Sunday, 26th May 2024

Review – Irish Theological Quarterly

The contribution made by the Irish Colleges in Europe, from their foundation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries until, with the exception of the Irish College, Rome, their demise in the twentieth century, has not yet received the acknowledgement that it deserves. From humble origins, which were often based on the personal initiative of some remarkable individuals rather than that of the Irish Church, they gradually grew into the most impressive force for the education of men for the priesthood all over Europe until they numbered 20 in all. As Patrick J. Corish notes here, “They were struggling foundations, usually begun by the enterprise of an individual, who rented – or in very favourable circumstances bought – a house in some town where the student could attend lectures, and then faces the long battle against debt and misrepresentation.” The last of these colleges to come into existence was the Roman one, which was founded in 1628.

The circumstances which surrounded the birth of the Irish College, Rome, were quite auspicious. Cardinal Ludovisi, who had been appointed Protector of Ireland by Pope Urban VIII in 1623, took as his first major initiative the provision of an education for Irish students in Rome. Ludovisi, the 25-year-old nephew of Urban VII’s predecessor, Pope Gregory XV, turned to two Irish men for advice, the Irish Franciscan, Luke Wadding from Waterford, and the newly appointed Bishop of Ferns, John Roche. Fearing financial difficulties if the foundation of the College was made, Ludovisi arranged for the maintenance of six Irish students in other Roman Colleges, such as the English and the Maronite. A wild element in the character of some of those admitted to these colleges however, led to a request for their removal and, with some trepidation, Ludovisi asked Luke Wadding to supervise their formation in a rented house near St Isidore’s, the Irish Franciscan house in Rome he had founded recently. The untimely death of Ludovisi, at the age of 37, was to be a mixed blessing for the College. While he left enough money in his will to buy out the house they had rented, he directed that the Jesuits should bear responsibility for it, and not the Franciscans, who had up to that point cared for the College. In the court case which followed, the College was then placed under the care of the Jesuits.

From the mid-seventeenth century, therefore, a succession of Irish and Italian Jesuits took responsibility for the College until the Jesuits were supressed in 1772. When the French entered Rome, the College was suppressed in 1798. The modern period in the history of the College, which has seen it under control of the Irish secular clergy, commenced when the College was re-opened in the 1820’s. It has occupied five sites in Rome, coming to rest in the Via SS. Quattro in 1928.

The Irish College, Rome and its World takes a masterly sweep through the almost 400 years which have passed since its foundation, Dáire Keogh and Albert McDonnell, acting in the role of joint conductors, have drawn together a symphony of strands which has produced a most pleasing whole. As the reader moves effortlessly through its pages, stories of conflict and subordination mingle with descriptions of books, art and artists. The mystery which surrounds the heart of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, whose dying wish was that Ireland, Rome and Heaven should all share his extraordinary presence, sits comfortably with the political work of Rectors such as Thomas Kirby, Micheal O’Riordan, and John Hagan. A study in political Catholicism is followed by an account of the Second Vatican Council and this rounds off an intriguing story. Add to this the gentle storytelling of contributors such as Patrick Corish, Micheal Olden and Ambrose Macauley and the turn of phrase of such men as Tom O’Connor and the Scot, Charles Burns, and you sample an appetizer which longs for another opportunity to visit the fascinating story of this important part of the modern Irish Church.

A generous collection of photographs, lithographs and sketches provides a glance into the daily life of the College in ages past. Photographs of prestigious visitors to the College, such as Pope John Paul II, and Presidents, such as Eamon de Valera, sit comfortably beside those of smiling prelates and seminarians sailing off Anzio, supping at the Villa Greci in Tivoli, and posing on the back of a mule in clerical garb in the noonday sun. Thankfully, the photograph of the portly Vice-Rector, Micheal Curran, taken in 1962, provides a pleasant contrast to the stark lithograph of an austere-looking founder, Luke Wadding, made exactly 300 years before. In particular, the drawings provided by Patricia Hakim add an elegant, artistic touch to a volume which cries out for readers.

The story of the college, told through the eyes of a series of contributors and edited with great skill by Albert McDonnell and Dáire Keogh, provided this book with breadth of interests which it would otherwise lack if prepared by a single author. Hopefully, as the College approaches its fourth centenary in 2028, another set of similarly gifted contributors and editors will be found to reveal further aspects of the rich tapestry of its history.

Bishop John Fleming, in The Irish Theological Quarterly,Volume 74 no. 2 (2009), 239-240