Early in the twentieth century a very sick man was admitted to the Convalescent Home in Linden, run by the Religious Sisters of Charity. He was classified as an old man – although he was only in his early fifties. He was in a very bad state of health, he was in a far worse state of soul.
When he appeared amongst the men it was obvious that they did not approve of him. However, as was the custom in Linden he was treated with civility. The Sisters were soon told that he was a red-hot socialist, the editor of a socialist paper and never had a good word to say about priests and nuns!
Walter, as he was known, was born in Kent, England in 1871. By the 1890s he was married and living in Dublin. He was an active socialist and trade unionist. He spent a month in Mountjoy for using language calculated to lead to a breach of the peace and having endeavored to degrade the King in the esteem of his subjects. On his release the unrepentant Walter addressed the crowd, “I went to Mountjoy Prison with the spirit of revolution in my heart, and I have come out with that spirit intensified to the thousandth degree”.
In 1913 he became the General Secretary of the International Tailors, Machinists and Pressers Trade Union. Aside from his trade union work Walter continued to engage in other political activities. He maintained his involvement with the Socialist and Communist parties of Ireland. A leading bishop described Walter as “an imported mischief maker”. Walter tackled the slum housing and took an active part in trying to improve the housing conditions of the working classes of Dublin. He was not afraid to name members of the Corporation and politicians as owners of slum property. He not only criticised but also made a number of recommendations. For example, he insisted that every house ought to have a bath! The Irish Times recorded his unashamed commitment to women’s rights. He believed in the absolute equality of the sexes.
In Linden he was treated like everyone else, and the Sisters trusted that prayer and the pervading religious atmosphere would do God’s work in God’s own time. Gradually their prayers were answered and he softened towards religious subjects. Though he attended the evening rosary and Sunday Mass, he resisted all efforts to try and get him to go to Confession. His sufferings were intense and at first he was inclined to blame God, but by degrees, and the untiring prayers of Sr. Mary John, he was at last gained. He went to Confession and Holy Communion whilst in Linden and went home a much happier man. A month later he collapsed in Marlboro St. after receiving Holy Communion. He was taken to the Mater hospital where he remained for some time. He had internal cancer and as nothing could be done to relieve his sufferings he returned home. He lived for some time in the most acute agony, but through it all he was willing to suffer all and more, to make up for the past and to experience the happiness and peace of mind he now enjoyed.
He was attended until his death by the Sisters from Gardiner St. and a Jubilee Nurse. He received Holy Communion frequently during his last illness. He died aged 55. Today Walter Carpenter has two granddaughters in religious life – my sister and I!
Ellen Galvin RSC