Brother Joachim Dunn
The initial and deepest impression Br. Joachim left on me when first visiting New Melleray in 1947 was that of meeting Jesus in him. As guest house porter since 1934 he was usually the first one to greet guests and was on hand when they left. He also served meals and read a spiritual book during part of the meals. His selections were edifying and uplifting from such classics as The Imitation of Christ and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Br. Joachim was richly gifted with a jovial personality and a marvelous spirit of hospitality which made him famous all over the country with the tourists who stopped in. He manifested a great love for Jesus and Mary and imparted this to others. He served and assisted at as many Masses as he could, and frequently prayed the rosary both privately and with guests. He drove himself to exhaustion. A neighbor, Harold Connolly, remembers him falling asleep while kneeling unsupported on the floor in church.
The monastic vocation of Br. Joachim was well prepared for since his youth. He was born a twin March 28, 1900 in the Dublin suburb of Luson Street. His twin sister, Marie, and younger brother Peter were very helpful in supplying information about his youth. He was named Leo at baptism in honor of Pope Leo XIII. Years later as Br. Joachim he was happy to find out that Pope Leo XIII’s baptismal name was Joachim. He commenced school with the Dominican Sisters at Dunleary and then went to the Presentation Brothers at Glasthule.
From a very early age he was spiritually motivated and while he never preached religion it was obvious that he was trying to practice the virtue of charity. He was always cheerful, good humored and had a great love for children. Following his father’s sudden death on the eve of Corpus Christi in 1919 he had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He then went to the Franciscan Brothers Agricultural College in Mount Bellow, Co. Galway for two years. He completed his studies in Dublin.
During these days the political situation in Ireland was tense. Civil war followed the evacuation of British forces. It was during this period that Leo was a student in Albert College. As his sympathies lay with Eamon De Valera’s Republican Party he participated in the struggle. Having come through safely he returned to his studies.
During all these years he never abandoned the idea of devoting his life to God. He wrote his mother of his desire to study for the Priesthood and to work for the mission in Uganda. Four years had elapsed since his school days. He then entered Mount Melleray College to study Latin. At the end of the course he was received into the abbey to become a monk and priest. On August 12th, 1926, the day before he entered, he wrote the following:
My dearest Mother.., although I am looking forward with no small amount of eagerness and excitement for tomorrow when poor me, unworthy though I be, am to enter the novitiate of the Great St. Bernard’s Order, I should be unhuman and ungrateful were I not to feel the parting. Yet why should I say parting for really Mother entering Melleray is no parting. Yes! Please God Melleray will be to me a home, a true home where we will be the more united than ever by a spiritual bond and where I will do more for each of you…than ever I could accomplish in the outside world…. Now let you be assured how happy I feel in my choice. Only pray, pray hard that I may co-operate with all the goodness and graces of Our Divine Lord and so become inflamed with a burning love for Him.
He was happy there but after about a year the Novice Master told him he was not suitable. So he left in resignation to God’s will. The period that followed must have been a particularly hard one for him. He never complained and went about quite cheerfully, occupying himself with social work at “The Morning Star”, a hospital for the poor administered by The Legion of Mary. He always admired and tried to promote the Legion.
After about two years at home the final decision came. Leo was called to Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea to meet Abbot Bruno Ryan of New Melleray. The abbot was visiting Ireland in 1929 in search of vocations. As a result Leo set out for New Melleray that November, eager to become a lay brother. Others who came with him were Br. Ailbe Collins and Br. Declan Ahern from Mount Melleray, Br. Cronan Brown from Mount St. Joseph and three laymen who came as postulants but didn’t persevere. Fr. Eugene Martin, who later became abbot, Walter Walsh and Bill Burns met them at the train in Dubuque on December 5th. There was two feet of snow on the ground. At 10 pm they arrived at New Melleray where Br. Anthony Toohey met them at the door. Leo entered the monastic enclosure December 12th, received the novice’s habit June 22, 1930 from Dom Bruno Ryan, made temporary profession June 29, 1932 and solemn profession June 25, 1935.
The Spirituality of Br. Joachim From His Letters
To his sister: My dearest Marie…, Your own dearest interests and intentions I offer frequently to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament that she my obtain from Jesus in the Hidden Mystery of His Love, grace and strength for you to know and do His Holy Will for pure love of Himself. For this great grace let us continue in our aspiration of union “All to Mary for love of Jesus”. Your little booklet “Spiritual Sunbeams” is so nice, many thanks. Truly Marie, acting in all things great or small for love of Jesus and Mary makes life one continual sunbeam of happiness. (March 19, 1936)
To his mother, April 17, 1940: Surely dearest Mother, you are right in saying we have a lot to be thankful to God for here in the monastery. This is more evident as we come more in contact with the great trials, sufferings and sorrows of those outside who are ever coming in their hour of affliction to seek for help in prayers, etc, … The Good God knows what is best, we must trust in His Infinite Goodness. Resignation to His Holy Will is one of the quickest and surest ways to sanctity. The offering of our little trials (difficult though they may seem to us) for pure love, can turn them into jewels of great and eternal value. Time is so short that we must strive not to lose any of these precious opportunities. However it is easy to preach, practice tells me how I fail myself daily in the attempt. However, God being Kindness Itself and All Understanding, knows our weakness and in His love forgives our failures provided we desire to love Him, and try to be resigned to His Holy Will in all things. I can remember quite well how dearest Papa, God rest his soul, used to repeat so often “Blessed be The Holy Will of God.” This is indeed a wonderful prayer.
