By John Fitzgerald
The 1947 flooding of the Black Abbey, where the water reached to a staggering fifteen feet, prompted an act of clerical heroism. When Dr. Gaffney O.P. saw to his horror that the water was about to reach the level of the High Altar, he cried aloud from the boat in which he sailed around the abbey. “What is to become of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lord’s most sacred vessels in the Tabernacle?” he asked, “We shall rue this day, my brethren!”
Though much of the church had been submerged, and considerable damage caused to the floor and walls, the prospect of what he believed was the “Living Presence of God” succumbing to the flood was the last straw for him.
His friends and fellow clerics called out to him from their boats sailing past the Black abbey. They warned him of the risk of drowning if he tried to save the holy items. They tried to hold him back, but he broke away and dived into the freezing water.
He swam towards the altar, reciting a litany of prayers and invocations. Shouts of “Go on father, you can do it”, “God save that brave man”, and “Come on, Kilkenny” echoed in his priestly ears as he drew nearer his beloved Holy of Holies.
There was loud applause from the water-borne congregation when he rescued the chalices and communion hosts. Dripping wet and shivering all over, he emerged from the depths of the flooded House of God like Neptune ascending from the ocean.
He wiped his eyes and thanked God. A small fish fell from a pocket of his saturated clerical garb. A rousing cheer went up from the boats and makeshift rafts when he raised aloft the symbols of Catholic faith that meant so much to him.
“‘Tis better than the Miracle of Dunkirk”, one man hollered, as the cleric was pulled into a boat. He handed over the treasure trove. Gold and silver glittered under a gaunt drizzly sky. “You have become a fisher of men” Dr. Gaffney told his dewy-eyed saviour.