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Dominican Church

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It was on the first Sunday of Advent, December 3rd 1876, that the present Dominican Church of St .Saviour's in Bridge St., Waterford was opened for public worship. The church was dedicated by the bishop of the diocese, Most Rev. Dr. John Power and he was assisted by two other prelates, the controversial Dr Croke, Archbishop of Cashel and Dr Fitzgerald, Bishop of Ross. The preacher for the occasion was none other than the famous Fr Tom Burke who in his homily, recalled the fact that the first Dominicans had come to the city away back in the year 1226. These men were, 
‘ … not Irishmen, but men who had come from distant lands, from Italy, Spain and Rome’
and they came “in the Dominican habit and landed on the shores of your magnificent city.”  


Indeed, it is true to say that since the year 1226, Waterford has rarely been without the presence of a Dominican. The old  Blackfriars tower in the middle of the city bears eloquent witness to this fact. Actually, the formal restoration of the Dominicans in Waterford had happened nine years before the Bridge St church was opened. A temporary chapel, fashioned out of an old store had been opened in Bridge St. on March 31st 1867. On that occasion, the Provincial, Fr Russell was present and he was assisted at High Mass by Fr James Deely, the superior of the community and a Fr Thomas Boylan. It is interesting to note in this present day and age when the Dominicans have accepted pastoral responsibility for several parishes is Ireland, including that of Kilbarry (Ballybeg) in Waterford, that prior to the restoration of the Order here, a solitary Dominican, Fr Moloney, had lived in Waterford for nearly 40 years, serving all that time as a curate in the Cathedral. As in many other parts of the country, then as now, the shortage of priests had led to the Dominicans sharing in the work of the parish clergy. Indeed, it was on the occasion of the ‘months mind’ of the said Fr Moloney that the bishop of the diocese met Fr Mullins, the Provincial and through him extended an invitation for the Dominicans to return to Waterford and build their own church again. That invitation was, gladly and immediately, accepted by the Provincial. Thus, the opening of the converted shed as a Dominican Church in 1867 was to mark the last of the pre-Reformation priories that the Irish Province of the Order was to succeed in re-establishing.

St. Saviour's Bridge St.
In 1867, three Dominicans, Fr Deely and Fr Boylan, and Br Dominic Gogarty moved into a house in Bridge St. adjoining the corn store. It was this renovated store that became the first chapel of the Dominican restoration in Waterford. In his homily at the solemn opening of this 'church,' the Provincial, Fr Russell, expressed the hope that "though our place be small and humble, indeed, I do not see why great service should not be rendered to the people here, as was done in the glorious days of the church of St Saviour in your city." A few relics had survived from the dark days of dispersion and persecution. Among those relics, the most important one was undoubtedly the medieval statue of Our Lady of Waterford. In 1815 after the death of a Fr Anthony Duane OP who had resided in the city for many years, this statue was removed for safekeeping to the Black Abbey in Kilkenny and subsequently to the Dominican house in Limerick. With the restoration of the Order, the statue of Our Lady of Waterford came back to its native city and is today venerated by many of the faithful who attend our church services in Bridge St.

Permanent Chapel
It was not long before the Dominicans began to realise that their temporary chapels (the first one had become a safety hazard and had to be demolished and a second store had been speedily reconverted and the first Mass celebrated in it on November 15th 1873) were inadequate for the needs of the people and so they called a public meeting of the citizens on December I4tl 1873, with the purpose of seeking their approval and support for the building of a new and permanent chapel. The response was  overwhelmingly positive and on that night alone, no less than £1,200 was subscribed towards the coat of the new building. Fund raising activities were also initiated when the friars visited every house in the city and voluntary workers undertook to collect funds. Bazaars were also held for the purpose and Fr Tom Burke came to the city in January and gave two fundraising lectures in the cathedral. The architect chosen to design the new church was a Mr Goldie from the London firm of Goldie and Childe. He was no stranger to Waterford as he had already designed the seminary of St John and the convent of the Good Shepherd. The choice was a wise one and was to result in one of the most beautiful churches built in the Romanesque style. The spirit of the medieval Renaissance was to be embodied in the new church.

Foundation Stone
On the first Sunday of May 1874, the first stone of the new church was blessed and laid by the bishop, Dr. John Power. Thousands of people from Tipperary, Kilkenny, New Ross and Waterford itself gathered for the occasion and the homily for the open-air High-Mass was preached by Fr Burke. He referred to the link between the present and the past; symbolised by the still standing old Dominican tower and the blessing of the foundation stone for the new church. After this the work of building the new Church proceeded rapidly and in December 1876 the Friars opened their new church. This was to be followed on Feb.2nd 1878 with the opening of the apse and the unveiling of the High Altar. The latter, a gift of  Mr John McEnery, cost £1,320 to complete and it was built by Leonardi of Rome. It was destined to be replaced in I951 when a major work of restoration was to be undertaken during the priorship of Fr. Norbert Barry OP.