December 1, 1942: My dear Peter & Maureen…, For just as the Infant Jesus came loaded with graces for the whole world and for each individual, so does He come again in our time to perpetuate in our souls the mysteries of His love and mercy. And Blessed De Montfort, with so many other saints, says as He came the first time by Mary so it is by Mary and through Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces, that He wills to come and unite Himself to us in every renewal of His coming. This is why devotion to Mary is so necessary for us. For the more devoted we are to Mary the more will she be in us and with us by her influence and assistance to teach us to know, to love & to serve Jesus, her Divine Child, whether it be in the Blessed Sacrament of His love, in the depths of our souls, or in the poor, the sick or the afflicted. And this is what brings that peace and happiness which the world cannot give. Let us say daily with the great St. Ambrose, “May we each have Mary’s Heart and Mary’s soul to praise, to magnify & to love her sweet Child Jesus.” May our knowledge and love of Mary and Jesus increase daily.
November 29, 1944: My dearest Peter, tomorrow will be St. Andrew’s feast and since he was St. Peter’s brother I thought it an appropriate day to write my Christmas letter to you…. I hope that you & Maureen are still able to get to daily Mass & Holy Comunion. It is only in heaven that we will get to realize what a blessing this was to us while passing through this valley of tears, and how many evils it preserved us from. May we thank God & Our Lady daily for every Holy Communion we have received. I know that you are faithful to the family rosary which dearest Mother, R.I.P., taught us from our very infancy. What graces and blessings we have to attribute to it….
December 17, 1964: My dearest Marie…, The saints tell us that it is not great deeds that count, but that we do and suffer patiently all God wills to send us, for the love of Himself. This purity of our intention to do what we do for love of God is what counts for eternity and that is all that matters in the end. May the Mother of Divine Love teach us and help us to perform all our actions in union with her for the love of Jesus.
January 21, 1966: My dearest Marie…, I always desire to be very attached to the Legion of Mary. I hope that you as also dearest Peter, Maureen & Evie say faithfully every day the prayers for the Auxiliary Members. Let us use them as a spiritual bond of union between us. We can’t do better than pray for the intentions of Mary. If you don’t have a copy of De Montfort’s True Devotion to Mmary I would like you to get one and do some reading from it every day. I remember when I first came to the abbey by God’s goodness thirty-six years ago, the saintly Abbot Bruno brought me a copy of True Devotion saying, “Brother you should read this and re-read it. Yes you can read it nine times, yes, a dozen times over with a new spiritual grace and unction at every reading. It is full of sound spiritual nourishment. And the quintessence of it all is that “we give all to Mary for love of Jesus” I want you to unite with me in saying this little aspiration as frequently as possible, yes to wish that with every breath you draw, with your every heartbeat, you could say and give “All to Mary for love of Jesus.” Then as St. De Montfort says, try to perform all your actions in Mary, with Mary, and through Mary and for all the intentions of Mary’s Most Pure Heart. I pray that Mary may teach you, dearest Marie, as also Peter & Maureen and Evie this most easy, sure, safe, quick and happiest way of going to Jesus, and with Him to the glory of the ever Blessed Trinity.
September 12, 1966: My dearest Marie…, As we are both in our sixty-sixth year we cannot look forward to too much more time on this side of the grave. It therefore seems wise that we begin to prepare ourselves for the greatest happiness we can attain, and with God’s grace, secure for ourselves in heaven where eye hath not seen, nor ear heard what great things God has prepared for those who love His coming. When we look back on our lives we have so much to thank the Good God for. What good parents He gave us, the happy home we had, my vocation and life at the abbey, as also your happy marriage with poor Pat and the comfortable position in which, by God’s Providence, he left you. Then dear Peter’s good position in K & Ps. We must attribute it all to Divine Providence. But have we not a great debt of gratitude to God’s Infinite Goodness. This is, dearest Marie, what I want to come to, we ought as faithful stewards to return to God His gifts, considering them as just loaned to us. This we can do through our charity towards God’s Church and His poor. So I want you, dearest Marie, in making your will, to make it in a great spirit of generosity and charity towards God’s Church and His poor.
Br. Joachim’s Death
Br. Joachim’s health failed considerably the last two years of his holy life. Yet he remained cheerful and an inspiration to us to the end. He died of a blood clot in the hospital on December 10, 1966. Seven hundred people came to his wake and one hundred and fifty to his funeral which was presided over by Most Rev. James J. Byrne, Archbishop of Dubuque.