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The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter III.

A helper of his friends--He relieves distress in Donegal--Recollections of him by Cardinal Archbishop Logue (1879-1880)--Death of his father (1878)--Life at Mountjoy Square, Dublin--Mother Kate's visit to Ireland--Lecture in Dublin on 'Our Boys' (1878).

'He had a kindness for the Irish nation.'--BOSWELL: Life of Johnson.

IN 1879 Dolling was the instrument of helping in a very generous way to avert some great troubles which were impending over some of his friends, who have asked us to record the circumstances. One of the family writes:

'In the spring of 1878 my mother, who for the three years since my father's death had been carrying on the management of a West End theatre, decided to take and rebuild a suburban theatre as a profitable investment. Soon after she withdrew from the West End house, the estimates for the rebuilding of the other theatre were so enormously exceeded that the result was the building was heavily mortgaged before it was completed in November, 1879. The theatre was not successful, debts accumulated. I saw my mother's brave spirit tried to the uttermost. She had always had a horror of debt, and now she was caught in its net, with no way out. But God answers prayer. Robert Dolling's help was the answer. I had known Mr. Dolling's sisters, and ono day I confided our troubles to one of them. She asked if my mother would allow her brother Robert to advise her, as he was a very good man of business. The offer was accepted. From that day he was as a son to my mother. Lawyers, creditors, mortgagees he found time to meet and talk to. He threw himself heart and soul into my mother's troubles, behaving exactly as if they were his own.'

This lady goes on to relate how Dolling's extreme generosity, combined with the most delicate tact in the way of offering his help, enabled her mother to die in peace, and the whole family to be tided over the imminent peril of complete bankruptcy. He wrote to his sisters from Borough Road immediately after he had attended the funeral of the mother who is alluded to above:

'A line, dearest children, to say that the funeral is over. I drove with them, and then came back and stayed to dinner, to talk and keep up their spirits. God has been good to me in letting me help so brave and true a woman in her trouble. I am very thankful for it.'

Nothing gave this good man more sincere pleasure than to set someone free from a network of difficulty in which he or she might be entangled, especially where through no personal fault financial trouble threatened some comparatively blameless person. When he could no longer help from his own means, he used his influence with wealthy people, who trusted his good sense to bring such cases to their notice. In all such circumstances his business experience and capacity admirably seconded the promptings of his generous heart.

Among his London friends at this time should be mentioned Mother Kate (Kate Egerton Warburton), the head of S. Saviour's Priory, Haggerston, a branch of the S. Margaret's Sisterhood, East Grinstead, doing mission work among the poor of that part of London. Mother Kate was one of Dolling's oldest and most intimate friends, and has always been in complete sympathy with his work. Her own work and that of the other sisters with her among the working-class lads and girls of Haggerston is well known, and is conducted with a sympathy and an unconventionality that Dolling always rejoiced in. A visit to the Priory was often made by him whenever Mother Kate had a special social gathering or excursion on hand, and of such parties he was, whenever he came, the life of the whole affair. In connection with Mother Kate's work he also met Mrs. B. E. Tomkinson, who was also a great helper at the postmen's gatherings, and who is one of the oldest of all Brother Bob's London friends. The Misses Edith and Eva Layton were also among those friends of his who helped much at Borough Road.

His Eminence Cardinal Logue, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, kindly allows us to publish the following recollections, which refer to this period of Father Dolling's life:

'I first made the acquaintance of the late Rev. Robert E. Dolling, when he was a young layman, towards the end of 1879. On July 20 of that year I was consecrated Bishop of Raphoe, and in the following autumn I found myself brought face to face with a very severe crisis. Owing to the very wet and cold summer the crops were an almost complete failure, in consequence of which the people of Donegal were reduced to a condition bordering on starvation. Indeed, were it not for the aid received from the charitable public in England and America--especially America--what was merely a season of acute distress would have become a season of absolute famine.

'Mr. Dolling was among the earliest to come to my assistance by forwarding sums which he had collected among his friends in London. His friend, the Rev. Mr. Russell, of S. Alban's, Holborn, also gave material assistance. I received several letters from Mr. Dolling in connection with this matter. They were mere business letters, and I have not kept them.

'In the early part of 1880--I forget the precise date--Mr. Dolling came to visit me in Letterkenny, and stayed several days. In the summer of 1880 he and the Rev. A. Stanton, of S. Alban's, paid me another visit, and stayed a week or ten days. During these visits I was deeply impressed with the charming character of Mr. Dolling. He was simple-minded, earnest, and entirely devoted to works of charity.

