I recently came across this article below written about Brother Russell. He was born and reared in Thomastown, Effin and is one of our parishes colorful and well known citizens. His work and advocacy for the homeless men of limerick was recognized after his death by the naming of a homeless shelter after him. It is located between Mount St Laurence cemetery and St Joseph’s hospital. The building mentioned in article below is now knocked and a new bigger facility is being built in its place, it will keep the name Brother Russell house.
Many of you may not have heard of him or this facility, but we should be proud of his achievements and compassion during his lifetime is still having an impact and positive effect on people’s lives in limerick.
Article below written by his friend Ted O’Riordan, Charleville
Bro. Stephen Russell – Good Samaritan of the down and outs
To have known Brother Stephen of the congregation of the Alexian Brothers was a privilege, but to have known Jim Russell, the man who became Brother Stephen, was indeed a revelation. I was privileged to have known the two sides of this wonderful man of God who to use a cliche, became a legend in his own lifetime this kindly loving and loveable character who became the apostle of the drop-outs and the winos and the Good Samaritan to the homeless and the lonely. I do not think I am doing his memory any injustice in referring to him as a drop-out and a misfit, since after are we not all drop-outs and misfits, unless and until we eventually find our true niche and answer the call to our real vocation in life! Some of us indeed never find it and so become all of our lives Jim Russell truly found his when he became an Alexian Brother.
After a rather hectic and varied career from the time he left school until he reached the age of 31 years he appeared to be carefree and happy but deep down in his heart and Soul he was lonely and unhappy and when eventually he found experession for his God given gifts of caring for and helping the outcasts and the homeless, he expressed his thoughts and feeling in poetry. The title of the little book is entitled Happiness and it reads as follows:
No millionaire can match my wealth, nor artist paint my dream My blessing are as countless, as the stars that nightly gleam for I am heir to heaven, and the glory there to be my treasure –trove is the boundless love of a God who died for me.
He created me upon this earth to do all the good I can to adore and love and severe him, to help my fellowman. His life he gave my soul to save from bonds to set it free, in long drawn pain he snapped sin’s chain and died for love of me. His will be mine until life’s decline, May that be my refrain my cross to take for his love’s sake if I fall to rise again then I shall not fear when death draws near, it will be one of peace of me, forever to unite in Heaven’s sweet light, with a God who died for me.
This poem truly reflects his love for God and his fellow-man and was the one chosen by his sister Mother Albius of the convent of Mercy in Charleville for the back of his in Memoriam card the last poem in this little booklet which was his first publication to help fund raising efforts for the Simon community Hostel in Limerick also reflects this deep faith and devotion and is entitled Knowing God it reads as follows:
I have seen a mother at a crib, and I know what love is. I have gazed into the eyes of a child and I know what faith is I have heard the pounding of the sea and I know what power is I have seen a rainbow in the sky, and I know what beauty is I have planted a tree and I know what hope is I have heard a wild bird sing and I know what freedom is I have seen a chrysalts burst into life and I know what mystery is I have lost my parents and I know what sadness is I have been in prison I know what loneliness is I have lived with the destitute and I know what want is I have sat with the dying and I know what fear is I have gazed into the sky alight with stars of night and I know what the infinite is I have seen and felt all these things so now I know who God is.
What of the man himself the pen picture of him on the back of his second Book of poems the poems and Parodies of Brother Stephen and which I also helped to compile reads as follows: Born at Thomastown Kilmallock co. Limerick on Christmas Day 1911. Was educated at the Christian Brothers School in Charleville to which he either walked of travelled in a donkey buggy (with six or seven others) each day, a distance of three and a half miles each way. He joined the Irish army at the start of World War 2 in 1939 and served in the First cycle squadron being stationed in Collins Barracks cork Fermoy Foynes, Listowel and Sarisfield barracks limerick he was well known and popular as a comedian in the southern command entertainment group. At the end of the emergency he was discharged from the Army in 1943 and he joined the congregation of the Alexian Brothers in Warrenpoint Co Down in September 1945 He received the habit on the feast of St Alexius July 17 1948. Transferred to the Novitiate of the Alexian Order in Cobh Co. Cork in 1948 he helped establishment of the foundation of the Novitiate House there. He then was transferred to the Alexian Monastery in Moston cemetery in (the United Kingdom where he spent the next three years burying the dead. In the 14th Century during the Bubonic Plague.) He was transferred to the Alexian Monastery to Henri Chappelle in Belgium in 1954 where he severed on the nursing staff for three years. It was where he severed on the nursing staff for three years. It was brother Stephen was in Belgium that he started writing poetry and sent it regularly to the Limerick Leader and later to the Limerick Weekly Echo In 1957 he returned to Provincial House of the Alexian Brothers at Twyford Abbey Park Royal, London
Where he served on the night staff of the Alexian Brothers Nursing home for a period of the two years. In 1961 he returned to Ireland as vocational Promoter of the Alexian Brothers and spent four years travelling all over Ireland and visiting schools and seeking out postulants for the order. In 1965 he transferred back to Manchester in 1965 where he served on the Nursing Staff of St. Mary‘s Alexian Nursing Home for Geriatric male patients. In 1968 Bro. Stephen was attached to the Morning Star hostel for homeless men, which is under the auspices of the legion of Mary in Manchester. It was here he worked for the homeless and destitute and in 1973 volunteered with Bro. Anthony Ferrie to fulfil the request by the Dr. Murphy bishop of Limerick to help in the continuity of staffing the Simon Community Hostel at Charlotte Quay Limerick which had been established some three to four years previously.
