Dillon, Brian Francis (Father Matthew) (1905–79), Benedictine monk and headmaster, was born in Dublin on 13 March 1905, the fifth and youngest son of John Dillon (qv) and his wife, Elizabeth Mathew (qv), of 2 North Great George's Street, Dublin. His paternal grandfather was John Blake Dillon (qv), the Young Irelander. His father was a Land Leaguer and parliamentarian, and his mother, the brilliant and beautiful Elizabeth Mathew, was the daughter of Sir James Mathew (qv), judge of the high court in London, and great-niece of the famously temperate Father Theobald Mathew (qv). Brian (as he was named at birth) was youngest brother to John Mathew (Father Shawn Dillon), Anne Elizabeth (Nano Smyth), Theobald Wolfe Tone (Theo), Myles Patrick (qv), Celtic scholar, and James Dillon (qv), sometime leader of Fine Gael.
Dillon was for a time educated privately till he was sent to the remarkable school of Father John Sweetman (qv) at Mount Saint Benedict, Gorey, in Co. Wexford. The rugged independence, sporting respect for the freedom of others, and spartan authenticity he found there were to remain his guiding principles and inspiration for life. Proceeding in 1923 to a study of the law at UCD and King's Inns, he was awarded the John Brooke scholarship and the 1st class certificate of honour. Called to the bar in 1927 he practised for two years. He then turned to theology, studying at the diocesan seminary at Wonersh, Surrey, and at the Beda College and the Angelicum university in Rome; he was ordained priest in 1933 for the Southwark diocese before joining the newly founded Benedictine monastery at Glenstal, Co. Limerick, in 1934, where he received the habit and the name Matthew from Prior Bede Lebbe (10 August). He served his novitiate at Maredsous in Belgium under Dom Idesbald Ryelandt.
On his return to Glenstal he became involved in the fledgling school, the development of which was the creation of his genius. He was appointed headmaster in 1937. As the battle of Stalingrad raged he was expanding room by room through Glenstal castle until, at the end of the war, with numbers augmented by Irish refugees from English public schools, the secondary boarding school at Glenstal, so tentatively begun in 1932, seemed almost viable. Apart from the years 1948 to 1953, which he spent in Dublin founding and running a university residence at Balnagowan, Palmerston Park, Father Matthew was headmaster at Glenstal until 1961; he later said of the school ‘it was a great adventure’. He then went to Peru to examine the prospect of founding a school at Lima, but thought better of it and returned to administer Balnagowan until 1966. He spent his last years fighting to defend the cultural patrimony of the church, making plans with Samuel Morris of Waterford and others to found a school on the principles of Father Sweetman, and, finally free from the programmes and demands of ‘great adventures’, writing, translating, and reading, while rendering humble service to school and monastery. He died 25 October 1979 at the Bons Secours Hospital, Glasnevin.
Father Matthew had an unfailing sense of purpose and a forceful intelligence and wit; education was the area where grace and nature combined most happily in genius. A sometimes rather gruff and abrupt manner hid a good-humoured kindness that gave to young people freedom both from worldly vulgarity and from the integrist piety of the age. In his five-minute introduction to the school given to the new boys in 1959 he made a clear distinction between the moral law and school law. One need have no scruples about breaking the latter, but ‘God help you if you are caught’ (personal knowledge). In a memorandum on industrial or reformatory schools, written in the 1950s after the appearance of the Curtis report, he suggests that the courts, when they commit a child, should appoint some worthy citizen as patron or guardian so that the child may have someone to refer to outside the institution, some access to appeal in the event of any apparent injustice he may meet inside it. Further, every child in such care should have pocket money and a locker where he may keep things he may call his own. There should be holidays – if not in a private home then, at least, in a different institution. Finally, access to secondary education should not be systematically denied, regardless of aptitude, to children whom the state has taken into its care. The freedom and rights his ancestors championed for adults in the nineteenth century, Father Matthew extended to children of the twentieth.
His writings include Some problems of parents (1945) and The schoolmaster, parent and pupil (1950). His translations from the French include Christ the ideal of the priest (1952) after a work by Dom Columba Marmion (qv), three books by Dom Idesbald Ryelandt (1938, 1964,1966), The spiritual doctrine of Dom Columba Marmion (1956) after M. M. Philipon, and A new light on the mass (1961) after Dom Bernard Capelle; he also translated Pope Paul VI's Evangelii nuntiandi (1975). Some compelling unpublished works survive among his papers in the archives at Glenstal abbey, Co. Limerick.