Rev Francis M. Browne, SJ, 32, was born on 3 January 1880 in Cork, Ireland. He was the eighth child of Brigid and James Browne and baptized on 8 January at the Cathedral Church of SS. Mary and Anne, Shandon. His mother died the following day of puerperal fever.
Francis' mother Brigid Browne was the eldest daughter of James Hegarty, Lord Mayor of Cork, a wealthy merchant. James Browne was also a merchant, he died tragically when Francis was in his teens: drowned while ocean swimming at Crosshaven, County Cork. Francis' uncle Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, living in Queenstown, took care of the young man.
Browne attended the Bower Convent in Athlone, Christian Brothers College in Cork, Belvedere College in Dublin and Castlenock College in Co. Dublin. In 1897 he graduated and then toured through Europe: France, Italy and Switzerland. His brother came with him and Francis brought a special gift from his uncle Robert - a camera.
Back in Ireland Francis entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tullabey in September 1897. Thereafter he went to the Royal University in Dublin (James Joyce was a contemporary). In 1902 Browne passed his examinations and travelled to Chieri near Turin, Italy to study philosophy. This lasted till 1906 and he returned to Dublin to teach at Belvedere College.
In 1911 he began his theological studies at Milltown Park, Dublin. The year after, his uncle Robert bought him a ticket for a trip on the Titanic: from Southampton to Queenstown. On 4 April he received his first-class ticket1 as a cross-channel passenger from White Star Agent James Scott & Co., Queenstown. To reach Southampton he travelled via Holyhead to London on 8 April. He probably spent the night on the train and the following one at his brother's, Dr. James Browne, an eye specialist, in London. On 10 April he left London at 9.45 am (according to other passengers at 8.0 am) on the "Titanic Special" to Southampton from Waterloo station. This train arrived at 11.30 am at Southampton. A friend, Tom Brownrigg, awaited him at the railway station. Both boarded the Titanic and inspected the stateroom A-37, which Browne would occupy. Brownrigg had to leave before the Titanic was scheduled to depart Southampton, at 12 o'clock. The next day Father Browne disembarked at Queenstown after a stop at Cherbourg the previous evening.
Browne was ordained to the priesthood on 31 July 1915 and went immediately to the front in Flanders as chaplain of the Irish Guards. He was injured five times, one time severely (gas attack). He was decorated by the MC and Bar, the Croix de Guerre and by a personal decoration by the Belgian King. In Spring 1920 he was demobilized, and he returned to Dublin.
Not long afterwards he was appointed Superior of St. Xavier's Church in Dublin. However, his physical constitution was still damaged by gassing in world war one. His doctor sent him to warmer climates, so Father Browne went to Australia. On his way to that country "down under" he stopped at Cape Town. On his way back he visited Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras and Lisbon. Everywhere he went he took photographs. By the end of his life he had collected nearly 42,000 of them.
From 1925 to 1929 he was back in Dublin at his post. Afterwards, he became a member of the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. He preached all over Ireland. This he continued till the end of his life in 1960.
His obituary, writtten by Lord Nugent, mentioned: "A great Christian, a brave and loveable man, we who knew him so well will always be grateful for his friendship and for the example that he set."
Father Browne was buried in Glasnerin Cemetery, Dublin.
Father Browne and his camera left a treasure to us all: photographs of the maiden voyage of the Titanic from Southampton to Queenstown. He captured the near accident with the New York, he photographed Robert D. Spedden, T.W. Mc Cawley, Jacques Futrelle, Harold Bride and the last picture ever taken of Captain E.J. Smith.
His photographs are now in the archives of the Irish Jesuits in Dublin.
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