Fr. John Hand founded All Hallows, in Drumcondra, Dublin. All Hallows was one of Ireland’s first missionary seminaries. Founded in 1842 it has sent more than 4000 ordained priests to South America, South Africa, India, Canada, Australia, the West Indies, New Zealand, the United States, England, Scotland and Wales. In 1892 it was put under the direction of the Vincentians.
John Hand was born in 1807 at Bolies, Oldcastle, the eldest child of Luke and Margaret Hand. His family were evicted from their Bolies farm and moved to Stonefield during his boyhood. The family later moved to Woodville House, Kells. Fr. George Leonard held extra classes for those interested in religious life. John Hand attended school in Oldcastle and then at St. Finian’s College in Navan. He lived with his aunt in Kells while studying at Navan as his family could not afford the boarding fees. Lack of funding resulted in him having to abandon his studies and he was refused entry to Maynooth College. He became an apprentice to a teacher in Mullingar. The Bishop of Meath arranged for Hand to work as Assistant Bursar at Maynooth and then to enter the college as a student. Hand worked hard and caught up with his fellow pupils who had already been attending the course for a year.
Hand was ordained a deacon in 1835 and joined a group of priests at Castleknock who later became the Irish Vincentians. Hand was ordained priest at Castleknock College in 1835. He was appointed to work at St Peter’s church, Phibsborough, in 1838.
In September 1838 John Hand attended a meeting in Dublin to establish in Ireland the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, which funded foreign missions. Hand felt the world needed missionaries and to supply those missionaries a college was required.
In February 1841 Fr. Hand set out for Rome to study the establishment of different orders. Dr. Cantwell, Bishop of Meath encouraged Fr. Hand as did Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin while the other Irish bishops felt that it was an impossible task. Fr. Hand observed the Sulpicians in Paris and also visited other orders of priests in Lyon and Rome. A committee was formed in Dublin to support the project. Fr. Hand had a private audience with Pope Gregory XVI and received the necessary permission to establish a college. Fr. Hand was so busy with his preparations that he had no time to see any of the sights of Rome.
Fr. Hand returned to Ireland in 1842 where he selected Drumcondra as the site for the new college. In September 1842 obtained a lease on Drumcondra House, north of the city, from Dublin corporation. Daniel O’Connell was then the Lord Mayor of Dublin. The college opened on 18 October 1842. On 1 November, All Saints’ Day, the new foundation was formally opened. The furniture of the house consisted of a three-legged table and two or three broken chairs. The mansion itself was in the first stage of ruin. Three years later Fr. Hand reported to Rome that the college had sixty-five students. Finances for the new college were always precarious. It was Fr. Hand himself who collected practically all the money to establish and keep the college running. He travelled throughout Dublin and Meath collecting funds. At the end of April 1846 Father Hand returned from one of journeys into Meath completely exhausted and went to bed. He caught a severe cold and tuberculosis developed and three weeks later he was dead. He was thirty-nine years of age.
A younger brother, Luke, became a missionary priest in Australia and was the first priest buried in Bathurst. Bishop Michael Smith visited the grave of Fr. Luke Hand in 2008 during his visit to Australia.