2014 marks the centenary of a modern movement which spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus in Ireland. In the first of a series of articles for the coming year, a sister of the Galway Poor Clare Community outlines how it all began in the Galway Monastery, what it might mean for people today and its significance for the Irish Franciscan family.

How it all began

There is a little manuscript note kept in our monastery archives that was found behind a picture of the Holy Name of Jesus. The main body of the script records the day and the date that the picture was put up, but it is the short post script at the end of the inscription that has prompted us in collaboration with our Franciscan brothers to mark the upcoming centenary. It reads as follows:

PS. It was in this convent of St. Clare the devotion was
begun in Ireland, Jan ‘14

In late December 1913, a Franciscan friar named Francis Donnelly (1863-1929) gave the sisters a retreat. During the retreat he emphasised the power of the Holy Name of Jesus and also the devotion and zeal of St. Bernardine of Siena- Apostle of the Holy Name. His preaching made a deep impression on the sisters, so much so that they erected a picture of the Holy Name in the Chapel on the feast of the Holy Name the following January .This was considered by the sisters and Fr. Francis as marking the beginning of a new wave of preaching and promotion of this devotion.

Even to the present day devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is very much alive in the monastery and those who write for prayers or call to the front door with their troubles are very likely to receive a prayer card of the Holy Name. A monogram of the Holy Name can be seen on nearly every door of the monastery and of course on the exterior wall over the entrance to the monastery. The tradition of placing a monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus over the doors of houses originated with St. Bernardine of Siena. He preached during a time of great unrest in Italy with many factions and families fighting among themselves. He preached a message of peace and reconciliation through the power of the Holy Name of Jesus and encouraged people to remove, from their houses, emblems and coats of arms that symbolised their allegiances, and to replace them with the Holy Name of Jesus.

Apostolate in Ireland

Fr. Francis managed to source blue Holy Name tiles which can still be seen over the lintels of many houses in the areas where he ministered-mainly in Cork, Limerick and Galway- and in some places where he had not been based such as Ennis.

With the prayers of the Poor Clare nuns behind him and the example of St. Bernardine to inspire him, Fr. Francis embarked on a Holy Name apostolate which comprised three outstanding features aside from preaching:

  • The promotion of the practice of putting the Holy Name over the doors of houses, as preached by St. Bernadine.
  • The setting up of a Total Abstinence Sodality under the patronage of the Holy Name of Jesus
  • The printing and distribution of Holy Name pictures, leaflets and badges with the help of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary at Loughlynn, Co. Roscommon.

This spiritual collaboration between the sisters and
Fr. Francis led to a surge in this popular devotion throughout the country. (In fact, this year the parish Church of the Holy Name in Ranelagh, Dublin is also celebrating it’s centenary.)


During his lifetime, St. Bernardine had to answer questions before a papal court because the devotion was raising questions among theologians about the fittingness of what they saw as the worshipping of three letters. He was ably defended by his fellow observant Franciscan St. John Capistran, and cleared of all charges made against him, to such a degree that the Pope invited him to preach in Rome.

In his biography, we are told that for St. Bernardine, the Name of Jesus recalled to his mind ‘the poverty of the Crib, the lowliness of Nazareth, the penance of the desert, the miracles of Divine Charity, the humiliations of Calvary, the triumph of the Resurrection and of the Ascension, the Holy Eucharist and the mission of the Holy Spirit.’ Similarly, for those who aspire to follow the path of St. Francis and St.Clare, the Name of Jesus is an awesome, yet simple summing up of the Incarnation and the whole Paschal mystery and of all that we have embraced and love. The centenary will be an opportunity to remember again just how present the Lord Jesus is to us when we call on His Name.

I have called you friends

Indeed, it could be said that the idea of calling on the name of a beloved friend is native to the human spirit. In the 1970’s a song about friendship was written which immediately became a hit and broke many records in sales, and in numbers of re-releases by other artists. The song in question, ’You’ve got a friend’ could just as easily be an anthem in honour of the Holy Name of Jesus. The woman who wrote it, Carole King, said of the song “It was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside of myself, through me.”
In a similarly touching way Jesus invites us to ‘call out’ His Name

Pronouncing the Holy Name of Jesus with love and trust is the shortest of prayers. In a busy world such as our own we can find ourselves in difficult situations unexpectedly. The Name of Jesus can be a source of comfort and support in these situations when all else fails. For those struggling with addictions it is a particularly powerful help when temptations are strong.

Call and Mission .

