and Cardinal Spellman
It was on a late October morning in year 1953 when people
on the road from Kilbride cross to Kildavin saw four motor
cars in convoy. The reason these cars deserved a second
glance was the fact that it appeared that the cars all contained
clergymen and aroused the interest of those who did not
know the reason for this convoy heading south along the
The fact that cars were not so plentiful at that time was
one. The cars came to a halt outside the chapel gates of
St Lazarian's Church in Kildavin and the occupants descended
from the cars and made their way into the church. They were
greeted at the gates by parish priest of Clonegal parish,
Fr. Bennett, along with Fr. Grace and Fr. O'Brien. Quite
a number of people gathered at the gates as were the schoolchildren
of Kildavin NS and their teacher Mr O'Shea and Miss Kealy.
It was now that the reason for the convoy of cars and the
number of priests was disclosed to the ordinary bystander
who up to now had been wondering what it was all about.
One of the men in the cars was the great Cardinal Spellman
from New York in the USA.
There was something prophetic about the way the Cardinal
had ended up at a graveyard in a little known village near
the foot of the Blackstairs mountains on the Carlow/Wexford
border. The first seeds of the visit were spread several
years before when the mainland of Europe was being torn
apart by the armies of the Axes and Allied forces and when
as a young man he had been asked to do certain things far
removed from the duties of the ordinary priest. He had often
gone on missions that were known about only by a select
He could speak several languages and was an expert when
it came to using certain dialects on special occasions.
As a matter of fact, it is said that this art was the cause
of him putting his head where another person would not put
his foot. Now let us go back in time to when a baby girl
was born in the Kehoe family at Shirwood, Kilbride. This
family had come from Castlegrace near Tullow and settled
in the beautiful country above the Slaney. The baby girl
was, according to Clonegal Baptismal Register of September
1834 named Ellen Kehoe and grew to be a very handsome girl
who at the age of 16 emigrated to America where she married
and reared a family. Her daughter married a businessman
called Spellman in Whitman, Mass. They had five children,
three boys and two girls, one of the boys was Francis and
it was in the large country home that he was brought up.
As a boy he was both studious and athletic, playing baseball
and football and winning high honours in Latin and English.
In 1911 he entered Fordham University and was prominent
in the schools debating and dramatic circles. He was also
noted for his remarkable memory. He was the life and soul
of the people he mixed with for some time but then began
to lead a quieter life and eventually informed his friends
that he had decided to become a priest.
He entered the North American College in Rome where he was
ordained in 1916. It was in his home town of Whitman that
he celebrated his first Mass.
After his ordination he was appointed to a pastorate in
Boston where he won immediate popularity. He treated all
men as his friends no matter what the colour or code. In
1922 he became chancellor of Boston diocese. He went to
Rome in 1925 and in 1926 was made a Monsignor by Pius XI.
He was consecrated bishop by Pius XII in 1932 and in 1939
became Archbishop of New York. It was in a statement by
him at that time that he said: "I shall give my all-
my completely absorbing interests will be the salvation
of souls- including all - and the welfare of my fellow men
It was during some of those trips abroad that his life was
in danger, along with the odd occasion in the USA. One of
the most interesting assignments was in 1931 when he was
chosen to smuggle the Pope's Encyclical out of a Fascist-ridden
Italy to Paris, where he translated it and delivered it
to the world, this was one occasion when his gift of languages
and ability to mimic dialect proved a big help. During this
dangerous mission he was shot at but such things took no
effect upon him. He was no stranger to war, he had been
in Korea at the time of the Consistory of the Sacred College
in 1953 and arrived in Rome - with one hour to spare - and
having broken every speed regulation in the book, in a Comet
Jet. He made history as the first "jet propelled"
cardinal. He also spent many Christmases in the jungles
of Vietnam with the American troops.
Actually, it was while he was on a mission to Europe and
a visit to Dublin that he told Fr. Frances Hickey of St
Patrick's, Kiltegan, that he thought he had relatives in
Co.Carlow. Fr. Hickey discovered who they were and let the
cardinal know and this visit was the result. The Spellman
hall, Kildavin and the GAA park are also named after the
cardinal who contributed to both, paying for the building
of the hall and contributing towards the park.
On his visit to Kildavin he was greeted by Fr Bennett, Fr.
Grace and Fr O'Brien and the school children and teachers
Mr O'Shea and Miss Kealy. He asked some of the children
to speak to him in Irish and they did. He then addressed
the people in the church and advised them to be loyal to
their faith and heritage. Kildavin was not the only village
he called to in Carlow on that day. His first visit was
to Dr Keogh, bishop of the diocese. Then he was received
at the Cathedral by the Adm. Fr. Dan Kennedy (a Clonegal
man). He then went on to Tullow where he was greeted by
large crowds. After that he went of Ballon where he checked
parish records to trace his ancestors.
There he was greeted by the PP, Fr. Gardiner. The school
children under Mr. Jim Morris (one of the stars of the Carlow
team of 1944) lined the streets in welcome. The cardinal
spoke to some of the children and left them a gift. Cardinal
Spellman also visited the country in 1952 and '53. His four
grandparents were Irish his maternal grandfather was a Carlow
man who had married a Carlow girl called Ellen Kehoe from
In 1967 Cardinal Spellman was called by God to his eternal
reward. He had truly lived up to his promise at the time
of his consecration. In peace as in war Cardinal Spellman
was there to help, comfort and console first his fellow
countryman and then all men. His death left a great gap
in the American Church. "A great priest who in his
days pleased God."
Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist