SLATTERY, JOHN LUKE, Brother of the Christian Schools of Ireland and educator; b. 1847 in Nenagh (Republic of Ireland), sixth child of a prosperous farmer; d. 15 Nov. 1909 in Cork (Republic of Ireland).
John Luke Slattery, after beginning his education in a local National School, continued with the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland at Nenagh. In 1864 he entered their congregation and was trained at the Christian Brothers’ college in Dublin. He took up his first teaching position at St Kevin’s, Dublin, where he remained for 11 years. Subsequently he served as assistant principal of Our Lady’s Mount, Cork, from where he left for Newfoundland in 1881.
Slattery arrived at St John’s in September to teach at St Patrick’s Hall, one of the schools supervised by the Christian Brothers since they had come to Newfoundland in 1875 at the request of Bishop Thomas Joseph Power*. After serving as a teacher for eight years, Slattery was asked to take over the presidency of the reorganized St Bonaventure’s College, the principal Roman Catholic educational institution in Newfoundland. The college, which awarded associate arts degrees, attracted middle- and upper-class Protestants as well as Catholics. The island’s future Catholic ecclesiastical and political élite was trained there and distinguished itself through scholarships and awards during Slattery’s term as president. His efforts at improving secondary education in Newfoundland came to fruition when several students received top honours in matriculation examinations at the University of London. In 1891 Slattery opened a noviciate for Christian Brothers at St Bonaventure’s in order to secure the future of the congregation in Newfoundland, but the institution was only temporary and closed its doors in 1896. The great fire of 1892 had required all of Slattery’s personal energies to rebuild and administer the Catholic educational institutions in St John’s.
Only a one-year stay in Ireland in 1896–97, first at St Vincent’s Orphanage in Waterford and later as principal of the Brothers’ college there, interrupted Slattery’s 25 years’ service in Newfoundland. He returned to St John’s in November 1897, having been asked by Bishop Michael Francis Howley* to establish an orphanage at Mount Cashel, the Howley family estate. The bishop proceeded to buy out the estate in order to convey it to the Christian Brothers, and Slattery oversaw the delicate transfer of the property, which was completed in 1902. Slattery served as the orphanage’s director until his retirement in 1907 and also established an associated “school of industry.” Upon his departure from Newfoundland, he returned to Our Lady’s Mount in Cork, where he died two years later of complications associated with diabetes.
Slattery’s historical significance for Newfoundland rests primarily in the area of education. His blueprint for an efficiently administered denominational school system was articulated in his prize-winning essay of 1890, “Suggestions for the improvement of education in Newfoundland.” The essay advocated a central board to examine candidates for exhibitions, prizes, and free places at the denominational normal colleges. These suggestions were realized in 1893 when the Council of Higher Education was established with the mandate to hold examinations and to award diplomas, prizes, and scholarships to successful candidates. (The council would continue until 1949, when it was taken over by the division of public exams within the Department of Education.) Slattery also proposed a uniform system of generous bonuses to improve teachers’ salaries, based on their sex and certificate grade and the rating of their school.
From his correspondence with his superiors, it is evident that Slattery was strongly motivated by a desire to overcome through education any cultural deficiencies Roman Catholics may have had when compared with their Protestant competitors. While directing affairs at Mount Cashel, he also felt the need to initiate a system of vocational training for Newfoundlanders along the lines of the manual and technical schools of Germany, the structure of which had been adapted by the Irish Christian Brothers in other locations. This plan was realized in the school of industry established at Mount Cashel, which provided – in addition to an elementary education-agricultural training in the summer and vocational education in the manual trades during the winter. Such instruction coincided with Slattery’s vision of the self-sufficient common fisherman of Newfoundland, “who works a small farm during the intervals before and after the fishing season.”
Throughout his stay on the island, Slattery had the ear of Bishop Howley, who consulted the Christian Brother on all educational matters. He also was an important force in the administration of his congregation in Newfoundland. Although his activities at Mount Cashel did not permit as direct an involvement in secondary education in St John’s as he had had while president of St Bonaventure’s College, he continued to serve as the liaison between the Christian Brothers in Newfoundland and their superiors in Ireland. Throughout his stay he kept the interest of his order uppermost and defended the autonomy and governance of the congregation and its educational institutions against any ecclesiastical and societal infringements.
