The Irish Province in Arrupe’s time

October 31, 2007 in General, News

by Louis McRedmond

From Chapter 7 of To the Greater Glory: A History of the Irish Jesuits by Louis McRedmond (Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1991)

Another factor in the evolution of Gonzaga was the growing discomfiture of Jesuits – young Jesuits in particular – with providing quality education for the relatively better-off who could afford to pay for it. (1) This reflected the influence of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965 and effected so powerful a change in the mind of the Catholic Church. One could say that its implications have still to be fully worked out in ecclesiastical thinking and practice as the century draws to its close. For Jesuits everywhere the final year of the Council had a further significance, for it brought the election of Father Pedro Arrupe as General of the Society, perhaps the most charismatic and prophetic holder of the office since Jan Philip Roothaan had consolidated its activities and firmly fixed its direction in the decades after the Restoration.Father Arrupe, like his fellow-Basque Ignatius Loyola, was seized of the conviction the the Jesuits’ duty lay in meeting the most urgent needs of the world in which they found themselves, and he had little doubt that the first of these needs in modern times was the pursuit of justice for the poor. This led to self-questioning in which he urged Jesuits everywhere to join with him. Thus, on Jesuit schools: ’We must honestly ask ourselves whether we are fostering, at least implicitly, elitism based on the ability to pay. If the answer is affirmative, we cannot avoid the next question: how can the situation be changed? If the situation cannot be changed, then the next question follows with ruthless logic: cannot our energies be used more effectively elsewhere?’ (2)

Such considerations led the Jesuits in 1974 to propose that Gonzaga become a Jesuit Comprehensive School, co-educational and non-feepaying, to be run by a board of management representing the Irish Province and the Minister for Education. (3) A similar plan had already been given effect in Limerick, where the Crescent had been converted successfully into a comprehensive of this kind on a new site at Dooradoyle on the southern fringe of the city. In a clear reflection of the emphases of Vatican II, the Gonzaga proposal also indicated that the comprehensive ’would be a Jesuit school, and therefore a Catholic one, but designed with the specific aim of moving towards Christian unity, and exploring the form of the Christian school as distinct from a Catholic one. It would welcome children of other Christian faiths, and ensure that their religious education was cared for as well as that of Catholic pupils.’ In this way, the Jesuits’ service to the Church and to their fellow-men would be discharged in a non-elitist manner and their talents would be directed towards meeting an urgent need in the Ireland of the day. As it turned out, the State could not accept the proposal for practical reasons (bearing on cost), other options were considered (4) and it was found in the end that the only feasible course was to continue the school with little change.

To risk an over-simplification, the question posed by the General was answered, in the case of Clongowes, Belvedere and Gonzaga, by the consideration that the Jesuits were justified in meeting the undoubted demand (5) for such schools if they developed in their pupils a respect and commitment to the ’option for the poor’ that the pupils might be expected to advance in the professional and leadership roles which many would afterwards find themselves exercising: in other words, the colleges would be used consciously to promote the Christian principle of justice. As Father Arrupe put it in 1973, the formation of ’men-for-others’ was to be one of the principal objectives of the Society’s work in education. (6) In Clongowes the promotion of social conscience long predated the Vatican Council. The work of its Social Study Club featured among the school activities to which attention was drawn during the centenary celebrations attended by John Redmond in 1914. This group of boys had been inspired in the previous year by Father Edward James Boyd-Barrett (who later left the Jesuits) to concern themselves with the relationship between poverty and industrialisation: the Dublin Lock-Out was a stimulus. Contact made with the St Vincent de Paul Society resulted in work by some of the older pupils of the school in the then appalling slums of Dublin, the founding of the Clongowes Boys Club for poor boys (a Belvedere Club was founded as well) and a Dublin housing scheme backed by the Clongowes Union. The organised group in the school did not last long and its approaches may sound patronising today but in their time they were well-intended, and not without consequences. The modern historian of Clongowes, who has compiled this information, (7) adds that the creation of the Catholic Workers’ College referred to earlier can be traced to the influence of the Clongowes group on Father Edward Coyne, whom we have already met in connection with the Catholic social movement of the 1930s. In its modern form, the awareness of the boys is sharpened by a scheme of exchange visits in which boys from the Jesuit school stay for a time in the homes of under-privileged contemporaries, and vice versa. (8) How far the new thinking traceable to the Vatican Council and Father Arrupe has carried weight with ex-pupils of the Colleges awaits research. It may be found heartening, however, to note a story from the early post-concilar period:

