Thursday, 18th April 2019

Review – The Furrow

It is a good thing to keep anniversaries and for the Pontifical Irish College, Rome the three hundred and seventy-fifth is as good as any.  It is certainly aptly commemorated by this splendid edition of a manuscript in the College archives written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary in 1678.

The text is already known to historians, as it was edited by Mgr John Hanly in Archivium Hibernicum xxvii (1964).  He contributes an introduction and notes to this reprint, and there is a facing-page English translation by Declan Lawell.  The wider historical background is explored by Dr Thomas O’Connor in ‘The Irish College, Rome in the Age of Religious Renewal 1625-1690’.

The seminary and the seminary priest was among the abiding legacies of the Council of Trent (Cum adolescentium aetas, 15 July 1563).  When this decree was issued there may have been some uncertainty as to the direction the new Queen Elizabeth might be taking, but the uncertainty was soon resolved and there would be no seminaries in Ireland.  We begin to find Irish students for the priesthood all over Catholic Europe, first as individuals, but gradually coalescing into a network of Irish seminaries, slowly and painfully because the home island was politically divided, resources were scarce and patrons hard to find.  Patronage of Philip II made Salamanca possible in 1592, but in Rome Pope Gregory XIII, that  great founder of seminaries, had diverted the money set aside for an Irish seminary to the doomed expedition of James Fitzmaurice in 1579.  There was an element of the fortuitous in the favourable circumstances which in 1 January 1628 allowed six young Irish seminarians to settle in a house of their own in Rome.

The manuscript edited here throws a clear light of the next fifty years.  The author is not named, but it is in the hand of James Reilly, S.J.  He was a student from 1662 to 1667, and then, as numbers of them did, he joined the Jesuits.  He was confessor and prefect of studies in the College from 1675 to at least 1683, and so had the College documentation at his disposal to add to his personal recollections and the recollections of others.  He describes the foundation of the College, and gives an account of its superiors, all Jesuit by the will of its founding patron, Cardinal Ludovisi, rather more of them Italian than Irish, each appointed for a term of three years only and not always serving it out.

Then there is a note on each seminarian in turn, the official record of arrival, progress and departure being usually supplemented by some more personal details.  Inevitably, these are most colourful when dealing with the problems – Terence Kelly, one of the original students, who seems to have worn the tridentine reform very lightly, or James Stafford, who entered in 1653, self-willed and a bit of a fool, or Hugh McKean, who came in 1675, self-willed and more than a bit of a knave.  But the routine comes to life too-the little establishment with its funds to support seven students, with three Jesuits and two lay servants, no doubt welcoming the paying lodgers (convictores) as soon as the building could  be adapted so as to keep them apart from the seminary community.

This book is published by the Pontifical Irish College and handsomely produced by the Vatican Press.  The Irish distributor is Veritas.

Review by Mons Patrick J. Corish, DD, MRIA Professor Emeritus of History, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland, The Furrow, Jan, 2004.