The death of Fr. Austin (Tierney) of Jesus Crucified, although not entirely unexpected, came nevertheless, with surprising suddenness. Shocked incredulity can best describe the reaction of the brethren when the sad news reached the various Retreats of St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Provinces on Sunday, August 28th, 1960 – the Feast-day of Fr. Austin’s great patron. In fact, telegrams were being handed in at the front door of St. Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus, while only a few yards away, the mortal remains of Fr. Austin lay in the calm repose of death. For him it had been a happy Feast-day – happier than friends could wish or earth could offer – when the soul of this worthy Passionist was called to that “place of refreshment, light and peace” where “the just shall live forever and their reward is with the Lord and the care of them with the Most High” (Wisdom, V. 16).
Fr. Austin, whose secular name was Francis J. P. Tierney, the only child of John and Teresa Tierney, was born on April 14th, 1900 at Chlorine Gardens, Malone Road, Belfast. Although he retained vivid recollections of the house where he was born, and of the crimson-edged Virginia Creeper that covered the entire front and of his first school days with the Dominican Nuns at Falls Road, Belfast, he was still quite young when the family transferred their residence to Dublin. There he became a pupil of St. Mary’s College, Rathmines.
His maternal uncle was Fr. John Mary (McMullan), C. P., who died on December 1st, 1934 – a Passionist who had merited well of the Congregation. It was natural, therefore, that the youthful Francis Tierney should be interested in the Passionists and in their various activities. The Passionist monthly magazine “The Cross” which had begun publication in 1910 opened the “Guild of St. Gabriel as a literary circle for young readers in September, 1913, and it was not long until the name of Francis Tierney appeared as the winner of a book as 2nd Prize for his essay on “My Favourite Book”. That was in February, 1914 when he was approaching his fourteenth birthday. The following quotation from his little essay throws light on the future Passionist Missioner. “The Inner Life of Lacordaire” was his favourite book and he confesses to a great admiration for Pere Lacordaire, because (quote) “To see the great preacher pouring forth volumes of eloquence, holding his audience spell-bound, measuring his fame as an orator with the top-most pinnacles of the great cathedral in which he preached, one would expect to find in him naught save glory and triumph; but to see the humble religious strip himself and kneel at the feet of the humblest and lowest of the community…. to see him tied toa pillar and flagellated by the novices, happy to suffer as his Master suffered before him, is surely a sight for angel eyes” (The Cross, Feb., 1914).
In the last phrase “surely a sight for angel eyes” there is the genuine touch of the Fr., Austin we all knew, and there is a familiar ring about his manner of expressing his thanks to “Francis” for his book-prize , “I am glad”, he writes, “that I won the second prize, because the book for first prize could not be as nice as the one I got”.
Three months later he succeeded in winning the First Prize for his essay on “The Month of Mary” and his love for and devotion to the Mother of God were such marked features of his later priestly life that it is worth quoting verbatim from the essay of the fourteen year old boy : “Saints or sinners, we have need of Mary. Rich or poor, we have need of Mary. Young or old, we have need of Mary. Let us renew our courage and zeal by gazing on that sweet model of all virtues and may She who, to-day, is the”Refuge of Sinners”, the “Comfortress of the Afflicted” and the “Help of Christians” be one day to all of us the “Morning Star”, the “House of Gold” and the true “Gate of Heaven”” (The Cross, May 1914).
It is not surprising that a boy of his religious turn of mind should have received the call from God to the Religious Life nor is it surprising that his predilection should have been for the Congregation of the Passion. His studies, preliminary to his entrance to the Novitiate were pursued at the Juniorate which was then at Sandymount, Dublin, and amongst his teachers was Mr. Eamonn de Valera, now President of Ireland
After his Profession of Vows on July 29th. 1917,, at St. Gabriel’s Retreat, Enniskillen, Student days followed at St. Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus and in due course, ordination to the Priesthood at Holy Cross Church, Clonliffe on December 23rd, 1922.
Shortly after Ordination, Fr. Austin was appointed to assist Fr. Angelo (McCunnin) in the management of “The Cross” Magazine, the full editorial and managerial duties of which he later assumed.
His missionary career began when he was assigned as Companion to Fr. Alphonsus (Farrell), C. P., for the annual mission at Mount Argus, March 22nd to April 5th, 1925. His exceptional gifts as a preacher were speedily recognised and during the subsequent thirty five years he was in constant demand for Missions and Retreats throughout Ireland. Over the years he faithfully kept a record of his listed assignments and one may form an estimate of his prodigious activity from the simple statement that during the four-year period – 1932 to 1935 – the number of Missions and Retreats conducted by him was ninety-five, which exceeded by forty-four the next highest number on the list for the same period.
Mere statistics of this kind, however, fail to give the full picture, and to complete it, one must bear in mind that to each of his missionary assignments Fr. Austin brought all his tireless energy, his boundless enthusiasm, his persuasive eloquence, his talent for organisation and above all his consummate devotedness to Passionist traditions. His Missions and Retreats were distinctively and distinguishably Passionist, and to this end he spared no pains, leaving nothing to chance, but carefully observing and utilizing every detail. He was, thus, an ideal and most helpful companion to young Missioners on their first ventures into this sphere of specialized apostolic activity.
