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Maynooth College

The National College of Saint Patrick, at Maynooth in County Kildare, Ireland

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Maynooth College , The National College of Saint Patrick, at Maynooth in County Kildare, about twelve miles from Dublin, founded in the year 1795. Ireland at that date still had her own Parliament; and, although Catholics could not sit in it, the spirit of toleration and liberty which had swept over the United States and France could not be excluded from its debates. Several relaxations had already been granted in the application of the penal laws, and it is to the credit of Irish Protestants that during their short period of Parliamentary liberty (1782-1801), they should have entered so heartily on the path of national brotherhood, and have given to the world two such illustrious names as Edmund Burke and Henry Grattan. It was to these two men, more than to any statesmen of their time, that the foundation of Maynooth College may be ascribed. Other circumstances were also favorable. On the one hand, the program of the “United Irishmen” (1798) proclaimed the doctrine of universal toleration and liberty of conscience. On the other hand, the British Government was glad of an opportunity to withdraw young Irish ecclesiastics as far as possible from the revolutionary influences to which they were exposed on the Continent. Moreover, soldiers were needed at a time when war was raging or threatening on all sides; and it had become necessary to conciliate the class from amongst whom the best Irish soldiers could be recruited.

In 1794 a memorial was presented to the Irish Viceroy by Dr. Troy, Archbishop of Dublin, on behalf of all the Catholic prelates of Ireland. This memorial set forth that the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland had never been charged with disaffection to the State or irregularity in their conduct; that, on the contrary, they had been complimented more than once for inculcating obedience to the laws and veneration for His Majesty’s royal person and government. It was then pointed out that the foreign colleges, in which about 400 students were educated for the Irish mission, had been closed, and their funds confiscated; and that, even had they remained open, it would no longer be safe to send Irish students abroad, “lest they should be contaminated with the contagion of sedition and infidelity” and thus become the means of introducing into Ireland the pernicious maxims of a licentious philosophy. The memorial was favorably received, and, in the following year Mr. Pelham, the Secretary of State, introduced his Bill for the foundation of a Catholic college. The Bill passed rapidly through all its stages and received the royal assent on June 5, 1795. The management of the institution was given to a Board of Trustees who were to appoint all the officers, the president, masters, fellows, and scholars; to fix their salaries and make all necessary bylaws, rules, and statutes. No Catholic could act as trustee, or fill any other office, or be admitted as a student, who did not first take the oath of allegiance prescribed for Catholics in the thirteenth and fourteenth years of George III. No Protestant or son of a Protestant could be received in the new Academy under the severest pains and penalties. The Lord Chancellor, however, and several judges of the high courts, were to act as Trustees ex officio. The endowment voted by Parliament was £8,000 (about $40,000) a year. Dr. Thomas Hussey, a graduate of the Irish College of Salamanca, who had long been chaplain to the Spanish Embassy in London, was appointed first president. The next step was to fix upon the site. At first Dublin, or the suburbs of Dublin, seemed to offer the chief advantages; finally, however, after a variety of proposals had been considered, Maynooth was chosen, because it was considered favorable to the morals and studies of a college; also, because the Duke of Leinster, who had always been a friend of the Catholics, wished to have the new institution on his estate. The money granted by Parliament was voted for a Catholic college for the education of the Irish clergy: that was the express intention of the Government, but, as the Act was drawn in general terms, the trustees proceeded to erect a college for laymen in connection with the ecclesiastical establishment. This college was suppressed by the Government in 1801. Another lay college was then erected in the immediate vicinity of the ecclesiastical college, and was continued up to 1817 under lay trustees. The establishment of various colleges in other parts of the country for the education of laymen made it unnecessary. Not long after the foundation of Maynooth, the whole country being convulsed by the rebellion of 1798, the general disturbance found an echo in the new institution. Of its sixty-nine students no fewer than eighteen or twenty were expelled for having taken the rebel oath.