There were not a few quiet Jesuit cheers in October, 1971, when ten former students of Gonzaga mounted a protest picket at the gates of Castletown House where the past pupils’ unions of Clongowes, Belvedere and Gonzaga were holding a £4-a-head dinner. The spending of about £3,000 on an evening’s entertainment offended young radicals and many Jesuits alike. (9)

A point indeed, although, as can also be fairly said, ’radical protest. . . had charms which may not have been obvious to those who have given years of patient work to social action. (10)

A few years after the foundation of Gonzaga, Father Dermot Casey, S.J., opened St Declan’s School and Child Guidance Centre in Dublin. It was not – and is not – a Jesuit institution; it is run by its own committee, but Father Casey set it up in 1958 and it therefore merits inclusion among the educational works of Irish Jesuits. It was established in the conviction that ’many nervous, highly-strung or otherwise emotionally disturbed children could be helped most effectively and more quickly in a special day school adapted to their special and individual needs.’ When founded it was the only school of its kind in Ireland, and there were only three such schools in England. It continues today and many families have had the benefit of Father Casey’s observation that ’a small amount of special psychological help given early on to a child and to its parents will prevent a great deal of trouble, distress and unhappiness later on’. (11)

The Provincial on whom the burden primarily fell of bringing the Irish Jesuits safely through the aftermath of Vatican II was Father Cecil McGarry, who came to office in 1968. To guide him he had the emphasis of the documents approved in 1965 and 1966 by the 31st General Congregation of the Society, which had elected Father Arrupe, as well as the exhortations which very quickly came from the new General himself. The Congregation chose two themes to stress, both of them conciliar. The first was an insistence on returning to the Society’s origins, which meant developing a heightened awareness of its Founder’s intentions. The second theme was the need to adapt the Society’s organisation and activities to enable it better to cope with the intellectual, social and spiritual problems of the age. From the outset of his generalate Father Arrupe urged the Society to press on with this process of modernising itself in the spirit of Saint Ignatius (which involved inter alia Ignatian ideas of mobility and flexibility), in order that Jesuits might be able more easily to move into new areas of apostolic opportunity and need. And so ’Jesuits throughout the world began the task of integrating the decisions of the Congregation with their personal endeavours for renewal. As General, Father Arrupe indicated that he expected action. He said, “I do not want to defend any mistakes Jesuits might have made, but the greatest mistake would be to stand in such fear of making error that we would simply stop acting.” (12) Father McGarry acted promptly, to the great benefit of the Society in Ireland and to the admiration of Jesuits from other Provinces (13) which were slower to move.

It cannot have been easy. The Provincial discharged his unenviable task with courage, conviction and, it may reasonably be supposed, a degree of pain known to himself alone. While there were Jesuits in every age group who rejoiced to see the Congregation decisions implemented, what the Provincial had to do caused unhappiness to a number of older Fathers settled in their ways and harbouring no doubts concerning the work undertaken by the Irish Province in their lifetime. Also distressed were some younger men who had thrown themselves with enthusiasm into tasks given them in the recent past. If the Province was to adapt to new priorities some of the established activities would have to be curtailed, not least because of the fall in numbers which all orders began to suffer in the 1960s: eight Irish scholastics left the Jesuits in the year that Father McGarry took office, (14) which meant the intake of novices – averging seven a year (15) – did nothing to balance the natural losses through death and retirement. This imbalance was unlikely to improve. The Provincial did not act arbitrarily: he initiated internal discussions in each house to establish what the community was doing, and what it felt it should be doing. It would be no more than a small exaggeration to say that there were as many opinions as there were Jesuits. (16) But only the Provincial could make the ultimate decisions, and these involved abandoning some cherished commitments.

