Sunday, April 20, 2014


An Irish Capuchin who gave spiritual assistance to the Irish rebels in the 1916 Easter Rising


From the very beginning, Capuchins have been close to the common people, the people of the land.  The great majority of Capuchins themselves came from the common people.  Though some friars came from noble families, and though some friars ministered to and had influence over high-ranking people, the touch of the Capuchin friar was most felt among the simple people of the land.

Capuchins preached to the common people in a simple and direct way which people appreciated.  Capuchins were fearless in going into the homes of the poor when diseases were killing off people in epidemics.  It was this love from the common people that saved the necks of the Capuchins when others tried to attack them.

So some Capuchins have always been involved in cultural and national causes. 


On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a small and ill-fated rebellion broke out in Dublin, Ireland against the British who were still ruling the country.

The Easter Rising failed and the Irish nationalist leaders, mostly Catholic, were arrested and most sentenced to death.

It was Capuchin friars who went to give them spiritual care during and after the fighting.  A hall in a Capuchin church served as a temporary hospital for the wounded.  In the violence of 1922, Capuchins were right in the building being attacked, staying with the men to bless any of the fallen and wounded, while the bullets flew.

Irish Capuchin friars became chaplains to the rebel leaders sentenced to death.  The friars heard their confessions and prepared them for the firing squad.  As soon as the man was shot, the Capuchin walked over to the body to give a blessing.  One Capuchin asked one of the condemned if he would say a prayer for the very soldiers about to shoot him dead.  They were, after all, soldiers who were doing what they thought was right.  Those soldiers saw themselves as doing their duty.  The friar did not want the Irish leader to die with anger, but to forgive as Christ had forgiven His enemies.

The Irish leader said, "I do, Father.  I respect every man who does his duty."

Father Albert Biddy, OFM Cap, ministered to Irish rebels and was arrested by the British as well


The Irish had been under British rule for 400 years and much of their culture had been lost.  Fewer Irish were conversant in their own Irish language.

Irish Capuchins were at the forefront of the Irish cultural and linguistic revival.  They formed groups, conducted classes, promoted Irish sports, published in the Irish language.


Being a nationalist was not always popular - within the Order and within the Church.

Political issues are usually not so black and white.

While almost everyone agrees with the big principles, like political rights and respect for native culture, when one gets to specific means, that's when the disagreement starts.

The Irish bishops, for example, were sympathetic on the whole towards Irish aspirations for freedom and cultural revival.  But the majority of the bishops thought the armed struggle at the time was not the way to go about it.

Among the friars, too, there was not total agreement about the means to be employed in a cause that was, in general, honorable.

So these Irish Capuchins who went to the spiritual rescue of the rebels stood out.  While bishops and many priests stayed away from them, the brown-robed friars were seen standing shoulder to shoulder with the Irish rebels.

The position of the Capuchin chaplains was based on the salvation of souls.  Politics aside, the rebels were mostly Catholic and death was a real possibility for them.  That justified their assistance; hearing confessions and anointing the wounded.  It was this philosophy that enabled other Irish Capuchins to serve as chaplains in - the British Army!


Capuchins have always been missionaries, but one side benefit of having missions away from the home country is having a place to send nationalist friars who may get in trouble in the home country.

The Irish Capuchins, for example, had missions in Oregon, which at the time lacked sufficient priests.  A number of Irish nationalist friars were sent there to work, rather than remain in political controversy in Ireland.


In Spain, the Basque region is populated by people who are proud of their separate race, culture and language. 

The area was at one time strongly Catholic and many young Basques became Capuchin friars.

Many, but not all, also became vocal Basque nationalists.

Father Román María de Vera was one such Basque nationalist

Many Basque Capuchins were strong advocates of their own cultural and linguistic revival.  Their famous college in Lecároz was an influential center in the Basque nationalist cause.

When their politics created problems with the government, some nationalistic Basque Capuchins were sent to their missions in Argentina.

Some of these Basque Capuchins were missionaries on Guam.  When the American Navy had them replaced by American Capuchins, some of these Basque friars could not return home to Spain, because the government of Francisco Franco would not welcome them if they were classified as nationalists.  So some went off to the Philippines (then under American administration) and others to South America.

Bishop Olano

The retired bishop of Guam, Bishop Olano, had a brother who was also a Capuchin priest and a Basque nationalist.  Olano's brother had to leave Spain because of this and went to work in Argentina instead.  When Bishop Olano could no longer remain as bishop on Guam, he could not go back to Spain, given his brother's situation.  So Bishop Olano went to the Philippines in 1945 and only in the 1960s did he return to Spain.

Bishop Olano's brother, Father Miguel, Basque cultural advocate, who had to flee Spain because of his support for Basque causes

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