[John Luke Slattery’s educational thought is best expressed in two of his publications. His prize-winning essay, “Suggestions for the improvement of education in Newfoundland,” appears along with related documents in Nfld, House of Assembly, Education: report of select committee, House of Assembly, and prize essays (St John’s, 1891), essay no.1; a copy of this report is filed at the PANL with the House of Assembly bills for 1891. His article “Thoughts on education” was published in the Christian Brothers’ Educational Record (Dublin), 1907. Slattery’s proposals for Mount Cashel’s school of industry are outlined in a printed letter of 14 Feb. 1898 addressed to each member of the Newfoundland legislature; a copy of this document is preserved in the Generalate Arch. of the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland, now in Rome.
Slattery’s publications also include “Mount Cashel,” an account of life and activities at the orphanage, in Christian Brothers’ Educational Record, 1900: 721–25, and several biographical sketches of a purely occasional character, such as “Father Matthew’s tomb,” St John’s Total Abstinence and Benefit Soc., Jubilee volume, 1858-1908 ([St John’s, 1908]), app.: xlvi–li. A more lasting historical contribution is his entry “Christian Brothers of Ireland” in The Catholic encyclopedia, ed. C. G. Herbermann et al. (15v., New York, 1907–12), 3: 710–11. While at Mount Cashel, Slattery also edited a magazine, the Orphan’s Friend (St John’s), of which only one issue, December 1902, has been preserved in the Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland, St Joseph’s Provincialate Arch., Toronto.
The main contemporary account of Slattery’s life is an Irish obituary by “J.E.R.” which has been reproduced in several publications, including Brothers of the Christian Schools of Ireland, Christian Brothers’ jubilee, 1876–1926 (St John’s, ), 110–13. A useful modern appreciation, based on Slattery’s unpublished correspondence with his superiors in Ireland and including a reliable biographical sketch, has been prepared by J. T. Holden: “A heart big enough to embrace all mankind: Brother John Luke Slattery,” Christian Brothers’ Educational Record, 1987: 214–32, with app., 233–37. A brief biographical sketch also appears in DNLB (Cuff et al.).
A vast private correspondence, consulted for the present biography, was exchanged from 1882 to 1907 between Slattery and his brother superior as well as with the first assistant of the congregation at St Mary’s, Marino, Dublin, and is now in the order’s Generalate Arch. in Rome. Newspaper clippings and other historical materials pertaining to the Christian Brothers in Newfoundland are preserved in the St Bonaventure’s scrapbook and the Mount Cashel annals at St Joseph’s Provincialate Arch.
Slattery’s activities on the Council of Higher Education are documented in its manuscript minute-books, vols.1–4 (1893–1910), at PANL, GN 21/7. The relevant educational legislation of the period appears in Nfld, Acts, 1891, c.10; 1892, cc.5, 25; and 1893, c.7. The Council of Higher Education is examined in Arthur Barnes, “The history of education in Newfoundland” (d.paed. thesis, New York Univ., 1917), and a discussion of the history and utility of the public examination system appears in the Newfoundland Teachers’ Assoc., N.T.A. Journal (St John’s), 59 (1967), no.2: 8–22.
Histories of the Christian Brothers in Newfoundland include Centenary volume, Benevolent Irish Society of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1806–1906 (Cork, [Republic of Ire., 1906?]), 148–52, their own 1926 jubilee volume (cited above), and Journey into a new century ([St John’s, 1975]).
Contemporary comment on vocational and intermediate schooling within the order appears in the Christian Brothers’ Educational Record, 1887–93. The progress of the Mount Cashel school of industry can be ascertained from Nfld, Superintendent, Roman Catholic Boards, Report of the public schools (St John’s), esp. 1901–5. The Christian Brothers’ involvement in Newfoundland education is examined in two dissertations: M. P. Penney, “A study of the contributions of three religious congregations to the growth of education in the province of Newfoundland” (phd thesis, Boston College, 1980), and Louis Burke, “Some Irish contributors and contributions to Newfoundland education in the last century” (m.litt. thesis, Univ. of Dublin, 1975). h.r. and m.r.]
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