Promotor of Young Ireland, organiser of famine relief in Wicklow, co-founder of the Holy Faith Sisters, Irish speaker, pilgrim, and a mean handball player: this was John Gowan, Skerries-born, Dublin diocesan, and then Vincentian priest who made such an impact in inner-city Dublin in the mid nineteenth century.
Launching the biography just before Christmas 2022, Professor Anthony Staines of DCU reminded us that ‘this book places Gowan in his times, and shows how he responded to what he saw as the needs of that time.’ Nevertheless, he continued ‘this is not hagiography but a serious and meticulously researched history.’
As strategist, manager, adviser, and loyal friend, John Gowan collaborated with Margaret Aylward in a three-pronged project for poor Catholic children in Dublin: a boarding-out system for those in need of care, a network of schools, and the founding of the Holy Faith Sisters. In his lifetime he was regarded as a gifted preacher, retreat giver, and spiritual adviser.
Another little-known legacy is Gowan’s first-hand account of the famine in Wicklow which not only describes the desperate condition of the people but also his collaboration with Protestants to provide practical famine relief and his criticism of government relief measures.
Professor Staines explained that as a man of his times, Gowan also shared in the prejudices of his times: the proselytising activities of both Catholics and Protestants sit oddly with the advances in ecumenism since Gowan’s time. The book offers an honest appraisal of Gowan’s role in the formation of novices in the new religious community.
In conclusion, Professor Staines referenced Gowan’s wide circle of faithful friends whose testimony spoke ‘to his capacity for kindness, sympathy and friendship.’
Details: Vivienne Keely, Responding to Child Poverty in Dublin: John Gowan CM, 1817-1897.
305 pages, including Index, 10 full colour illustrations. Cost: €10 (for post and shipping, add €5)
Available from Margaret Ayward Centre