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Dungarvan's Ironwork Heritage Part 14 - The Mission Cross St Marys Parish Church

This unusual memorial can now be seen placed against the wall on the right as one enters the cemetery.  It consists of a large wooden cross with the symbols of the Passion in ironwork.  The crown of thorns, a heart, pinchers, lance, nails etc., are all attached to the wooden cross.  On the base of the cross is a plaque with a painted inscription:

Mission of the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate A.D. 1860.

Edmond Keohan in his History of Dungarvan gives the date of the cross as 1879.  However, a historian of the order records the Dungarvan mission which took place from 2 August to 9 September 1860.  The following members of the order were present: Fathers Robert Cooke, Fox, Gibbons, Nolan and Ryan.  There were huge crowds and four recruits to the order. There is also a reference to the erection of a cross, which is presumably the present one.  It is possible that the wood was replaced in 1879.

Who were the Oblate Fathers?  The order was founded in 1816 by Eugene de Mazenod, later Bishop of Marseille.  One of the members who participated in the Dungarvan mission in 1860 was Father Robert Cooke (1821-1882).  He was the author of a biography of de Mazenod.  Robert Francis Cooke was born in Touraneena or Dungarvan on 14 February 1821.  Family lore recalled that his grandmother was the wife of a Mr. Cooke of Kiltinan Castle, Co. Tipperary.  She converted to the Catholic faith and when her husband died, she did not want to remain at Kiltinan as her sons would have been brought up as Protestants.  She settled in Dungarvan working as a teacher.

Robert’s father was a merchant in Dungarvan.  In the early 1840s Robert was sent to Dublin to study medicine and law.  However, he wanted to pursue a different path.  In 1846 he was ordained in France as a member of the Oblate order.  He was sent to England and eventually was appointed Superior of the order at Tower Hill, London where he died on 16 June 1882 and was buried in St Mary’s cemetery, Kensal Green.  There is a memorial to him in the Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill, London.

The Protestant Policeman Beholds the Crucifix
Extract from ‘Echoes from the Decies’ by Tom Tobin

In the year 1863, a conversion, marked by the most extraordinary circumstances, took place during a mission which the Oblates of Mary were conducting in Dungarvan.  Philip John Mulligan, a young man from Northern Ireland, a Protestant with a strong anti-Catholic bias, was a member of the mounted Constabulary stationed in the town.  One evening he was induced... by a friend to attend the mission.  He went as he thought to enjoy a good scoff but instead the evening proved to be one he could never forget.  During the ceremonies a penitential procession took place at which the Mission Crucifix was borne around the church.  The procession had not got halfway through the church when the terrified cries and loud sobbing of a man was heard by all present.

Philip Mulligan’s own account of the occurrence is recorded:

As the procession approached the spot where I stood, I noticed that several of those who had not been able to kneel down, owing to pressure of the crowd, tried to do so as the crucifix was passing near them.  When I beheld these marks of reverence being paid to the crucifix, my Protestant prejudices were stirred up to anger, and I said to myself, that if my Commanding Officer were to stand before me with drawn sword and order me to kneel down before the crucifix, I would not obey him.  I had scarcely formed such thoughts in my mind when all of a sudden a ray of the most dazzling light, brighter far than any sunbeam I had ever seen, flashed from the crucifix.  In that light I saw all the sins of my life.  Overwhelmed with a sense of sinfulness, I fell prostrate on the ground... a few friends who stood by me could not account for my emotion and thought I had taken a fit... at last I rose up... It was then that the desire to become a Catholic rose irresistibly in my mind and I repeated aloud to my astonished friends: Oh! what a happiness were I a Catholic!

The Bishop of Waterford was in Dungarvan and the missioners informed him of the remarkable story.  After a lengthy interview with the young man, the Bishop decided that conditional baptism might be given him that day, and he further said that he would be prepared to confirm him immediately after.  Two years later Mulligan became a lay-brother in the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  He spent forty years on the foreign missions in Basutoland, South Africa where he died in 1915.

The cross in its original location in 1966

Father Robert Cooke (1821-1882)

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