This spirit of filial dutifulness – so neatly expressed by the Latin word PIETAS – characterized every facet of his life as a Passionist priest. He loved the Congregation as a son loves his Mother, and he rejoiced in whatsoever was for her good in whatsoever way
It was due to his friendship with Most Rev. Dr. Morrisroe that the Passionists were invited to the Diocese of Achonry where the Retreat of St. Joseph was established at Cloonamahon, Collooney, Co. Sligo. Fr. Austin was its first Rector from 1944 until 1947.
With people in all walks of life, both clerical and lay, he made friends easily, as his manner was affable; his conversation sparkling and he was an accomplished raconteur with a keen sense of the mot juste. His charity to our sick brethren has become proverbial. To those in doubts or difficulties he never failed to lend a sympathetic ear and his advice was carefully weighed to suit the situation. He could be relied upon for accurate information on all sorts of matters, ranging from protocol to railway time tables. Everything about him was neat, clean, orderly, well-arranged, and one naturally and affectionately associates one’s memory of him with meticulous method which amounted almost to a mania for minutiae. This careful thoroughness was reflected in the manner in which he observed the rubrics of Holy Mass or other ecclesiastical functions. With him everything had to be straight and exact even to the smallest detail, and one may be certain that in his inner life his dealings with Almighty God were on a similar plane.
In his later years he loved to reminisce and his fluency of speech combined with his extraordinary memory for names, dates and places gained for him enthralled audiences while he recalled Missions and Missioners of former days. The many Missions he conducted for the Officers and men of the National Army were amongst his cherished memories, while his long association with the Dublin Metropolitan Gardai was particularly dear to him. The latter he led on a Pilgrimage to Rome in 1928 and to Lourdes in 1930. His description of an arranged courtesy visit made by General Eoin O’Duffy and himself to Italy’s Dictator, Benito Mussolini had to be heard to be appreciated.
As Daniel O’Connell bequeathed his heart to Rome, one feels that if Fr. Austin were to have such a choice his heart would have gone to Lourdes. His last few days on earth, indeed, were spent in making final arrangements for a pilgrimage to his favourite spot on earth – the hallowed Grotto of Massabielle. But it was not to be ….
For more than a year and a half he had been under the care of doctors and specialists. He had Sanatorial treatment at Lourdes Hospital, Dun Laoghaire for six months and was discharged looking extremely fit – fit enough, in fact, to conduct three Community Retreats for Nuns, the last of which was given to the Nazareth Sisters, Belfast, in January, 1960. A short time later his voice failed. This was followed by the appearance on his upper chest of an external secondary cancer. All this he bore with exemplary patience and fortitude. Every known treatment was tried, but the fatal illness slowly but surely drained his iron constitution of all its strength and so insidiously that he himself was scarcely aware of the full extent of its ravages.
Through sheer weakness he was forced to take to his bed on Friday, August 26th. His condition rapidly worsened and he received the Last Rites of Holy Church. Mercifully the end came quickly and at 1.25 on Sunday morning, August 28th he passed peacefully to his reward. Surely that Gracious Mother Mary, whose Shrine he longed so much to visit once more, smiled upon him as She did upon Bernadette, radiant as the “Morning Star”, and was Herself to him, as he had hoped from his youth, the true “Gate of Heaven”.
On Tuesday, August 30th the Obsequies took place at Mount Argus. Most Rev. Dr. Eugene O’Callaghan presided. Celebrant of the Solemn Requiem Mass was Very Rev. Fr. Fergus, C. P., Provincial with Rev. Fr. Stephen, C. P., Holy Cross, Ardoyne as Deacon and Rev. Fr. Alexis, C. P., St. Joseph’s Retreat, Collooney as Sub-deacon. The President of Ireland, Mr. Eamonn de Valera attended – the last tribute of his boyhood teacher and life-long friend. A great number of Passionists were present from St. Patrick’s Province and from St. Joseph’s Province to pay their respects to the departed Father Austin who had proved himself an indefatigable preacher of the Passion and a true son of St. Paul of the Cross.
May he rest In peace.
Signed: Finian of the Sorrowful Virgin, Rector.
FR. AUSTIN (TIERNEY), C.P.
Father Austin is dead. And with his passing, one feels that a chapter in the history of St. Patrick’s Province has ended. It is a chapter in which his name stands out clear and radiant. Indeed we, his brethren, can scarcely imagine our Province without him who was ever at hand with helpfulness and wise counsel. His fellow Passionists suffered their grievous loss on the feast of his patron, St. Augustine. Fortified by the Rites of Holy Church, Father Austin laid aside life’s burden in the early hours of Sunday, August 28th.
