fenian friend, John Boyle O'Reilly who had died in exile in Boston. In the very days before his passing he was involved in organising a boycott of the visit of newly crowned King Edward VII to Ireland. Consistent to the end.
Fr Iggy O'Donovan OSA,

Article posted on 24th of March 2013

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