Devotion to the Holy Name also invites us to listen out for Jesus calling us by name. He assures us Himself in the Gospels that He desires to be one with us. ‘Make your home in Me as I make Mine in you’. St Gregory the Great illustrates this point in his sermon on the Resurrection scene where Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus in the garden:

“Jesus said to her ‘Mary’…..now he calls her by her own name as if to say plainly: ‘Now recognise the one who recognises you. For I know you not in some general way along with other people, but personally’…Outwardly it was he who was the object of her search, but inwardly it was he who was teaching her to search for him.”

And once we have heard his call He sends us out. Just as in receiving the Holy Eucharist, we are sent out on mission, so too the power of the Holy Name of Jesus at work in our lives urges us to witness to His saving love to all whom we meet and in every situation.

A Family Affair

The Franciscan collaboration that took place one hundred years ago in the promotion of the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus didn’t just involve the Poor Clares and Fr. Francis Donnelly. As mentioned above the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary were also actively engaged in the project, as were Franciscan Tertiaries, who helped Fr. Francis set up the temperance sodality under the patronage of the Holy Name of Jesus. The coming centenary prompts us to also give thanks for that same family spirit that remains today and to recognise further great potential for collaboration as the New Evangelisation gains momentum.
May the Holy Name of Jesus be everywhere praised and glorified and continue to be a source of peace, protection and blessing for our families and Communities!


The Divine Name

There is a sort of magic about names; it does not come as a surprise, when St Paul tells us that the name of Jesus is high above every name, or when hymns of the holy Name, litanies etc. figure in the devotional life of Christendom. For the Jewish people the divine Name was a thing of mastery and of mystery – the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush, HE WHO IS. The name of God and the power of God were intimately connected in their minds. A thing of mystery; “the great God”, they would say, “whose habitation is eternity, whose name is holy”. Our Lady herself, true to the instinct of her race, would not thank God for the privileges he had showered on her without making the same acknowledgment: “He whose name is holy has wrought wonders for me.”

To the Christians of the first age, the name of Jesus could have no mysterious associations. It was a name in common use, the Greek equivalent of Joshua. From the first it was recognized as a name of mastery; we even hear of magicians at Ephesus trying to exorcize a victim of diabolical possession, with the formula, “I conjure you in the name of Jesus, the name that is preached by Paul”. But the name did not often stand in isolation; much more commonly, the New Testament authors refer to our Lord by the title of “Jesus Christ”; and liturgy, as we know has preserved that tradition. And then suddenly, in the Middle Ages, something happens: preachers like St Bernard and St Bernardine of Siena begin to single out the holy name of Jesus for special veneration. But they no longer approach the subject with a sense of awe, but with a sense of intimacy. The holy Name is no longer something that terrifies them, but something that makes them feel at home.

You see, the use of a personal name has a fresh kind of magic about it; it creates familiarity. And when we fall in love, and all our experience takes on a sharper edge, and little things mean much to us, there is one Christian name in the world which casts a spell over eye or ear when we see it written on the page of a book, or overhear it mentioned in conversation. We are thrilled by the mere encounter of it. And it was with the sense of personal romance that people like St Bernard invested the holy name of Jesus. “Nor voice can sing, not heart can frame, Nor can the memory find, A sweeter sound than thy blest name …” And it is no longer to us, as it was to the Jews a name of unapproachable majesty – “no name in all the world so terrible”. It produces in us a sudden lightening of the heart, because we are in love.

But we are sometimes asked whether this devotion to the holy Name is altogether a healthy development. It has been criticized by non-Christians. And Christians, too, have had their doubts about it. After all, isn’t there something presumptuous about isolating the humanness of our Lord Jesus Christ in this way, and treating him as if he were a friend sitting in the room with you, who would look up at the sound of his name? True, he is everywhere present, but he is present as God – the God who created us, the God who will judge us. Ought we not to be falling down at his feet?

In the Imitation of Christ, in the second book of it, you will find the holy Name standing by itself fifty times in the course of some thirty pages, you will find a whole chapter about what the author calls “familiar friendship with Jesus”.

There are souls whose characteristic approach to the unseen is personal romance, with our Incarnate Lord for its object; so real to them that the very mention of his name sets them off day-dreaming into eternity. You will find nothing like it in any other religion – only Jesus invites you to be his friend. This attitude is encouraged and sanctioned by the Church. There are people who never lost their childhood’s instinct to turn to Jesus Christ as a Friend close at hand. For souls like this, it is as if the Resurrection had happened, but not the Ascension; he still stands beside them in the garden, and calls them by the way; as they sit at table, he comes to them breaking through the closed barriers of the centuries; still, on the mountain side they hear his voice asking, “Do you love me?”

From The Divine Name by Ronald Knox