Maynooth, St. Patrick's College

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During the 17th and 18th centuries, to counteract the penal laws that prohibited Catholic education, candidates for the Irish diocesan priesthood were educated in seminaries established in the Catholic countries of Europe. During the French Revolution, many of these seminaries were forced to close; access to the Continent became difficult. The Irish bishops petitioned the government to allow the endowment of seminaries in Ireland. An act of Parliament on June 5, 1795 (35 Geo. III, ch. 21) led to the opening of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, in autumn 1795.

Early Development. Though the discussions between government and bishops had been concerned with the establishment of a seminary, the act of 1795 made general provision "for the better education of persons professing the Roman Catholic religion." In 1801, a lay college was set up in Maynooth operating as a private foundation. It was closed in 1817, however, not only because the government regarded with suspicion this juxtaposition of lay and clerical education, but also because the development of similar institutions elsewhere made it unnecessary. Maynooth then became what it until recently remained, a seminary to educate the majority of candidates for the Irish diocesan priesthood.

The act of 1795 provided a sum of £8,000 "towards establishing the said academy"; in some way which is not altogether clear the provision became an annual parliamentary grant of approximately this amount. This grant was of great help toward the large-scale building necessary in the early years of the college. However, it also gave an opportunity to the more hostile Protestants to voice their suspicions, both during the annual parliamentary debate and outside Parliament and to demand that the College be closely supervised. These annoyances were considerably lessened by Sir Robert Peel's legislation of 1845 (8 and 9 Vict. ch. 25), which provided £30,000 for buildings and increased the annual grant to £26,360, chargeable to the Consolidated Fund and therefore not subject to parliamentary debate.

Administration. Under the act of 1795, the College was governed by a board of trustees, responsible to Parliament and composed of government officials, Catholic laity, and representatives of the Catholic hierarchy. Under a further act of 1800 (40 Geo. III, ch. 85), however, the government officials ceased to be trustees.

After this the trustees, 17 in number, were all Catholics11 bishops and six lay. The Irish Church Act of 1869 (32 and 33 Vict., ch. 42) freed the trustees from any further responsibility to Parliament. The lay trustees resigned; since then the board has been composed of four Irish archbishops and 13 bishops. While the college is legally vested in these 17 trustees, it is administered by the entire hierarchy. The immediate administration is in the hands of a president, vice president, and three directors of formation, together with spiritual directors and a vocational growth counsellor.

Finance. Under the act of 1869 mentioned above, the annual parliamentary grant was withdrawn. In its place the college received a capital sum of £369,040, equal to 14 years' purchase of the annual grant. While under the general provisions of the act this capital sum was fairly and in some respects generously calculated, the immediate result was to halve the income of the college. This capital sum remained the nucleus of college finances. The heavy inflation of the past century put it under considerable pressure. It has, however, been successfully rebuilt, though student fees now play a bigger part than they did in the past. An appeal for funds by the trustees in 1947 netted about £700,000, but most of this was absorbed by reconstruction and building repair. Further necessary conservation of extensive and ageing buildings has been made possible in more recent years by the establishment of the "Friends of Maynooth." Friends in United States have been particularly generous.

Organization. Since 1906, Maynooth has been a Pontifical University, with faculties of theology, Canon Law, and philosophy. The college was also connected in various ways with the different attempts made in the later 19th century to secure an acceptable plan of university education for Catholics. Finally, under the Irish Universities Act of 1908 (8 Edw. VII, ch. 38) Maynooth became a recognized College of the National University of Ireland, and as such provided courses leading to degrees of the National University in philosophy, arts, Celtic studies, and science.

In 1966 the trustees declared their intention to develop Maynooth as "an open centre of higher studies," with "faculties and courses to meet the needs of priests, nonclerical religious, and the laity." At the time a government commission was evaluating the whole Irish university system. There was a tacit understanding among all parties that Maynooth had to expand to retain its university status, and that "theology should be allowed to take its place in the university system." The Second Vatican Council stirred up much optimistic discussions, but nothing was accomplished until the Universities Act of 1997 established a civil university, the National University of Ireland at Maynooth (NUI Maynooth). St. Patrick's College remained autonomous as a seminary and pontifical university. The pontifical university offers baccalaureate, postgraduate and diploma programs in theology and canon law for seminarians, clergy, non-clerical religious and laity. Students also enroll in the relevant humanities courses at NUI Maynooth.

Postgraduate resident priest-students form the Dunboyne Establishment. This takes its name from John Butler, Bishop of Cork, who apostatized from the Church on succeeding to the title of Lord Dunboyne in 1786. He was reconciled on his deathbed in 1800; in his will he left lands that yielded an income of £1,000 per year to Maynooth. This revenue was used to finance post-ordination studies for selected students. Although the "Dunboyne course" carried no academic degree for nearly a century, it was justly regarded as the equivalent of a doctorate in theology. The Dunboyne Establishment now provides courses for all degrees that Maynooth is empowered to grant as a Pontifical University. Postgraduate priest-students in NUI Maynooth also reside in the Dunboyne Establishment. In the exceptional circumstances of World War II it had as many as 30 extern students (destined to serve in dioceses outside Ireland). Although it is seldom entirely without these externs, Dunboyne students normally graduate through the ordinary college courses.

Library and Publications. Library facilities are shared between St. Patrick's College and NUI Maynooth. The collection comprises over 400,000 volumes, including 60 incunabula and many rare works on Irish history. There are over 300 Gaelic manuscripts, notably the O'Curry, Murphy, and Renehan collections. The college archive also houses the archive of the Irish College at Salamanca, Spain, which closed in 1936.

The College publishes the following periodicals: Irish Theological Quarterly, Furrow, and Archivium Hibernicum, the annual journal of the Catholic Record Society of Ireland.

The Maynooth Union of Irish Priests meets annually in the College. The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland had its origin in a paper read before the Union in 1899, and the Catholic Record Society was similarly inaugurated in 1910. The College museum sprang from a paper read in 1931. In addition to valuable ecclesiastical material there is a collection of historical scientific instruments, assembled as a tribute to the distinguished priest-scientist Nicholas Callan, professor in the college from 1826 until his death in 1864. A paper read in 1955 by Most Rev. Dr. Philbin, then Bishop of Clonfert, led to the Maynooth Union Summer School.

Although Maynooth's primary purpose is the education of priests for Irish dioceses, it has consistently supplied priests to other English-speaking countries. Among its many contributions to mission outreach are the Maynooth

Mission to China (St. Columban's Society), founded in 1916, and St. Patrick's Society for African Mission, founded in 1932.

Bibliography: Calendarium Collegii S. Patritii, annually since 1864. j. healy, Maynooth College: Its Centenary History (New York 1895). d. hourihane, "College Buildings," The Irish Ecclesiastical Record series 5, 66 (1945) 23843. d. meehan, Window on Maynooth (Dublin 1949). p. j. corish, Maynooth College 17951995 (Dublin 1995). Eighth Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education, Roman Catholic College of Maynooth (Dublin 1827). Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Management and Government of the College of Maynooth (Dublin 1855).

[p. j. corish]

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Maynooth, St. Patrick's College

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