'Later--I think it was in the same year--I passed through London on my way to make a visitation of the Irish College in Paris. At the earnest request of Mr. Dolling, I stayed a day with him at his house in London. I found he had turned it pretty much into a club for post-boys, where they could spend their time usefully and amuse themselves during the hours they were not on their beat. His proteges included Catholics as well as Protestants. I had an opportunity of a private interview with all the Catholics, and found, what I bad anticipated, that Mr. Dolling never interfered in the least with their religious convictions. I should say he interfered in the case of one Catholic whom he found to be negligent in the discharge of his religious duties. He sent him to me for a private lecture, and he wrote to me afterwards that the lecture had its effect. Ho seemed to have a special tact for managing boys. He received very useful assistance from a number of ladies, some of whom I met; but he had a horror of ladies who patronised the boys. Certainly those I saw did not patronise. They seemed as simple and unpretending as the boys themselves. On this occasion he brought me to S. Alban's, where I dined with the Rev. Mr. Mackonochie and his assistants. At dinner a little decanter of sherry, by no means full, was placed before me. Seeing the others taking water, I followed their example. Someone laughingly remarked that that little decanter of sherry had been placed before every stranger who dined there for the past six months, and had not been lessened a drop. After dinner I spent some time in the Rev. Mr. Russell's rooms, in conversation with him, Mr. Dolling, and one or two of the clergymen.

'After this visit, beyond meeting him casually in railway-carriages, I saw very little of Mr. Dolling. I had letters from him frequently which were not of much interest, and none of which I have kept. I have never met him or received a letter from him since ho became a clergyman, and I often wondered why this was so. It certainly did not arise from any loss of cordial feeling between us, or any lessening of esteem for him on my part. I need not say that, in common with all his friends, I was sincerely grieved by his early death.


'Card. Loyne.'

The Dolling family had left Kilrea on June 11, 1877. After Mr. Dolling senior had resigned the Kilrea agency, it was taken by Mr. Holmes, formerly Bulgarian Consul. The death of Mr. Dolling senior took place September 28, 1878, not very long after their removal to Dublin, where they lived at 28, Gardiner Place, on the north side of the city, till November 22, 1878. They then went to reside at 84, Mountjoy Square, in the same neighbourhood. During this period, 1877-1882, Dolling was constantly to and fro between the two capitals--i.e., London and Dublin--and also in various parts of Ireland other than the capital. Most of his time in Dublin, when not actually engaged in business connected with his land agencies, was devoted to the same kind of work among lads and men that he did in London on so much larger a scale. His Dublin friends were, however, of more mixed types than his postmen; some of them were young clerks, some were shop assistants. A good many were soldiers, as the Irish capital is a great military centre, and some of his London boys who had enlisted and were stationed in Dublin had procured for him the 'run,' if we may so say, of various barracks, introducing him to their pals as 'Brother Bob.' The present writer used often to be at Dolling's house in those days, and so may be allowed to reproduce a few sentences from a little article describing Brother Bob's life in Dublin, which he wrote for the S. Saviour's Magazine, Poplar, soon after the latter's death:

'He built a set of rooms behind his house at Mount joy Square, Dublin, and there he gathered round himself a sort of family of young fellows, who met on certain evenings during the week for recreation--either gymnastics, cards, or singing, or simply for a chat and a pipe with "Brother Bob" (for the name given him by the London postmen had followed him to his Dublin home).

'On some nights religious meetings were held in a little improvised chapel; but religion was never forced, and the tone of the place was as removed from that of the Young Men's Christian Association as it was from that of a public-house. The mental atmosphere was essentially healthy and natural, and the influence of Robert Dolling was that of a young man with young men; not, as might easily have been the case with a less strong personality, of a prig with a band of parasites as disciples. Everything was thoroughly healthy and manly, as well as unselfish and affectionate, and many a lad in barracks or behind the counter was glad of "Brother Bob's" friendship and of the privilege of spending the evening with other fellows where there was at once no evil temptation and no stilted religionism.'

The church which Dolling communicated at when in Dublin was that of Grangegorman, already referred to by Father Tyrrell in the last chapter. The incumbent was the late Rev. W. Maturin, D.D., the father of that distinguished preacher and member of the Cowley Brotherhood, Oxford, who has since entered the Roman Catholic Communion. Dolling knew the Maturins personally, but 'the Doctor,' to use the designation by which Dr. Maturin was universally known to his congregation, was a man of such an utterly different type to himself that they could never have thoroughly worked together. Dr. Maturin represented the old Tractarian type in its nobility of character, its high purpose, its stern reality, its clear and logical unworldliness. He made no concession to the 'modern spirit' in any form. Neither of the directions in which the younger High Churchmen were moving in England had any attraction for Dr. Maturin. He distrusted the orthodoxy of the school afterwards known as 'Lux Mundi' on the one hand, and on the other the democratic movement which such men as Stanton and Dolling claimed for Christ, as giving opportunity for the triumph of a more generous and genuine, because more social, description of Christianity, he regarded as a manifestation of the author of all lawlessness. The vicar of Grangegorman lived in the world of the Caroline Divines, the Nonjurors, and the Tractarians; Dolling's spiritual progenitors were rather S. Francis and John Wesley.