Perhaps his most distasteful duty was deciding where manpower could be saved. Suppression of a boarding-school was likely to bring maximum results, if only because it took so many men to provide supervision and administration as well as teaching. If a school had to go, Mungret was more vulnerable than Clongowes. (17) In the first place, there would still be a substantial Jesuit presence in Limerick between the community serving the public church and those attached to the Crescent (now the Crescent Comprehensive). Secondly, Mungret had already lost its apostolic school, which was half the reason for its existence. The Vatican Council had been the remote cause of this happening. The Council seemed to require philosophy and theology to be integrated in seminaries. Father Redmond Roche, Superior of the Apostolic School, could not see how this was to be guaranteed for the future, given the vocations crisis and an already evident shortage of competent lecturers. The vocations crisis also meant that institutions doing similar work, such as All Hallows in Dublin, were adequate to the need. The Apostolic School was accordingly suspended in 1967. The lay school, by contrast, was reaping the benefits of Father Kerr’s rectorship. Demand for places constandy exceeded those available and the disappearance of the Apostolic School actually helped by removing an ambiguity from the overall purpose of Mungret. How far Clongowes was protected by its venerability as the first house of the restored Society in Ireland, or by its fame and continuing prestige, or (as was hinted sotto voce) by the fierce loyalty of its past pupils who would have made a far greater clamour if suppression were mooted than came from those of Mungret, must remain matter for speculation. One thing is certain. Father McGarry was not a man to flinch from any decision, however unpopular, if he believed it to be right. When he chose Mungret rather than Clongowes for suppression, it can be taken for granted that he did what he had prayerfully concluded to be his duty. Of course, there were many to say he was wrong: their arguments ranged from nostalgia to the new-found status of the lay school at Mungret and its long-established fecundity in vocations. But the critics who spoke thus were spared the responsibility of making the decision.

There were positive decisions also. In 1966 the State had proposed a scheme of ’free’ – i.e. fully State-supported secondary education. Although it involved a reduction of 20 per cent in their income, (18) Coláiste Iognáid in Galway and the Crescent in Limerick entered the scheme. Now came the further proposal that the Crescent should become the keystone of a large comprehensive school of the kind outlined above in the account of developments at Gonzaga. At Dooradoyle in Limerick, under the inspired guidance of the Jesuit historian and Limerickman, Father Thomas J. Morrissey, this experiment in Irish education took off with dynamic vigour as a non-feepaying co-educational school to meet ’the diverse needs of the bright and the dull, the affluent and the deprived’. (19) Personal initiatives received much encouragement, such as Father Michael Sweetman’s protests against inadequate housing for the poor of Dublin: (20) a stand which inspired more than one young Jesuit to become involved in activity for social reform and in time would result in the services provided by Jesuits today to the socially deprived in the suburban housing estates and the high-rise flats of the modern capital. The teachings of the Vatican Council were promoted by public lectures at Milltown Park which attracted overflow audiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (21)

In the context of service to the Church, it may be that no single development of recent years will turn out to have been as significant as the generous support given by Father McGarry to the Irish School of Ecumenics founded by Father Michael Hurley of the Milltown community in 1970. (22) This small but vitally important postgraduate institute offers university degrees, nowadays from the University of Dublin and formerly from the University of Hull, to students from various Christian Churches and from Third World as well as European countries who study theology together, gain firsthand experience of one another’s pastoral routine and return to their duties in their own communions as informed witnesses to the hope and possibility of Christian Unity. The School functions under the patronage of senior representatives of the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. The facilities of Milltown Park have been made available to the School from the outset and its international character was confirmed by the attendance of then General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Eugene Carson Blake, at its formal inauguration in Milltown, where he delivered the opening address. International Consultations on such topics as Mixed Marriages and Human Rights have confirmed its repute. It has developed a Centre for Peace Studies which underlines its significance not only for the ecumenical movement in contemporary Christendom but also for an Ireland still disrupted by violence and tensions in the North which have deep roots in the religious division of the past.

