Br. Patrick Macartan Sheehy (1914-1979)

Sheehy, Br Patrick Macartan (1914-79)


‘How are you doing with the books?’ I inquired.

‘Not so good’, was the reply from Brother Macartan Sheehy. ‘We can’t finalise the balance sheet until we find the missing fourteen cents, which you haven’t accounted for.’

So Macartan went back to our account books and persisted until he found the missing fourteen cents. The crisis in our audit resulted from my ambivalence while writing a cheque. I included the fourteen cents in the cheque I paid out, but omitted it from the cheque stub. Macartan was on his annual visit to audit our books at Presentation College, Chaguanas. Macartan held the post of Provincial bursar for several years, and, as in other matters, was meticulous in performing this duty. Once ‘Mac’ had given the OK to the account books, you felt confident about facing any inquiry. Macartan usually made his visit during the Christmas holidays and, when the business of auditing the books was completed, he could relax and join in any celebrations we had planned. From these annual visits, I got to know Macartan well.

Early Years

He was baptised Patrick Sheehy, and was the son of Edward and Margaret Sheehy (nee Connell), of Church Street, Castleisland, Co. Kerry. Born on 30 March, 1914, he was baptised the following day, at Castleisland Catholic Church. He attended the local National School, before entering the Presentation Brothers Juniorate (Colaiste Muire), Cork, in August, 1930. He was a methodical and diligent student, and usually came in the upper half of every pass list. On completion of his secondary education, he joined the Presentation Brothers on 16 July, 1934, being henceforth known by his religious name of Brother Macartan.[i] St Macartan was an Irish saint, who had been a companion of St Patrick and founder of a church in Clogher, Northern Ireland.  Macartan Sheehy made his profession on 12 August, 1936. He then began studies at the De La Salle Teacher Training College, Waterford, where he qualified for his teacher’s diploma. After qualifying, he was appointed to the staff of St Joseph’s school, Mardyke, Cork, where he made a name for himself as a choir master, winning several competitions in the Feis Maitiu Music Festival. During this period, he also studied at the National University of Ireland Cork and obtained a BA degree in 1946. The following year he obtained his Higher Diploma in Education from the same university.[ii]

Having volunteered for the West Indian mission, he was chosen as a member of the small group of Brothers, who took over responsibility for St Mary’s College, St Lucia, in 1947. Hitherto, St Mary’s had been administered by the FMI (Filii Marie Immaculate) Congregation, the superior of which, Fr Harcourt, had acted as Rector of the College, while an English layman, Mr Fox-Hawes, had acted as Headmaster. Mr Fox-Hawes had planned to return to the UK, while Fr Harcourt was keen to release the FMI priests from teaching and to employ them in parochial work. Brother Macartan, in addition to teaching in the College, also assumed the duties of bursar, taking responsibility for all finances in the College and in the community.[iii]

Macartan was scrupulously careful about money and took many ingenious precautions to ensure that money belonging to the College would not be stolen. In these precautions, he reminded me of a story I heard about Napoleon Bonaparte. One admirer asked him on one occasion why it was that even in the heat of battle his messengers with orders to field commanders never failed to reach their destination. Napoleon smiled and replied, ‘That, my dear, is because I never rely on one messenger. I always send at least two with the same message!’

When Macartan needed to go to the bank with school fees, which, at the beginning of term, could amount to a substantial sum, he always took an impressive-looking document case, put several folds of newspaper inside and then locked it. Then he took the money to be lodged, put it in a paper bag and gave it to the janitor and asked him to walk in front of himself to the bank. Macartan, himself, came behind, carrying the document case. The rationale was that the document case was the most likely item to be snatched, if an attempt were made to rob him.

In 1955, Macartan was appointed Provincial Superior of the West Indian Province and, in consequence, he took up residence in San Fernando.[iv]He is mentioned in correspondence in the archdiocesan archives, in Port of Spain, in connection with attempts to persuade the Presentation Brothers to assume responsibility for the college of SS Philip and James in Chaguanas.[v] As a Provincial, he was somewhat ‘hung up’ on rules and regulations. These regulations, I should add, were usually aimed at clarifying, amplifying or ‘copper-fastening’ some general regulation of a General or Provincial Chapter. Today, we would regard at least some of these regulations as quite silly. I remember one, which expressly forbade any of the Brothers to leave the top button of the gown of his religious habit open. It will be remembered that, at the time, the Presentation Brothers wore a black habit in the colder climates, such as the UK, Ireland and Canada, but a white one in the West Indies. This habit was worn throughout the day, and, in the heat, it was quite uncomfortable, since underneath, one also wore a shirt and trousers. To get a little air to our necks, we would occasionally open the top button. Once Macartan spotted this breach of discipline, however, he took steps to counteract it.