Dolling soon became known among the small High Church circle of Dublin. But most of them disapproved of him. He was to them as W. G. Ward to the Tractarians, an enfant terrible. He was in many ways sui generis, and his chumming up with men and lads of the 'lower classes,' his 'free and easies 'at Mountjoy Square, where it was rumoured that there was solemn vespers in the oratory on one night and a smoking concert in the club-room with such songs as 'Ballyhooly 'on another--all this was calculated to distress minds whose ideas of the Church's influence were more associated with Miss Yonge's novels than with Arthur Stanton's sermons at S. Alban's. The Dublin High Church party had the nervousness natural to a difficult and strained position between the opposing hosts of Protestantism and Rome. A Protestant opponent of theirs in the Dublin Synod said of them that 'they could all be put under a carriage umbrella.'

Let us see Dolling at this time in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland as he appeared to friends other than the present writer. When his relatives were living in Dublin, he invited Mother Kate and Mr. Walter Schroder (another friend, who was hon. treasurer of S. Martin's League) to accompany him to Ireland. They stayed at Mountjoy Square for a time, and also visited some places in the country. Mother Kate wrote at this time from Queen's Hotel, Dundalk, to hers and Robert Dolling's friend, Mrs. Tomkinson, as follows:


'Brother Bob and Mr. Schroder and I are having a most delightful wild tour of two days, collecting rents. We left Dublin yesterday, and after two hours' railway journey drove on a car through the most lovely country. I think the Irish are the most delightful people. The poor country people Mr. Dolling went among were so very nice, and they are all Land Leaguers. After our rent-collecting we drove back to a little wood side station called Ennis-keen, but lost the train to Dundalk, so had to take a car, and had a lovely drive of eight miles, and the driver, a charming boy, told Mr. Dolling lots of stories of boycotting in the neighbourhood. At the hotel the people all looked very puzzled at us, as if I was a nun escaped from a convent. A soldier came to tea, and then we had a car and drove to the barracks. I think the Dundalk people never saw a thing that astonished them more than the car tearing through the streets with a "noon" and a soldier on it, and, as Mr. Dolling added, Mr. Schroder in his white hat and black band, "looking as if he had been to Ascot." Certainly such a car-full had never driven through Dundalk before. There were two of my boys, now soldiers, in the barracks, Jack's brother and another. We walked about and heard the band play, and then a nice sergeant took us to the sergeant's mess-room and the reading-room. There was a great cat, just like Rowdy, sitting on the table, petted by all the soldiers. The sergeant said it had been left by the last regiment, the "Bays," but they were going to send for it. It would be delightful if you were here, for we are enjoying ourselves immensely, and the people can't make us out at all. Sisters never go outside the convent walls in Ireland. [This is not the case.] We are to go to the barracks again this afternoon; after that we return to Dublin from our delightful expedition.

'Yours affectionately,

'KATE S. S. M.'

The above letter is accompanied by a delightful pen-and-ink drawing of the outside car and its occupants being driven through Dundalk, in the style of one of the little incidents depicted in Thackeray's 'Irish Sketch-Book.' Mother Kate also alludes to this Irish visit in the beautiful notice of R. R. Dolling which she wrote after his death for her magazine, the Orient. Those who have not read this article will be glad to see some extracts from it here. She says:

'My little visit to the house in Mountjoy Square is one I always look back upon with great pleasure. The Miss Dollings were so kind and charming, and it was beautiful to see the affection and consideration shown to them by their brother, and most warmly reciprocated by them. There were some rooms built out at the back of the house, where Brother Bob spent a good many evenings in the week, surrounded by crowds of lads and young men, the greater part of them soldiers. He generally invited me to come down and spend an hour or so with them, and most delightful times I found them. There, enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke from the many pipes which were going, you saw him seated in the middle presiding over the happy mob; spurs jingling, now and then the clipped-off, shrill accent of an Ortheris, or the rough doric of a Learoyd, striking in amidst the eager, excited voices of the many Mulvaneys, only instead of there being "soldiers three" it was a case of "soldiers thirty." Above all the babel of tongues, the clang of arms, and circling clouds of smoke, Brother Bob's clear, calm voice made itself heard, talking to everyone, regulating everything, and now and then breaking out into song. To hear him sing "The Wearing of the Green" was indeed a real treat.

