The Prelude To The Apostolate

For generations, a community of the Dominican Order, based in St. Saviour’s Priory in Dominick Street, has served the area of Dublin, as a whole and Catholics around the world.


The St. Martin Apostolate’s prelude came in the mid-19th Century, when it was determined that a new Church was needed in Dominick Street. (As a side-note, the street was named after Sir Christopher Dominick, and not from the founder of the Dominican Order.) The driving force for the new Church was Fr Batt Russell, who also built St Mary’s, Cork, and with his guiding hand the cornerstone of the new church was blessed in 1852. It was he too who founded the novitiate and House of Studies in Tallaght, which helped to restore regular monastic observance in the Province after the Penal Days.


On 15 January 1861 the new Church opened its doors for the first time and for the next 30 years the community continued to live in Denmark Street, before moving into the new priory in 1891.


It was from within this community that Fr. Coffey O.P. founded the St. Martin Apostolate.


The History of the St Martin Apostolate


Fr Coffey O.P. – Innovator

The ‘story’ of the Apostolate begins with Fr. Louis Coffey O.P. in the mid 1940s. He was assigned to promote devotion to Blessed Martin De Porres with a view to canonisation and to help the missions by educating priests. His first step on the journey was from a little shop in Dorset Street. A supportive shop owner enabled raffles to take place and the draws grew in popularity. Small statues were sold from the shop, and the religious goods business was born. (Now a thriving retail and wholesale business – for wholesale accounts, contact us


One of Fr. Coffey’s many attributes was a determination to get things done and this included having a bus stop re-located! On that occasion he wrote to C.I.E. asking them to kindly remove the said stop as it was blocking the view of the Apostolate. Today, we have many, many bus stops outside our front door facilitating a wide variety of visitors throughout the year. We always welcome visitors to both our shop and the Oratory.


The Apostolate went from strength to strength. Members and supporters grew in huge numbers. The range of activities the Apostolate participated in and operated expanded also. The St. Martin Magazine commenced publication in November 1952. Since its first publication the magazine has been published on a monthly basis, without pause, up to this day, such is its popularity.


The quarterly Draws expanded as did the sale of religious goods over the years. The Apostolate expanded the membership base very successfully to the UK, which is to this day, very important to us.


There were two more re-locations – the first No. 30 Parnell Square West. This was where the famous and much-loved Moving Crib was opened in 1957 (which itself attracted one hundred thousand visitors at one time). All operations were undertaken from No. 30 – operating the shop, sending out draw tickets and even turkeys giveaways (as Christmas Draw prizes). The shop was open from 9am to 9pm and the Moving Crib remained open throughout – even on Christmas Day.


There were over a hundred volunteers, sixty of whom also worked two nights a week and at special Sunday Meetings where meals were provided. Such was the popularity of the Volunteer Work Force, that there would be a rush in the door at tea-time to get a seat. The original “member recruitment” process involved the team of dedicated volunteers sending out thousands of letters across Ireland and the UK seeking the recruitment and support of new members.


In 1977 the Apostolate arrived at its current location – 42 Parnell Square West. Here the Oratory was opened by Cardinal Ciappi and the Moving Crib scenes were painted by Fr. Aenghus Buckley O.P. and updated by renowned Dublin artist Cormac Larkin (who was also a St Martin’s Volunteer).


In 1981 there were over 6,000 promoters of the magazine and 26,000 magazines were being dispatched monthly – this peaked later at 100,000 monthly copies. It was the work of a lifetime for Father Coffey from its humble beginnings in Dorset Street to ‘Number 42’.


Fr. Clifford – Modernising

In 1987, due to Fr. Coffey’s failing health, Fr. Clifford was passed the baton of Director . While many aspects of the Apostolate remained the same, Fr. Clifford brought the new-fangled “computer” into use. Many of the large administrative tasks were more efficiently replaced with a mainframe computer. The Apostolate moved into the wholesale distribution of religious goods, now selling items all over the UK and Ireland, with teams directly ‘on the ground’, and we also sent goods to some far-flung places around the world. The Apostolate’s first website was commissioned in the late-1990s.


The Oratory was refurbished to its current form at the turn of the century (2000). Fr. Clifford remains Director to this day and works tirelessly to achieve the Apostolate’s many goals and mission.

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