The emergence under Jesuit auspices of this independent educational body, together with the attainment by the Milltown Institute of pontifical university status, can stand for the quality of Cecil McGarry’s leadership of the Irish Province. But it may well be that his ultimate memorial will be the option for the poor exercised today by Father Peter McVerry and other Jesuit champions of the homeless and deprived. Much of this began only after Father McGarry’s term as Provincial ended in 1974 but it was his determination to give the Province a new direction, in obedience to the General Congregation and to Father Arrupe, that made possible an Irish Jesuit emphasis reminiscent of the old Mission dedicated to the poor of the Liberties and the dispossessed of the penal towns and countryside.

In 1974 the Society of Jesus was preparing for another General Congregation where momentous changes would be initiated which the next historian of the Irish Province will doubtless examine. For the present writer, this great event belongs so fully to the realm of current affairs that it cannot yet be brought within the bounds of history. What can be said is that the 350 Jesuits in Ireland that year lived in a Province of the Society which had been refurbished and prepared for whatever challenge might come. Wolfe and Nugent, Austin, Kenney and Delany could be assured that the ideal of Saint Ignatius was intact and that their spiritual heirs would see to it that God was made known through the activity proper to Jesuits of discerning and serving their neighbours’ most pressing needs. Salmeron and Broet, no doubt, looked down in wonder and saintly puzzlement.


(1) William Lee SJ in The Gonzaga Record, 1986, 13. Michael Viney, The Jesuits in Ireland 1542-1974, 41-2. Also the present writer’s recollection of comments made to him at the time.
(2) Quoted in Gonzaga, 1986, 13.
(3) Text of proposal in Gonzaga, 1986, 13-16.
(4) Outlined in Gonzaga, 1986, 12, 16-18.
(5) Paul Andrews SJ, Portraits: Belvedere College 1832-1982, 139, confirms the demand for Belvedere.
(6) William V. Bangert, A History of the Society of Jesus (St Louis, 1971), 513.
(7) Peter Costello, Clongowes Wood: A history of Clongowes Wood College 1814-1989 (Dublin, 1989), 69-70.
(8) Andy Pollak, Irish Times, 21 December 1990.
(9) Viney, 41.
(10) Costello, 190.
(11) Information about St Declan’s and quotations from The Jesuit Yearbook, 1960, 55-6.
(12) Bangert, 509-10.
(13) Expressed to the present writer in 1971.
(14) Viney, 27.
(15) Viney, 35.
(16) The writer was privileged to see a number of the reports from the houses at the time, having been requested as a sympathetic outsider to assist in preparing a summary for the Provincial.
(17) The facts (but not the comments) regarding the suppression of Mungret are based on Thomas J. Morrissey SJ, ‘Some Jesuit contributions to Irish Education’ (Unpublished PhD thesis, NUI, 1975), 256-60.
(18) Andrews, Portraits, 137.
(19) Andrews, Portraits, 139.
(20) Viney, 45-6.
(21) Closed circuit television coverage had to be provided more than once in parlours adjacent to the large but crowded lecture hall. The series of Milltown Lectures, of which these were a continuation, had begun before the Vatican Council. The early lectures are said to have anticipated some of the Council’s insights.
(22) The information about the School of Ecumenics which follows is provided by the writer as a former Chairman of the School’s Executive Board.