'Beyond this meeting-room lay another, used as a little oratory, where he and his lads prayed together, and whore he began to give those wonderful addresses and extempore prayers which so appealed to the hearts and sympathies of those among whom he worked long afterwards in his priestly capacity. Here he had his private talks with each one individually. I remember his asking a Lancer boy some question--I forget what--to which the boy seemed rather loth to answer, and Brother Bob said, "!Never mind now, my dear; you will tell me when we talk it over together presently." He was very down on any foolish parade of ritualism from High Church young men. He told them their religion was to be their life--their help of others--not a show of words and comparison of vestments.

'He was anxious I should have a glimpse of the country during my stay in Ireland, and so took me with him and Mr Schroder for two or three days rent-collecting at Dundalk. I was much struck by the devotion of all the people, old and young, to him, from the old grannies with their broad-frilled caps, speared through and through with their knitting-needles when not in use, down to the little unkempt gossoons who played on the mud floors of the cottages beside the pig and the chickens. It was a happy time, and I came away with a pleasant memory of the bright sunshiny household, and of the wonderful power of this young man, who held, as it were, the souls of so many boys and lads in the hollow of his hand, to mould them for good. This visit to the Miss Dollings was in the August of 1881, and I went under the escort of Brother Bob and Mr. Schroder. I shall never forget the welcome that awaited Brother Bob at the Dublin landing-stage from a crowd of clamorous, warm-hearted Irish lads, who had heard he was coming, and all assembled to meet him.

'Of late years we had not come much in contact; he was too busy a man, and I had, in my own small way, my time too much occupied. But he lives in my memory as a man who had a most marvellous gift of insight into character, which, joined to his great sympathy, enabled him to help all sorts and conditions of men in a way that few others could. There was a personality in his religion, a sort of realisation of what Lacordaire would call "the Man Christ Jesus," of the great Humanity of our Lord, which somehow seemed to bring him soul to soul most closely in his dealings with others. One always felt of him what Kegan Paul says of Charles Kingsley: "He was a man of prayer and piety, filled with a personal, even passionate, love to Christ, whom he realised as his Friend and Brother in a fashion almost peculiar to the saints." A great idea of his was, in his dealings with his boys and men, to make them not only help themselves, but to be helpful for others. I remember at Duridalk his wanting sometimes a sheet of writing-paper, and instead of getting one he would ask a soldier for a bit of his. I said, "Oh, can he afford it? I have some in my writing-case." "No," he said, "it is good for him to give it, and I know he likes to do it." So over and over again he got them to write letters and do numberless little things which, as he said, "were good for them to do."

'With regard to generalities, it was wonderful how he got the grasp of the situation. However involved and complicated it might be, he seemed to see through all the entanglements, and, vulgarly speaking, "to hit the right nail on the head." His tact was extraordinary; he always said the right thing in the right place, and at the right time. He always had a ready answer, a ready solution, for every difficulty and every proposition. I saw in one of the daily papers that someone who went to consult him on a grave and religious matter, and found him sitting on a table and singing "Ballyhooly" among his men, was astonished to find the deeply religious tone he took about the matter in question, and the sound, practical advice he gave on it. To us, who knew him well, this would be no surprise. It would just be Brother Bob. He had his Master's interests foremost in his heart, whether he was singing "Ballyhooly," or hearing a confession, or preaching a sermon; it was all done for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.'

Mr. E. W. Rodgers of Dublin, who was one of those who attended Brother Bob's social evenings and meetings at Mount-joy Square, tells us the following:

'I first became acquainted with Brother Bob (the name by which he went, to his great delight, among us) some twenty or twenty-four years ago. I was introduced to him just the week in which I was confirmed, and had the benefit of his instruction for my first Communion. I shall never forget that Easter if I live for one hundred years. When I first saw him he was seated in a small library in Mount joy Square, Dublin, surrounded by about twenty young men of all classes. His features were hardly visible through the clouds of tobacco-smoke. I had riot known him for half an hour till it seemed as if I had known him all my life. Such was his remarkable personality. Everyone he came in contact with loved him. I never saw him angry or put out when someone disappointed him. As an instance of this, there was one of us poor fellows who drank too much. He had great hopes for him, as he had been straight for some time. But one evening this boy came to Mount joy Square very drunk. I came in soon after, and Brother Bob told me"------came here to-night. I have put him on my bed, where he is sound asleep. He will be all right soon." As far as I know that fellow turned out well after.

