Re: Re: Brother Michael Augustine O’Riordan

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The alumni association of the Presentation Brothers has published this interesting biography of Br. O’Riordan:

Br. Michael Augustine Riordan

Michael Riordan was born in the parish of Doneraile, Co. Cork, in 1783 or 1784. It is likely that his family were well off and that he received a good elementary education at a local hedge-school. It is believed he studied architecture in Cork under the father of Sir Thomas Deane. The parish church in his native Doneraile is but one of many buildings Michael Riordan designed .
Michael was already a practising architect and builder when he joined the Society of the Presentation in the North Monastery, probably in 1814, being thenceforth known as Br. Augustine or Br. Austin.

In 1822 at a Chapter held in Mount Sion, Waterford, the Brothers of the Society of the Presentation voted to accept the Brief of Pope Pius VII amalgamating all the communities under a central authority as a Pontifical Congregation. Br. Edmund Rice, founder of the congregation, was elected Superior General and new Constitutions and a new name, the Irish Christian Brothers, were adopted. Bishop Murphy of Cork saw in the acceptance of the Brief of Pius VII a rejection of his own authority and used all his influence to persuade the Cork Brothers to resist this move. He made a particularly personal appeal to Brother Augustine to remain under his jurisdiction. Most of the Brothers in the North Monastery accepted the new Constitutions, but Br. Augustine and it is believed one other Brother whose name is not recorded, decided to continue to follow the original Presentation rule. Eventually, in 1826, they left the North Monastery and went to reside in accommodation they shared with the priests of St. Finbar’s South Parish.

On Monday 2 July 1827 Br. Augustine and his companions opened a temporary school in a disused corn store in Cat Lane, off Barrack Street, Cork. In the announcement at Masses the previous Sunday it was noted that the building was capable of accommodating 600 children. Later the school moved to a new premises, built by Br. Augustine, attached to the South Monastery, Douglas Street.

Br. Augustine continued his architectural work for several years . He was involved in drawing up plans for Catholic churches, convents and schools in the dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Kerry. Among his buildings are the chapel and extension to the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock, Cork (1827); the school at South Monastery, Douglas Street; Saint Michael’s Church, Blackrock; churches in Dunmanway, Ovens, Bantry, Kinsale, Skibbereen, Rosmore, and Millstreet. The churches in Rosscarberry and Castletown-Kenneigh are also attributed to him. He built a school in Cobh for Bishop Coppinger. The annals of the Presentation Convent, Clonmel record how he travelled to Cork every Saturday evening, coming back to Clonmel on Monday mornings, while the convent was being built.

All this work was done by Br. Augustine in addition to his other duties as Superior of the South Monastery and superintending two schools, the South Monastery school and the Lancasterian school. It is probable that much of the actual supervision was done during school holidays and at weekends.

Little is known about Br. Augustine’s private life. He left no diaries or personal papers though there are some manuscripts of the Presentation Rule in his handwriting. But he was a man of talent and ability and evidently had great leadership qualities who drew other remarkable men, Br. Paul Townsend and Br.Francis Scannell among them, to collaborate with him .

Br. Augustine’s younger brother Charles, some 14 years his junior, entered the Brothers in 1821 and spent some time with Edmund Rice in Waterford. He was professed in 1824 and spent ten years with the Christian Brothers but then joined Br. Augustine in the South Monastery. Thus he was a significant ‘bridge’ between the two congregations. The first indication of Br. Augustine’s declining health comes in a letter written on 31 December 1846 by Charles Riordan – known in the community as Br. Bernard – to Br. Paul Townsend who was superior in Killarney. The letter mentions Br. Augustine’s ‘state of depression of spirits, the consequence of his illness…..’ and asks Br. Paul to visit the South Monastery without delay.

A year later, on 20 January 1848, Br. Augustine died. His remains lie in the Brothers’ vault in the grounds of what is now the South Presentation Convent of the Sacred Heart, formerly the South Monastery, where Br. Augustine lived from the time of his departure from the North Monastery twenty two years earlier. He is remembered as a dedicated teacher and an architect of note, but especially as the humble Brother who preserved the Presentation way of life.

Gentlemen of the Presentation (Feheney, Veritas, 1999) Annals, South Monastery
The Presentation Brother, D.H.Allen FPM (Private publication)

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