Before long, the traditional Dominican Confraternities of the Holy Rosary and the Holy Name were attracting great crowds of people to the church. The register of the rosary Confraternity dates from 1867 while that of the Holy Name from 1869. In 1908, the Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament was established by the prior Fr John Kiely. Unfortunately, the latter sodality and the Holy Name Confraternity have now become extinct.

Altar and Sanctuary
One of the founding fathers of the new St. Saviour's had been Fr Antoninus Wheeler who was particularly active in raising funds for the new building. He died in Dublin in 1889 and the following year, a marble altar rails designed by Goldie and Childs was erected to his name. The pulpit, designed also by the same firm was erected in the same year. It was paid for by funds donated by Miss Catherine Barron, the last surviving member of an old Waterford family. In 1891, the level of the sanctuary was raised and tiled and the Stations of the Cross erected. Each station was individually donated by a friend of the community.

During the first priorship of Fr Terence O'Donoghue (1938-1942), plans to adorn the sanctuary with mosaic were drawn up and funds raised for that purpose. Under the direction of Fr John Heuston OP, a Mr Joseph Harley produced the cartoons for the mosaic panels in the lower apse. These illustrate the history of Waterford. Signor Grimaldi from Rome designed the cartoons for the central panels of the Transfiguration. However, plans for the execution of the work were temporarily shelved due to a lack of sufficient finances. Nine years later, during the priorship of Fr Norbert Barry (1947-1953), it was decided to go ahead with the scheme. Meanwhile, Fr Aengus Buckley OP, a gifted artist, had come to Waterford and by July 1949 had decorated the altar of St. Joseph with paintings in fresco. Fr Buckley was also responsible for the frescos of the four Evangelists in the upper part of the sanctuary. On November 3rd, 1950, Signor Grimaldi began to work on the erection of the four side panels in the lower part of the apse. By December 13th, the last panel was in position, cleaned and polished. The three central panels were in position by the following Sept. 14th and the frieze containing the inscription was attached the same time.

New Altar
Other additions to the sanctuary around this time were new bronze gates, a bronze crucifix for the High Altar, donated by the Hutchinson family and a new tabernacle. Finally, in February 1953 the strikingly beautiful mosaic of the crucifixion was attached to the tympanum of the chancel arch. Meanwhile, a new altar designed by the Dublin firm of Kelly and Jones was erected by Messrs. Early of Dublin. The Spencer family of Killure paid for this altar on which the first Mass was celebrated on December 14th 1952.

Two popular devotions initiated in the church in the 1950's were those to Our Lady of Fatima begun by Fr.Barry, and those to St.Martin de Porres or Blessed Martin as he was then known, during the priorship of Fr.Isidore McArdle (1953-56). Fr.McArdle erected a plaster statue of the saint at the end of St.Joseph's aisle and this was replaced during the priorship of Fr.Joseph Moran (1963-66) by the present wood carved statue. The artist was John Hough of Newry and the people of the city were generous in subscribing towards the cost of the statue.

Dominicans Today
Finally, and to bring us up to date with the Dominican tradition in Waterford, the friars undertook, during the priorship of Fr. Larry O'Hagan (1968-72), to accept pastoral responsibility for the new parish of Kilbarry (Ballybeg). A new Priory and school were built there by Fr.Paul Hynes OP. Fr. Ambrose McCarthy was the first parish priest of Kilbarry. Fr. Pat Lucey OP had the present beautiful church erected and this church was opened for worship on December 13th 1981 by the Bishop, Dr.Michael Russell. Incidentally, it was during the priorship of Fr.Lucey that the Padre Pio prayer group began to hold its weekly meetings in Bridge St. church. So now,there are two Dominican houses in Waterford - St.Saviour's, Bridge St., and St.Saviour's, Kilbarry. These two churches and houses, together with the old Blackfriar's tower help the imagination to span over 750 years of the Dominican presence in the city. The Dominicans have served in Waterford in medieval priory, in penal day Mass houses and in homeless wandering. With God's help and through the intercession of Our Lady of Waterford and St.Dominic, may they continue to serve the needs of the people for many years to come.

The above was taken from a leaflet The Dominicans in Waterford, written for the Bridge St. church by by Fr Stephen Tumulty OP.

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