Known in the world as Francis Tierney, he was born in Belfast in 1900. Coming to Dublin as a child, he was educated at St. Mary’s College, Rathmines, and later at the Passionist Juniorate then at Sandymount. In the Juniorate, one of his professors was Mr. De Valera, now President of Ireland. Their friendship endured throughout the years, and at the Obsequies on Tuesday, the President occupied a special predieu in the Sanctuary. Professed at St. Gabriel’s Retreat, The Graan, Enniskillen, in 1917, Father Austin was ordained in Holy Cross Church, Clonliffe, on December 23rd, 1922.
For two periods he was closely associated with THE CROSS, and it was due largely to his untiring efforts that our magazine survived and prospered throughout the years.
During his early years in the priesthood he was Spiritual Director of the Dublin Metropolitan Garda, and during this time he led a Garda Pilgrimage to Rome in 1928 and to Lourdes in 1930. Although most of his priestly life was spent at Mount Argus, he resided for a time at Holy Cross Retreat, Ardoyne, Belfast, and later at St. Gabriel’s, Enniskillen. In 1944 he was chosen as the first Rector of the newly established Retreat of St. Joseph at Collooney, Co. Sligo.
But it was his eminence as an indefatigable preacher of missions and retreats which made him known in every corner of Ireland. We dare to say that few priests have conducted as many missions during the past thirty-five years. Eloquent and vigorous in the pulpit, patient and kindly in the confessional, Father Austin will long be remembered as a great missionary son of St. Paul of the Cross.
Those close to him realised that his love for Our Blessed Mother was wondrously intense and child-like. Through the frequent recitation of the Memorare, he placed his every care in her maternal hands. Indeed a matter of days before his death, he had been making final arrangements for a pilgrimage to his Mother’s shrine at Lourdes.
Most Rev. Eugene O’Callaghan, D.D., Bishop of Clogher, presided at the Obsequies in the Church of St. Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus. Very Rev. Father Fergus, C.P., Provincial, celebrated the Solemn Requiem Mass, after which the mortal remains of Father Austin were laid to rest in the Community Cemetery. Requiescat in Pace.
(The Cross, Vol. LI, 1960-61; p. 183)
28 August, 1960
Fr. Austin of Jesus Crucified (Tierney)
We usually thought of him as a Dublin man, but he was born in Belfast on 14th April 1900, As a youngster he went to the Dominican Nuns’ school on the Falls. But at an early age his family moved to Dublin, and he then went to the Holy Ghost Fathers College of St. Mary’s in Rathmines.
He already had a link with us Passionists, for a maternal uncle of his was Fr. John Mary McMullen, nomen clara in our Anlo-Hibernian Province. Francis Tierney (such was Fr Austin’s family name) won fame early; he was a prize-winner in the essay competition run by “The Cross” in Feb. 1914 – “My Favourite Book” (It was The “Inner Life” by Pere Lacordiere, O.P.): the future Austin peeped out in a phrase he used for the 2nd prize: “I am glad”, he wrote,” that I won the 2nd prize because the book for the first could not be as nice as the one I got”. Three months later it was he who won the 1st prize, for an essay on “The Month of May”.
It is not surprising that he wished to become a Passinonist,. He did his studies, preliminary to the novitiate, at our Juniorate at Sandymount, where Eamon DeValera, later President of Ireland, was one of his teachers. After his profession on July 29th 1917 at The Graan, he did his priesthood studies at Mount Argus, and on 23 Dec. 1922, he was ordained priest at Holy Cross Church, Clonliffe.
His first assignment was as assistant to the Editor of The Cross, Fr. Angelo McCunnin, whom he later succeeded as Editor and Manager. His first mission was with Fr. Alphonsus Farrell, and he speedily became one of the best Missionaries and Retreat-Masters. Hre used keep a list of those he had given, and a fair sample is the 4-year period 1932-1935: he gave 95 Missions and Retreats during that time.
“Mere statistics, however, fail to give us the full picture, and to complete it, one must bear in mind that to each of his missionary assignments Fr Austin brought all his tireless energy, his boundless enthusiasm, his persuasive eloquence, his talent for organisation, and above all his consummate devotion to Passionist traditions. His Missions and Retreats were distinctively and distinguishably PASSlONIST, and to this end he spared no pains, leaving nothing to chance, but carefully observing and utilizing every detail. He was, thus, an ideal and most helpful companion to young missioners on the first venture into this sphere of specialised apostolic activity” (Fr. Finian Harte,CP).
He had his little ways: his passion for symmetry, for neatness, his knowledge of railway timetables, but more than these are remembered his charity, shown in his sympathetic ear and carefully weighed advice.
He ministered spiritually to the Army, and especially to the Garda. (He led their pilgrimages to Rome and to Lourdes, both making a stir abroad).
His health began to fail in 1959, and he took to his bed finally on Friday, August 26th I960. At 1.25 a.m. on the Sunday, he died, We can be sure that Mary, his Heavenly Mother, whom he honoured so often at Lourdes, heard what was an oft repeated prayer, “that she pray for him at the moment of prayer and at the hour of (his) death”.
His Exellency, President de Valera, honoured his former pupil’s burial by his being present.
Sources: Obituary Notice (by Fr. Finian).