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Recognising Frank Duff

fduff_01Book-launches come thick and fast, but the packed gathering in Blackrock College to launch Finola Kennedy’s Frank Duff: a life story, was a phenomenon. Finola’s four years of research and analysis have at last started to do justice to the founder of the Legion of Mary, the largest international association ever to come out of Ireland. In its calm and gentle narrative, Finola’s tale is partly a case study inĀ  the clericalism which bedevilled the Irish church. The Irish clergy were fearful of a group of lay people, especially laymen, who were actively apostolic, alert to the multiple miseries of Dublin in the twenties and thirties, and rolling up their sleeves to tackle them. The book-launch attracted figures from our history, like Ken Whitaker and Liam Cosgrave, who had close links with Duff. So had the Jesuits. Read more

Launching the biography, Archbishop Martin expressed sadness and contrition for the mountainous obstacles that the Dublin archdiocese (especially Archbishop Byrne) had put in Duff’s path. The Jesuits too owe a modicum of contrition: the Jesuit-sponsored Sodality of Our Lady sometimes saw the Legion of Mary as a rival lay organisation. In the early 1940s, Jesuit General Ledochowski and Irish Provincial Kieran, both noted for tight control, made it difficult for Jesuits to continue giving needed support to the Legion. On the other hand Duff could write: “I am very grateful to the Jesuits. They were the only body that stood by me in the bad time.” As he lay dying in 1980 it was a Jesuit, John Mary Mulligan (coming from Belvedere, where Duff had started his education), who held Frank’s hand on his last journey. The 1981 Belvederian commented (beside a picture of a smiling Duff cradling a quail in his hands): “In the spirit of a pilgrim reaching out towards a holy relic, prizing any contact, we treasure these links with this holy and apostolic Dubliner, an old Belvederian who was truly a man of God.”