Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 29 October, 2020

Column: Cardinal Rules - On the invasion of science

This week, the (not) Primate of All-Ireland reflects on a difficult few days in which the clerics lost a Brother and almost gained a God particle.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

IT HAS BEEN an eventful week of pre-Christmas joy mixed with just a little sadness. But sometimes even loss makes the build up to that holiest of holidays that little bit sweeter.


I receive an early morning phone call from Brother Mark, one of the few remaining Christian Brothers left in Ireland. He tells me he has sad news, and that 95-year-old veteran Brother Bartholomew is not long for this world. “I’m with him now as we speak,” he tells me.

“I’m very sad to hear he’s not well,” I tell him.

“Oh you know Brother Bartholomew, he’s a fighter. There’s the odd malarial hallucination, but he’s hanging in there,” he replies.

From the background I can hear someone bellowing: “Pick up that ruler now, O’Reilly, or I’ll put you through that window!”

“We’ll say a few prayers. Keep us posted,” I say.

“Right you are,” replies Brother Mark.

In the distance I can hear the voice roaring again. “Right! That’s it. I warned you O’ Reilly!”

“No, brother! That’s a chair!” shrieks Brother Mark. There is the sound of breaking glass and the line goes dead.

I inform the priests of the news. Naturally they are despondent, phrases like “the end of an era” are bandied about, and many hilarious anecdotes are recalled.

“Remember, when he approached the Department of Education about introducing water-boarding?” says Fr O’ Neill. Heads are shaken and there are indulgent and warm hearted chuckles all round.

“A man way ahead of his time,” sniffs Fr Ryan.

“Despite what the papers claimed,” says Fr O’ Leary.


Fr Walsh is talking about the Higgs Boson at breakfast. He is very excited, and making quite a few of us uncomfortable. Apparently those CERN scientists are close to discovering what some people call the “God particle.” Fr Walsh is now on his favourite hobby horse and is rabbitting on about the synthesis of science and theology.

By the time he is finished rambling, the only person left at the table with him is Fr Cronin who fortunately happens to be partially deaf.

I ring Brother Mark. Brother Bartholomew is “fading fast.” As if to prove that point I can hear his weakening voice in the background.

“Buckley. What’s the capital of China?” Then there is a plaintive “Who made the world?” followed by a muted sob.

“It won’t be long now,” says a sorrowful Brother Mark.

I make sympathetic clucking sounds and sigh. Then we chat about who might win this year’s Champions League.

Later that day we are horrified to discover that David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet programme faked a scene with a polar bear and her cub. Fr Deegan is particularly disturbed, and I find him going through his Meerkat DVDs in a very agitated fashion. I remember his slightly excessive reaction when he was told the chipmunks in the last Indiana Jones movie were computer generated, so I decide to say nothing.


My anger at discovering Fr Walsh reading New Scientist in the common room is replaced by sorrow when I receive a very important phone call. Apparently Brother Bartholomew passed away “relatively peacefully” during the night.

“He fought right up until the end,” Brother Mark informs me.

“Sometimes we can meet the moment of our passing with great reluctance,” I say.

“No, I mean he actually fought,” says Brother Mark. “I think I’ve cracked a rib.”


We set off in the bus to go to Brother Bartholomew’s funeral. On the way we stop off in Tescos for some tinsel. Fr Lawlor is particularly fond of tinsel, and with Christmas fast approaching we need to be more efficient with our time.

In the funeral parlour we all squeeze in to view Brother Bartholomew. A sudden waft of sweat and chalk dust announces the arrival of Brother Mark. Our voices are low and respectful.

Fr Deegan: He was a great man.

Fr Lawlor: I didn’t know he had a moustache.

Fr Ryan: That’s not a moustache.

Fr O’ Neill: They say nose hair like any other hair keeps growing, even after death.

(A respectful pause.)

Fr Deegan: And nails. They keep growing too.

Fr Ryan: Is that blood under his?

After the funeral Brother Mark treats us to tea and sandwiches. “He gave me something before he departed,” he informs us.

“That black eye?” asks Fr Deegan.

“Well no, well yes,” stutters Brother Mark. He hands me a large dented and pock marked stick. It is like an ancient relic from an age long since gone. Many of us are moved. Fr Walsh suddenly intones about transience and the passing of matter from one form to another. “Oh great. Higgs Boson time,” mutters Fr Ryan. I look at Fr Walsh, then I look at the stick, and something passes through me. Perhaps it is some strange sorrow.

On the way home we stop off in Tescos to buy more tinsel. Because as Fr Lawlor points out “You can never have too much tinsel.”

(Not) Cardinal Brady’s blog has a more extensive… er, tribute… to Br Bartholomew here>

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(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

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