'There was such a reflection of the character of Jesus in His servant. Truly he had a wonderful way with him. We were of all shades of religious profession. There were High and Low Churchmen, "No Churchmen," Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, even Plymouth Brethren amongst us. To influence them for good he never proselytised. The Roman Catholics were sent to "their duty" and to Mass, Presbyterians, etc., to their own places of worship. But the little services held in the oratory were for Churchmen. There we were taught such a view of Catholic Faith and practice as, speaking from my own experience, will never be effaced.

' He moved young men to confession where possible as a help and safeguard. Some of us availed ourselves of it at one of the Dublin churches. That Easter we spent Good Friday and the Saturday with him in devotion. The Stations of the Cross was part of it, and on Easter morning he came to the church we attended, and communicated with us at our first Communion. We spent that day, too, with him. On Easter Monday he brought some one hundred youths, mostly soldiers, with him on a picnic to the island off Howth Head called "Ireland's Eye," and home to dinner in the evening, which wound up with a variety entertainment. He had no cant in him; that was part of his secret. There was no pride in him; he was one of us. He used to say "It is hard to win a soul from the pulpit only." He is remembered still by all who had to do with him, and I know he did not live here in vain. Would we had more like him! 'May he rest in peace, and may eternal light shine upon him 1" '

On November 14,1878, Dolling delivered a most interesting and characteristic address on the subject of 'Our Boys' before a meeting of the Irish Church Society, held in Dublin. The Irish Church Society was composed of Irish High Churchmen, its object being to defend and explain the Church principles of a definite and Catholic character which were opposed and misunderstood by Irish Protestants. The excellent paper which Dolling read on this occasion is now out of print, but a copy of it lies before us. It is of considerable length, and so we can only give some general account of it; the whole of its tone, true to all Dolling's teaching, is at once thoroughly Catholic, thoroughly evangelical, and thoroughly natural and human. The main idea of it is the training up of lads as members of the Christian Family, the Church of Christ. In regard to Sunday-schools, he blames

'the want of definite dogmatic teaching. The histories of the Old Testament, "Jonah's whale and Goliath's bloody head," as they come to us from the lips of Toddie and Budge, are highly amusing, but can they be called edifying? The names of the Kings of Israel and Judah are, no doubt, when learnt by heart, an excellent test of a retentive memory. But is this a proper method of training a child in the Catholic Faith? I think not.'

He goes on to urge the teacher to make himself the personal friend of the boys of his class.

'As soon as a boy comes to us he must find in us a real and sympathising friend, not only as regards what boys call "parson's shop," but as regards their whole life, their pleasures, their sorrows, their week-day as well as their Sunday life. Never forget that boys have bodies as well as souls. . . . All of us can show our boys that one of our chief objects in trying to gain influence over them is to try and make them happy, large-hearted, manly men.'

He urges encouragement of outdoor games, paper-chases, bathing, boating, 'or tramps up the beautiful hills which surround our city.' He alludes to the temptations which beset youths just growing into manhood from 'second-rate theatres, low music-halls, public-houses, with their doors always invitingly on the swing.' We must 'supply some wholesome, humanising amusement. Not that I have one word to say against theatres. "Thank God," I suppose most of us can say, "for lessons learnt in them which we would never have learnt in Church." '

The more distinctively religious portion of the lecture is strongly sacramentalist, but the sacramentalism is entirely instrumental towards the all necessary evangelical end, the personal touch of Christ upon the youth's soul. We conclude by quoting some of the more striking passages:

'If in all our meditations and prayers we require the assistance of books, we are very like lame men on crutches thinking they are able to walk. How very soon, when they try, will they be undeceived! This habit of prayer and spiritual communion is one of the chief means of feeding the inward spiritual life, the subjective part of religion. We can do little, except by prayer, to help on this inward spiritual life. This is the great aim we should ever keep in view--the bringing of the soul more and more into union with its God, so that Christ may become, as it were, incarnate in the boy's soul, and the boy himself transformed by the renewing of his mind. To virgin hearts Jesus comes in perfection, and in perfection is received, "for of such is His Kingdom." But if the stain of sin has once passed over the soul, labour, care, and toil must make the ground meet for the good seed.

'Here, above all things, beware of cant. That, if it ever becomes a permanent habit, dries up at once all the springs of true love and devotion. . . . Your work is unfinished, is, in fact, not begun, unless you have put the heart of him whom you are striving to train in some manner and degree en rapport with the sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.'

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