Fr Maurice Slattery (1874 – 1957)

Born on 22 September 1874 at Laccamore, Abbeydorney, Co Kerry, in the diocese of Kerry
Died on 11 May 1957, of heart failure, while holidaying in Tralee, Co Kerry

He was one of a family of eight boys and two girls.

1893-1896: Secondary studies at St. Joseph’s College, Wilton, Cork
1896: joined the Society’s seminary at Lyons, France and then attended the SMA seminary at Choubra, Egypt
21 December 1897: admitted to membership of the Society.
Ordained: 9 June 1900 in the seminary chapel at Choubra along with James O’Rafferty and Thomas Gibbons by Bishop Roveggio.
1900: Teacher in the seminary at Choubra, Director in the SMA school at Zeitoun and then teacher in St. Louis College, Tantah.
1904-1905: Director of students at Mahalla, Egypt.
1905-1912: Professor at Tantah. The qualities displayed during these years were such as to make him a likely choice for an important role in the launching of an Irish Province of the Society.
1912: appointed Vice-Provincial of the new Irish Province
10 September 1913: succeeded Stephen Kyne as Provincial Superior.

Maurice took charge at a time when the Province was facing a crisis of confidence. The ground work for creating the Province had been laid by Fr Joseph Zimmermann SMA who had been resident in Ireland since 1883. The erection of the Province coincided with a decision by Society superiors in Lyons to withdraw Fr Zimmermann from Ireland because of long standing differences. The membership of the new Province (scarcely 20 priests and brothers) was divided on the question of Fr Zimmermann’s removal, while many of the bishops, clergy and laity who had supported him over the years, now withdrew their support from the new Province. This was the situation which Maurice faced when he assumed office in 1913. By the time his term came to an end, in July 1918, he had succeeded in restoring the confidence of the members, regaining much of the lost support and placing the Province on a sound financial footing. His sure touch reflected itself in the growing confidence of the Province’s increasing number of missionaries in Liberia, Nigeria and Egypt, and in its flourishing training institutions in Ireland.

On 15 October 1913 Maurice had the joy of sending off to Liberia the first group of young priests ordained for the Province. They were John M Collins (later Bishop of Liberia), Peter Harrington (later American Provincial Superior), Eugene O’Hea and William Shine (who was to die a year later). Each subsequent year he presided over a new ‘departure ceremony’, held in St. Joseph’s Church, Blackrock Road, on the feast of St. Therese, Patroness of the Missions. One far-seeing decision which he took early in his term was the foundation of the African Missionary, the Province’s magazine which brought the missionary message into Irish homes. He himself was to contribute regularly to this journal throughout his long life. It’s first edition appeared in January 1914. Scarcely less important was the establishment of the ‘Missionary Shilling‘ promotion scheme, which brought large numbers of people into contact with the Society and raised badly needed revenue. The most obvious acknowledgement of his work between 1913-1918, was the decision by Propaganda Fide to confide the Vicariate of Western Nigeria to the Province in 1918, two months after Maurice’s Provincialship ended.

1918-1925: Maurice was Vice-Provincial and also Superior of the new Novitiate and house of Philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. During these years he made important additions to the house to cater for the growing number of students, acting often as his own architect and clerk of works. His approach to the training of students was liberal and open minded.

1925: Maurice was once again elected Provincial Superior by the Provincial Assembly. One of the pressing needs for the Province at this time was the provision of a suitable theological seminary, since the existing seminary at Blackrock Road was too small. Maurice acquired and adapted for this purpose a fine house and estate at Dromantine, Co Down. He remained Provincial Superior until the 1931 Assembly. Stephen Harrington succeeded him as Provincial Superior and appointed Maurice as Provincial Procurator, entrusting to him the day to day financial management of the Province.

1937: The 8th General Assembly of the Society held at Lyons, France elected Maurice as Superior General, the first Irish man to hold this post. It was under his supervision that the Assembly’s decision to move the Generalate from Lyons to Rome was successfully implemented. Maurice found a suitable house within a short distance of the Vatican – at 324 via dei Gracchi. The outbreak of war in 1939 made it difficult for him to administer the Society as he would have wished, but he did manage to keep in contact with the members through circular letters. The war also interfered with his plans for an international house of studies that would group around the Superior General a chosen body of students from all the Provinces. His ten-year term as Superior General (prolonged because of the war) came to an end in 1947, leaving him still in good health in spite of the privations and anxieties which he had endured and in spite of his 73 well filled years.

1947-1953: After the 1947 General Assembly (he was again succeeded by Stephen Harrington), Maurice returned to Cork where he was appointed first Superior of St Francis Xavier’s University hostel which catered for African students attending University College Cork (UCC). It was at Doughcloyne outside the city limits.

1953 (October): at seventy nine years of age he retired from active duty. He spent his last years living at Doughcloyne.

Maurice’s life spanned almost three generations. Born in the relative peace of the Victorian era, he lived to see the turbulent birth of the atomic age. A fine figure of a man, well over six feet, he made an impression wherever he went not only by his appearance but also through the force of his strong personality. Highly regarded on all levels within the Irish Church and in Vatican circles, he won for the Province respect and esteem, so necessary for the accomplishment of its work in Ireland and in Africa. Maurice’s strong features belied a sensitive and creative nature, which expressed itself in a number of small volumes of poetry and prose works. Maurice took a keen interest in social, economic and political questions and frequently wrote in newspapers and journals on the great issues of the day. Two of Maurice’s brothers became priests: William and Tom, both who served in New South Wales, Australia and died in the 1930’s.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.

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