by ehistoryadmin on February 17, 2018

A Pilgrim Priest of Kildare

Reference was made in these columns recently to a proposal to provide a plaque to mark the site of the house at Bride Street, Kildare, in which was born Fr. Benjamin Broughall, a pilgrim priest of two centuries ago. The proposal has caused a considerable degree of interest and we publish hereunder a short life-history of this pilgrim priest.

This remarkable priest was born in Kildare town about the year 1780. He entered Carlow College on November 7th, 1795 and left on August 7th 1796. He continued his studies at Salamanca, Spain, and at the Irish College, Rome, and was there ordained, probably early in 1807.

Shortly after his ordination he set out on his journey home. On his arrival in Ireland in 1807, Fr. Broughall was appointed C.C. at Raheen, Queen’s County, where he laboured for some ten years.

Among the fruits of his zeal was the erection of the present Chapel of Ease at Shanahoe. In June, 1818, he was appointed P.P. of Graignamanagh.

Soon after his arrival there he built a modest residence but had scarcely completed the building when he was afflicted with a long and dangerous illness. When all natural remedies seemed unavailing, he made a vow, with lively faith, that if restored to health, he would go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and, on return, take the habit of the Carthusians.

The great Dr. Doyle, ‘J.K.L.’ gave Fr. Broughall leave of absence for two or three years for the benefit of his health.

Met many difficulties

The pilgrim-priest of Kildare began his journey in the year 1822 travelling entirely on foot except when he was necessarily obliged to travel by sea.

Fr. Broughall met many difficulties after setting out. When he arrived in Paris he was so ill from fatigue that he was confined to bed for five weeks and was not expected to recover.

After some time, however, he regained sufficient strength and took up once more his pilgrim’s staff setting out on ‘the Path to Rome’ and thence for the Holy Land.

He acknowledged the great kindness he received from the Holy Father, Pius VII, who blessed the pilgrim’s habit, explained the difficulties and dangers that lay before him and even offered to dispense him from his vow.

‘But resigning myself’ wrote Fr. Broughall ‘into the Holy Hands of the Almighty God, through the intercession of the ever Immaculate Blessed Virgin Mary, I determined to comply with my vow.’

And so, with wonderful patience, perseverance and trust in God, he overcame all difficulties and accomplished his pious and penitential pilgrimage.

In a letter to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin he stated:

‘I left Rome, possessing no riches except my breviary and pilgrim’s staff. I was obliged to traverse every port in Europe before I could procure passage to the East.

There is such a decay of religion on the Continent that the generality of captains to whom I applied refused to take me; many of them insulted me.

However, after long perseverance and many difficulties, Almighty God provided me with a ship at Leghorn for the island of Cyprus where I embarked for Bayreut in Syria.

From thence I proceeded on foot to Nazareth, the River Jordan, Mount Thabor, Tiberias, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and to all the sacred places. I arrived in Jerusalem much fatigued but on entering Mount Calvary forgot all my difficulties. I celebrated Holy Mass at the different stages of the Passion. I visited Mount Olivet whence Our Blessed Redeemer ascended into Heaven.

I also celebrated Mass in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Bethlehem I remained four months. The stable in which Our Blessed Redeemer was born is in the same condition as at the Sacred Birth. There is a sumptuous church erected over the stable.’

Returned to Rome

In November, 1827, having accomplished his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Fr. Broughall set out on his return journey to Rome and Ireland.

Difficulties, dangers and infirmities beset the way-worn pilgrim but on arrival in Rome the Irish priest was received with every mark of kindness by the Holy Father, Pope Leo XII. While there he was again visited with fever and dysentery which lasted for two months.

In Cairo he lodged in the Convent in which were also six religious, four clergymen and two lay brothers all of whom were seized with the fatal disease. Each of them died and Fr. Broughall undertook to discharge their duties.

During his stay in Grand Cairo, there died in the city a total of forty thousand persons, victims of the dread disease.

Having left Cairo, the Irish priest spent eight months in hospital in Genoa and another year in hospital in Barcelona. In Madrid he had to enter hospital again and was confined to bed for four months.

Fr. Broughall was back again in Ireland in 1838 and resided at Carlow College where the President, Dr. Fitzgerald, invited him to make his permanent abode.

However, the man of God declined this kind offer and in 1839, notwithstanding his earlier privations and hardships, he again set out for Italy with the purpose of spending the remainder of his life there.

He spent the last ten years of his life in the calm seclusion of the cloister for in 1840 he was admitted into the celebrated Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino.

Died in Monte Cassino

There, he edified everyone by his great piety and his memory is still revered there as that of a saint.

In 1848, the King of Naples and his family visited Monte Cassino. On going to the church to make their devotions the Royal visitors found Fr. Broughall in adoration before the Tabernacle.

They came and knelt behind him and, on leaving, each of the Royal party reverentially took up and kissed the hem of the habit of the holy religious, who was so absorbed in his devotion as to be wholly unconscious of their presence.

Fr. Broughall died on the Feast of the Ascension, 1850, aged 71 years. Such was the fame of his piety that the monks and many secular persons thronged around his bed for the eight days that his final illness continued. He is buried in Monte Cassino.

(The above article is condensed from a life story of Fr. Broughall, which appeared in the handbook ‘St. Brigid’s Kildare,’ published in 1953).

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