Another feature of his administration was the way in which the permissions he gave to individual Brothers were circumscribed with precautionary clauses. Thus, when the time came around for a Brother to get his overseas holidays, which initially was fixed at every five years, but was gradually reduced to every three years, Macartan would add riders as to the day of departure and return and the mode of transport to and from the West Indies. The holiday and travelling allowance was also rigidly fixed. I remember, on one occasion, I visited my cousins in Chicago on the way home and one of them organised a little party in my honour. The word was quietly passed around that I was working in a missionary area and, as the night wore on, different people approached me, stuffed a US$20 note into my top pocket and said, ‘Be sure to buy yourself a cigar while you are in Ireland!’ The result of this was that I went home with enough money to hire a car for one of the six weeks I was home. When I told one of my Presentation colleagues in Ireland of my good fortune in the US, he warned me, ‘Make sure Macartan does not learn of this or he will demand the money for the general fund, since you exceeded the allotted allowance!’

Now, it must be said, that Macartan never insisted that we do anything that he himself was not already doing. But, overall, with him, there was danger of missing the trees because of excessive concentration on the branches. Luckily, he was Provincial for only one three-year term, after which he became Provincial Bursar, a post in which his attention to detail was both useful and appreciated.

During the year, 1956-57, after the departure of Bartholomew Brown for Ireland, Macartan acted as Principal of Presentation College, San Fernando. I have before me, as I write, his Principal’s Report, delivered at Prize Day, on 7 December, 1956. Among the guests was Mr Moreland Hopkins, Director of Education in Trinidad and Tobago.[vi]

On completion of his term of Office in 1958, Macartan was transferred to Grenada, where he held the post of Superior (1960-63). During this period, he was also a Consultor to the Provincial (Br Leonard Dennehy) and Provincial Bursar. In 1965, he returned to St Lucia and was superior of the community (1975-79). For a number of years, he also held the post of Examinations Officer for all Cambridge Overseas Examinations, a post to which he had been appointed by the Government of St Lucia. In June, 1974, on his retirement from this post, he was awarded the MBE for services to education in St Lucia. Macartan took the security of examination papers very seriously and, in a region of the world where leaks of examination papers are not uncommon, Macartan’s security measures, during his period as Examinations Officer, became the ‘gold standard’ in this field. In 1979, his health deteriorated and he went to St Joseph’s hospital, administered by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, Barbados, for medical treatment. His condition deteriorated, however, and he died in Barbados on 22 July, 1979. His remains were returned to St Lucia and interred in the Riversdale Cemetery, Castries. Subsequently, they were removed to a vault in the wayside Chapel on Calvary Hill, Castries.[vii]

From the time I arrived in the West Indies, I met Macartan at least once a year. Tall (6” 2’), straight and trim in figure, thrifty in habits, he never drank alcohol and ate sparingly. He was highly organised and very conscious of and devoted to duty. Self-indulgence of any kind was distasteful, if not repugnant, to him. He had penetrating eyes under bushy eyebrows. While he was Provincial, some of the Brothers found him too concerned with rules and regulations. When he was appointed Provincial bursar, however, this aspect of his character was seen in a new light. It soon became evident that it was very much in the interests of the Presentation Brothers, as a religious organisation, that they had a man in charge of their finances, who was not only possessed of great personal probity, but who also insisted on financial accounts being properly kept and funds properly  administered. When he came on his annual auditing visit, he glowed with pleasure when the accounts were in order. On the other hand, he was evidently disappointed when they were not. Though very faithful to his religious duties, it might be argued that he ranked justice higher than charity and objectivity and fairness before personal warmth. Be that as it may, he was undoubtedly a man of great integrity and unselfishness, who was faithful to the vows and the ideals to which he had consecrated himself long ago as a gangling youth.


[i] APB MSJC, PM Sheehy File.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Sullivan, op.cit., 19

[iv] APB MSJC, PM Sheehy File.

[v] AAPOS, Education File, 1957.

[vi] Sheehy, Brother Macartan, 1957, Principal’s Report. Presentation College San Fernando, Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 136-40.

[vii] Ibid.