Saint Francis Xavier's

In Brief

Although the name of the church is not mentioned for several more pages, the 1st section of Wandering Rocks begins in front of "saint Francis Xavier's church, upper Gardiner street." Leaving his residence just north of the church, the Reverend John Conmee is seen coming "down the presbytery steps." His thoughts are interrupted less than a minute later by a "onelegged sailor" who "jerked short before the convent of the sisters of charity and held out a peaked cap for alms." This convent just south of the church mirrors the presbytery in appearance. The three buildings stand one block northwest of the park in "Mountjoy square," near Dublin's northeastern edge, and not far east of the Bloom's house in Eccles Street.

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The church of St. Francis Xavier, often called the Gardiner Street Church, was built between 1829 and 1832 by architect John B. Keane, immediately after Catholic Emancipation in 1829. One of the better looking churches in Dublin, it reflects the influence of models in Paris and Italy. A Regency-style "presbytery," or domicile for priests, and a matching convent were constructed on either side of the church, both of them featuring handsome doorways, plasterwork, fireplaces, and other fittings in an expression of national Catholic pride. The Jesuit priests of the church also served as chaplains in the convent. Today, the church and the presbytery are preserved by inclusion on Dublin's Record of Protected Structures, but the convent was unaccountably omitted. As of 2016 it was being offered for sale, and it appears to have been converted into a hostel.

Although none of the action of Ulysses takes place inside the church, readers of Dubliners will recognize it as the site of the religious retreat led by Father Purdon in "Grace." In the short story Martin Cunningham plays up the Jesuits to Tom Kernan as "the grandest order in the church." Mr. Power chimes in that they are a "fine body of men." Mr. M'Coy adds that "The Jesuits cater for the upper classes." As Gifford notes, the Mountjoy Square area was "relatively fashionable" at the time represented in the novel, though today it is "sliding into dereliction."

After his rather shabby treatment of St. Xavier's in Dubliners, Joyce seems to have made amends in Ulysses. In Eumaeus, Bloom displays pride in Molly's having performed splendidly in "the jesuit fathers' church in upper Gardiner street" as one of the soloists in Rossini's Stabat Mater, "the sacred edifice being thronged to the doors to hear her with virtuosos, or virtuosi rather. There was the unanimous opinion that there was none to come up to her and suffice it to say in a place of worship for music of a sacred character there was a generally voiced desire for an encore."

JH 2019
Early photograph, date unknown, of the St. Francis Xavier church lodged between its presbytery to the left and the convent of the Sisters of Charity to the right. Source: www.pinterest.com.
The altar in the church of St. Francis Xavier, on which, as very fine-eyed readers of "Grace" may notice, a "speck of red light" is faintly visible. Source: John Hunt.