History of the Irish Province

May 10, 2012 in Jesuit History

At the Province Assembly in June 2011, Bruce Bradley, rector of Clongowes and newly named as the incoming editor of Studies, delivered an excellent account of the Irish Jesuits, who have been a Province for 150 years (before that, a Vice-Province, and before that, a Mission). Below is the full text of his address.


Address to Province Assembly: Gonzaga College, Saturday, 11 June 2011

Bruce Bradley SJ

The province was founded in 1860, but there is a back-story, which should be briefly told. All our pre-Suppression involvement in Ireland comprised a series of missions, conducted under conditions of penal legislation and often savage persecution.

When Peter Kenney and two companions came from Sicily in August 1811, almost 200 years ago, they too were at first simply a mission. The last of the seventeen men who had been in the country at the time of the Suppression, Thomas Betagh, had recently died. There were no Jesuits, there were no Jesuit institutions, there was no Jesuit property of any kind on the island. Fr Betagh had bequeathed his books and papers to those he hoped might follow him and had taken a twelve-month rent on his house in Cook St, which they might be able to use.

More importantly, perhaps, they also inherited the money their  predecessors, although dispersed and serving as diocesan priests, had been able to keep together and hand on. With the passage of time, the sum had an accumulated value of £32,450, quite a lot at the time. This money and their courage and commitment in the face of unknown challenges laid the foundations of the future province.

The mission had been clearly defined by the General (more strictly, the Vicar-General), Fr Brzozowski, still operating from White Russia. It was his wish, transmitted to Fr Kenney by the English provincial, ‘that a college should be set up in Ireland as soon as possible’. Three years later, with the help of his two colleagues, a group of postulant brothers, and six scholastics recalled from the juniorate in Stonyhurst, Clongowes was opened in June 1814.

Although the rolls quickly filled up and Jesuit schools were in demand in various parts of the country, Tullabeg, opened in 1818, was not at first intended to be a school but conceived by Fr Kenney as a novitiate, such as a properly constituted province would require. It only gradually evolved, first, into a preparatory school for Clongowes and later, in mid-century, into a full college in its own right.

By 1832, Catholic Emancipation had been passed, allowing the construction of Gardiner St Church. The small Hardwicke Street residence, acquired in 1816 as what might be called a Dublin base, was no longer strictly required. Instead of closing it, a few classes were offered in the now empty rooms. And so, more or less by accident, a third school opened in less than 20 years. It was destined to move round the corner to Belvedere House in 1841 because so many enrolled that Hardwicke St was soon too small to accommodate them.