His first book of poems “There but for the Grace of God.” was published in 1972 and Brother Russell donated the entire proceeds of its sale to the Simon Community Building fund. My Memories of Jim Russell go back to our school days together at the Christian Brothers School in Charleville. He was my senior by three years but as Confirmation was administered only every three years in those days, we were in the one class for it administration. Through our mutual interest and love for the amateur stage, we remained very close friends after our schooldays. The Revels Dramatic Society came into existence in 1932 to finance the establishment of a tennis club for the workers of the town in that year. In the winter of 1933, Jim and myself were involved in rehearsals for a local production of Brinsley MacNamara’s Comedy “Look at the Heffernan’s,” and it was a miracle it ever reached public presentation, as Jim and some other members of the cast were also involved in other activities at the same time. “The Blueshirts” had come into existence the previous ear, Jim being of farming stock, was very active in their opposition to the Government in power at the time. He usually cycled into rehearsals of the play from his home in Thomastown, and on his way home carried out one of the many activities of that organisation, which consisted of disrupting the public services and cutting the telephone wires on a number of occasions at Garrienderk Bridge. This involvement developed into a personal vendetta between himself and the Garda Sergeant in killmallock. A real “cat –and- mouse” game evolved between them, as when Jim realised that the sergeant was lying in wait for him, he left his bike some distance from the bridge and stole silently up to the top. He would peep carefully over the parapet of the bridge, would steal across to the other side of the road, lean over the parapet and “snip with his pliers” cut the telephone wires that passed under the bridge within arm’s length of the top. He got away with this little game for a while, but the Sergeant eventually got wise to his methods of procedure, and set a trap for him one night. He subsequently finished up in jail, but was released in time to take part in first night’s production of the play. The “Blueshirt” Movement came to an end around late 1934 and Jim Russell, to satisfy his wanderlust and talented acting ability, took to the road with a travelling play company for a few years.
He joined the Irish Army at the start of World War 2 in 1939 and severed as “Trooper Russell 414960” in the 1st cycle squadron with headquarters in Fermoy. During his military career, his acting talents were very much in demand as he performed in most concerts and other entertainment productions of the southern command. He was discharged from the Army in 1943 at the end of the Emergency and spent another two years of wanderlust until he finally answered the call of the lord and joined the Alexian order in 1945. His selection as vocational promoter for the Alexian Brothers in 1961 was a very wise one, and one that paid off rich dividends as his genial personality and forceful character gained for him a warm welcome in the many schools he visited all over Ireland and won for the order a good number of postulants. His mode of travel for those years -1961 to 1965 was an old Vespa motorcycle, and it was a real spectacle to see this corpulent cleric he weighed up to 18 stone in those days – perched on the saddle of his small motorcycle. It was a miracle it didn’t collapse under him. He returned to England in 1965 and spent three years on the nursing staff of the Alexian order in Manchester.
He finally returned to Ireland with Bro. Anthony Ferrie to take over the management and supervision of the Simon Community hostel at Charlotte Quay limerick which had been established some three to four years previously. Unknown to most of his friends and colleagues Brother Stephen’s health had been deteriorating for some years. Outwardly he was the same genial and jovial characters he always had been as he never grumbled or complained. He kept his sufferings to himself but within a year of his return to Limerick his ailment had become acute and he had to go into hospital for treatment. In the spring of 1975 he was finally hospitalised in Milford house in Limerick where he peacefully passed to his eternal reward on May 11 of that year. He did not live to see the realisation of his dream for which he had laboured so hard the provision of a suitable and creditable Simon Centre for Limerick City. To the credit of his many friends and the sympathetic Officers of the Mid-Western Board such a centre eventually materialised and fittingly was named after him. “The Brother Stephen Russell Home.” It will forever perpetuate his memory and also that of fellow school pal of his at the Christian Brothers in Charleville, the late Dr. Henry Murphy Bishop of Limerick who was responsible for bringing Bro. Stephen back to Limerick. His funeral from the Redemptorists Church of St. Alophonsus was attended by thousands of his many friends and admirers and was a further tribute and reflection of the popularity of this saintly Brother of the Alexian Order who had done so much for the down –and- outs and winos.
A labour of love and dedication to this unselfish character who was ever mindful of his conversion and has as his oft timed quote “There but for the grace of God go I.” He is buried with his fellow Brothers in Christ in the cemetery attached to Alexian Brothers in Warrenpoint Co Down. Regrettably I was not able to travel the full journey to pay my last respects to a very dear life – long friend and school pal. I tried in a humble way, to express my feeling in a poem I wrote for the back of his “In Memoriam” Card. It reads as follows: where gentle breezes blow from mournes mountains he sleeps the sleep that comes when life is o’er far from his native home in county limerick far from the ones he loved, yet nearer than before. He had rejoined and rests beside his brothers whose dedicated lives were ones of toil: A toil of love to nurse and care for others this “Good Samaritan” with the eternal smile. Unselfish unassuming, unpretentious in our thoughts and prayers his memory will endure he who tended to the Down- and – outs at “Simon” and cared for all the lonely and the poor.
Written by Ted O’ Riordan (The Corkman/ Kerryman, Friday June 13, 1986.
Other interesting articles on Br Stephen Russell