A valuable endowment was obtained for the new college on the death of John Butler, twelfth Baron Dunboyne, who had been Bishop of Cork from 1763 to 1786. On the death of his nephew, Pierce Butler, the eleventh baron, the bishop succeeded to the title and estates. This temporal dignity, however, proved his undoing; he gave up his bishopric, abjured the Catholic Faith, and took a wife. In his last illness he repented and endeavored to make reparation for his conduct by willing his property in Meath, valued at about £1,000 (about $5,000) a year, to the newly founded college. The will was disputed at law by the next of kin. The case of the college was pleaded by John Philpot Curran, and a compromise was effected by which about one half of the property was secured to the college. The income from the bequest became the foundation of a fund for the maintenance of a higher course of ecclesiastical studies in the case of such students as should have distinguished themselves in the ordinary course. This is still known as the “Dunboyne Establishment“. After the union with England the financial subsidy to Maynooth from the State underwent various changes and gave rise to debates of considerable acrimony in the House of Commons. In 1845, however, the government of Sir Robert Peel raised the grant from £9,500 (about $47,500) to £26,000 ($130,000) a year and placed it on the consolidated fund, where it formed part of the ordinary national debt and was free from annual discussion on the estimates. Sir Robert Peel also granted a sum of £30,000 (about $150,000) for suitable buildings; and it was then that the Gothic structure designed by Pugin, one of the handsomest college buildings in Europe, was erected. The disestablishment of the Irish Church by Mr. Gladstone in 1869, had serious financial results for Maynooth which was also disendowed; but a sum of about £370,000 (about $1,850,000) was given once for all to enable the college to continue its work. This sum was invested for the most part in land, and has been very ably managed by the trustees. Some of the most prominent Catholic lay-men in the country, such as the Earls of Fingall and Kenmare, had acted as Trustees up to the date of the disendowment: from that time no further lay trustees were appointed.

Among the most distinguished of the past presidents of Maynooth were Hussey, Renehan, and Russell, a full account of whom is to be found in the College History by the Most Rev. Dr. Healy, Archbishop of Tuam. Dr. Hussey was the first president, and to his tact, judgment and skill the success of the original project was mainly due. Dr. Renehan was a distinguished Irish scholar, who did a great deal to rescue Irish manuscripts from destruction. Dr. Russell is chiefly known for his “Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti” and for the part he took in the conversion of Cardinal Newman. Amongst the most distinguished teachers and men of letters who shed lustre on the college during its first century were John MacHale, Paul O’Brien, Daniel Murray, Edmund O’Reilly, Nicholas Callan, Patrick Murray, Mathew Kelly, John O’Hanlon, William Jennings, James O’Kane, and Gerald Molloy. It is interesting to notice that, on the staff of the college in its early years, were four French refugees—the Rev. Peter J. Delort, the Rev. Andrew Darre, the Rev. Louis Delahogue and the Rev. Francis Anglade—all Doctors of the Sorbonne. On the original staff may also be found the name of the Rev. John C. Eustace, author of the well-known “Classical Tour in Italy“. Amongst the distinguished personages who have visited the college were Thackeray, Montalembert, Carlyle, Robert Owen, Cardinal Perraud, Huxley, the late Empress of Austria, and King Edward VII. The college possesses several memorials of the Empress of Austria, who lived in the neighborhood during her visits to Ireland. The Centenary of the foundation of the college was celebrated in 1895, on which occasion congratulations were sent from all the Catholic educational centers in the world. The college library contains upwards of 40,000 volumes. It possesses a great many rare and precious works and some very valuable manuscripts. The Aula Maxima which was opened about the year 1893 was the gift to his Alma Mater of the Right Rev. Msgr. MacMahon of the Catholic University at Washington, D.C., and previously of New York. The chapel which has just been completed is a work of rare beauty both in design and ornamentation. Maynooth has already sent out into the world upwards of 7,000 priests. Her alumni are in all lands and in almost every position that an ecclesiastic could occupy. The average number of students in recent years is about 600. The ordinary theological course is four years, and the extra course of the “Dunboyne Establishment” three years more. Students in arts and philosophy have to graduate in the National University of which Maynooth is now a “recognized College“.


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