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Church Militant

Jeffrey Burwell
Irish Jesuit Chaplains in the First World War, edited by Damien Burke, Messenger Publications, 120 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1910248058 With apostolic works ranging from St Aloysius College in Clongowes Wood to St Francis Xavier Parish in Dublin, the Jesuits in Ireland have ministered to Catholics for centuries. One of their lesser-known endeavours has nevertheless recently tapped into the popular imagination. Marking the centenary since the First World War, the Jesuits released a compilation of stories and photographs in remembrance of their priests who served as chaplains in the Great War. With narratives that depict the lives of eleven Jesuits, editor Damien Burke has brilliantly assembled a diverse array of primary source materials in a coherent and readable fashion. The initial two chapters of this short work provide an overview of the complex situation that faced Irish chaplains on the front lines. In just over ten pages, the role and mission of the Jesuits are outlined. As well, attention is given to the sorts of unexpected pastoral needs that the priests encountered once they reached the battlefield. An exceptionally tender passage from the introduction recounts: One element in the popularity and success of Catholic chaplains was their desire, for the most part, to be close to their men. Frank Browne told his Provincial that he was ‘doing my best to get to my men’s hearts by moving among them and living with them’. When he was injured and ordered to return to England to recover, Browne tried to convince the authorities that his injuries were slight and that it would be best to remain with his men. The initial pages, especially those from the overview, are filled with a remarkable sentiment that contextualises well the history. Whether or not the reader has a connection to Ireland, the eleven stories each provides insight into the cultural, social, and religious experience of the Irish chaplains. A mixture of Jesuit and non-Jesuit authors contributed the eleven biographies. As one would expect, this diversity in authorship resulted in different approaches to the presentation of data. Some of the biographies were entirely chronological and linear, with almost no commentary or personal narrative. Others took on a more narrative tone and provided a more colourful read. Although the differences do not diminish its merit, some historians might find the book more a literary memorial of the Irish Jesuit chaplains than an academic resource. Many of the narratives…



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