Cullen, James Aloysius (1841–1921), Jesuit priest and temperance reformer, was born 23 October 1841 in New Ross, Co. Wexford, the eldest of five sons and three daughters of James Cullen, a businessman, and Mary Cullen (née Bolger). He was educated locally by the Christian Brothers in New Ross before moving to the Jesuit college at Clongowes Wood, Co. Kildare, in April 1856. From 1861 to 1864 he was a student at Carlow college and was ordained a priest at Carlow cathedral on 25 October 1864, only five days after he had reached the canonical age. He was appointed curate in Rome Street Church in Wexford and worked closely with Dr Thomas Furlong (qv), bishop of Ferns. He became heavily involved in fighting intemperance, building churches, founding religious teaching institutions and retreats for nuns and priests, and launching the Missionary Institute in Enniscorthy.
Although he had been wary of the Jesuit order from an early age, disliking their association with the middle classes, his preoccupation with the spiritual exercises of their founder, St Ignatius Loyola, and his apostolic endeavours slowly led him to reverse his opinion: in March 1881 he made a vow to enter the order, enrolling in September 1881 at the novitiate of the Belgian province at Arlow, at the age of 40. The following year he enrolled to study moral theology and canon law at Louvain. In September 1883 he took his vows at the Jesuit House of Studies in Milltown Park in Dublin, where he became well known as a missionary of the Blessed Sacrament, a promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, and a temperance reformer. He was appointed spiritual father to the students at Belvedere College, Dublin (1884) and national director of the Apostleship of Prayer (1887), marking a further commitment to the spread of Sacred Heart devotion. In 1888 he began publication of the hugely circulated Catholic weekly, the Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart, which he also used to promote temperance. He produced his Catechism of temperance in 1892, and in the same year travelled to South Africa as a missionary, making a return visit in April 1899.
Extraordinarily demonstrative in his personal piety and organisational ability, Cullen established the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart in the presbytery of the Saint Francis Xavier Church in Gardiner St., Dublin, on 29 December 1898. Over the course of the twentieth century it grew into one of the largest temperance movements in the world and claimed 500,000 members by the 1950s. They were labelled ‘Pioneers’ because of a novel method of pledging: Cullen developed the concept of adults (those over 16) making what was termed a ‘heroic offering’, pledging to abstain from alcohol for life, publicly identifiable by the wearing of a pin which depicted a bleeding Sacred Heart. Cullen's initiative was not only the product of an acute social conscience – his early endeavours in Wexford and his work in inner-city Dublin convinced him that much of the poverty and deprivation he witnessed was the result of excessive drinking – but also a belief that intemperance could only be fought by an absolutist life-long pledge, in contrast to the loose ‘en masse’ administration associated with the famed but short-lived temperance crusade of Fr Theobald Mathew (qv) in the nineteenth century. The Pioneers were organised on a parish basis under the guidance of a spiritual director and controlled by a central directorate of Jesuit priests based in Dublin. Juvenile and later temporary pledge branches were also introduced.
A strong opponent of British imperialism, Cullen closely aligned his argument for temperance with the political and cultural nationalism prevalent in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ireland. Although never a masterful orator, he aggressively pursued the temperance cause through a column devoted to Pioneers in the Irish Catholic newspaper which he wrote from February 1912 until his death. This portrayed Pioneers as the soldiers of Christ engaged in a battle against intemperance which was destroying Irish health, morals, and welfare, and demeaning Irish claims to be a viable political and economic entity. He continually claimed that ‘the only thing wrong with Ireland is the excessive amount of drinking going on’. At the time of his death there were 280,000 Pioneers in Ireland.
Cullen was also active in Dublin's inner city in promoting sodalities, religious leagues and social alternatives to the public house. He also placed exacting spiritual demands on himself including four hours of obligatory prayer every day. He died 6 December 1921 in Dublin; he was said to be elated on hearing of the signing of the Anglo–Irish Treaty, hours before his death. Over 200 priests and ecclesiastical dignatories attended his funeral in Dublin.