Monday, 16th September 2019

Review – Irish Catholic

For much of its lifetime, Rome’s Pontifical Irish College has served as a vital conduit between an often under-pressure Irish Catholicism and the Holy See. Steeped in the milieu of continental Catholicism, the College has also had a profound influence on the Irish Church, not least because so many notable Irish bishops and senior clerics have been trained there.

Long before the existence of an independent Irish State. the Irish College also served as a vital watchdog for Irish interests before the Holy See at a time when hostile British forces were briefing against the Irish Cause.

This latest book brings together essays by a number of prominent scholars who unpack the history of the Irish College and the role the college has played in contemporary ecclesiastical and social history.

Prof Dáire Keogh’s unrivalled knowledge of relations between the Holy See and Ireland and Vice Rector Albert McDonnell’s passion for the college and its history make for an excellent collection of essays.

As usual, Four Courts Press had done a fine job with the presentation of this book, and while five of the collection deal with the earlier history of the college, and of men like the now legendary Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi and Luke Wadding, the bulk of the material is devoted to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the involvement of the College in Irish affairs and in the wider Church.

The book will serve as an invaluable tool for any student or observer seeking to place Rome’s Irish College, and indeed the network of Irish Colleges throughout Europe. By necessity, each chapter covers just a smattering of what might be written or published on a particular historical period. For example, Bishop Micheal Smith’s reflection on the college during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) offers but a brief glimpse on to what must have been a fascinating period to have been a resident in the Irish College during such a time of flux in the universal Church. 

Dr Smith’s chapter concludes with an invitation for a wider scholarly work to be undertaken on the subject. It is to be hoped it is an invitation that will be embraced. There has never been, as Bishop Smith notes, a comprehensive account of the role of Irish prelates at Vatican II. Perhaps with a view to commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II in 2012 such a project of merit and worth might be undertaken.

Michael Kelly, in The Irish Catholic 30 July 2009