Address by Dr John Fleming, Bishop of Killala and Patron of St Muredach’s College, Ballina, Co Mayo at the opening of the centenary celebrations of the college on Friday 8th September 2006

08 Sep 2006



Embargoed until 8pm on Friday 8th September 2006





As Patron of St Muredach’s College, I have the honour of paying tribute to those who,
during the past one hundred years, have made this College the outstanding educational
institution that it is today.

In the past century, this College has had six patrons; Bishops John Conmy, James Naughton,
Patrick O’Boyle, Thomas McDonnell, Thomas Finnegan and myself. Each made a particular
contribution to its welfare but one must be singled out for mention this evening. For
it was the foresight and courage of Bishop John Conmy, Bishop of Killala and former
President of the College at Ardnaree, that has us gathered here this evening to mark
a century of service given to catholic education by the diocese of Killala in this

Bishop Conmy, while he was central to building of this College, was, however, just a
link in a long chain of concern by the Diocese of Killala for the education of the
young of this area; a concern which, in fact, stretches back almost two hundred years.
As early as 1834, just five years after Daniel O’Connell had achieved Catholic Emancipation,
the bishops and priests of the diocese of Killala were to the forefront in the provision
of education for the Catholics of the diocese. Prior to Emancipation, under the leadership
of John McHale, Bishop of Killala and later Archbishop of Tuam, this diocese was among
the first in Ireland to begin the work of building a Cathedral and no sooner was that
work begun but the diocese turned its attention to the work of education for those who
otherwise would not receive an education at second level.

In January 1834, at a meeting held in the Cathedral, the bishop, priests and some lay
people decided to establish a College for what the Castlebar Telegraph described as
“general education”. By this it meant the education of young men not only for the
priesthood but also for secular life as well. During the following three quarters of
a century the College in Ardnaree educated at least sixty eight men who became priests
of this diocese, many other young men who went to work in dioceses around the globe as
well as many men who came here from all around the diocese to receive their secondary
education. This evening, as we mark the centenary of this building, we also salute the
almost three quarters of a century of commitment to education which preceded it.
John McHale and John Conmy were inspired by the same ideal; the education of students
at second level. The purpose of St Muredach’s College is and has always been to educate
the young men of this area for whatever career they choose and to prepare them for life.
For a century and three quarters, therefore, the diocese of Killala has given this
opportunity to many. It has been deeply concerned with the promotion of catholic
education in this area and we gather this evening to salute this work.

During the first half of the past one hundred years, from 1906 until 1956, the College
was run and staffed almost exclusively by priests of this diocese. From 1956 to the
present day, the balance has shifted, gradually and steadily, to a lay staff educating
catholic laymen. Despite the report in the Castlebar Telegraph in 1906 that it was the
bishop’s intention to engage “a first class staff of lay professors” fewer lay teachers
were appointed as permanent members of staff during its first fifty years than in recent
times. Together with the Sisters of Mercy, in the main, the priests of the diocese
provided for all aspects of college life during the first fifty years of the life of
this building and for much of the following decades. Their sacrifice was enormous and
their contribution great. To twenty first century eyes their regime, at times, may have
seemed harsh. However, allow me to put on record our gratitude to the priests and nuns
of this diocese, for their selfless dedication and commitment. Without them the service
to catholic education in North Mayo and West Sligo which we celebrate this evening would
not have been possible.    

Since the introduction of free education in 1968 by Donough O’Malley, the then Minister
for Education, we can easily believe and take for granted that everyone has always had
the chance of a secondary education. This is not so. The foresight of Archbishop McHale
and Bishop Conmy in founding this college meant that for over one hundred and thirty
years prior to 1968, mainly through the work of the priests of this diocese, the young
men of this area had this opportunity provided for them by them work of the Church. For
a century in this building and for nearly two hundred years all together, the bishops
and priests of this diocese have worked tirelessly for the education and welfare of
the youth of this area. Through good times and bad we have tried our best to ensure
that the opportunities afforded to the rest of the country were available also in the
west of Ireland. Without the foresight and initiative taken, despite our weaknesses
and our shortfalls, our area would have been the poorer. For this we are truly grateful.

The Church has played a crucial role in the life of this College to date. Its role in
the future will be quite different. This College is now staffed, mainly, by lay teachers
and its future will certainly be in lay hands. This is as it should be and as the Church
envisages it to be, especially in the thinking of the Second Vatican Council. Lay
involvement in the Church is not something which is there from necessity or as second
best. Lay involvement in the life of the Church is part of the Church’s self-understanding,
the lived expression of our baptismal commitment, and a central aspect of the life of
the Church.

The everyday management of the College will, increasingly, be taken up by a College staff
who are committed to and guided by the catholic ethos which has inspired this College
in the past. As Patron of the College I have every reason to believe that the tradition
of the past, of which we are justly proud, will rise to even greater heights in the future,
under the guidance of the Board of Management, the commitment of the College staff, the
co-operation of the students and the support of the Department of Education.

Allow me to pay tribute, in particular, to the Sisters of Mercy who supported the work
of the College for almost seventy years and without whom the maintenance of the boarding
school would not have been possible. The diocese of Killala owes you an enormous debt
of gratitude. To the Sisters present and through you to those who are absent, I want to
express the thanks and appreciation of all of us for the work which you did in this
College. I am glad that the memory of this work will be recalled in years to come
through the plaque which will be unveiled here this evening.

Allow me also to pay tribute to the late Canon Martin Halloran, who prepared the text of
this Centenary History of the College, and in doing so let me welcome the members of his
family who have come here to honour the College and to recall his memory. For a number
of years, in his retirement, he worked tirelessly but with great personal satisfaction
on this text. When he had it almost completed, the Lord called him quickly to Himself.
I know that the words of greeting he received from the Lord were “Well done, good and
faithful servant”. We recall those words this evening and repeat them. May his gentle
soul rest in peace.

Finally, to my fellow members of the editorial team and, in particular, to Fr Kevin
Hegarty let me say thanks for seeing Canon Martin’s text to completion. Thank you also
to Mr Padraic Corcoran who printed this history for us. It is good to see local expertise
express itself in such an admirable way.

Thank you also to Archbishop Brady for coming here this evening to launch this book and
our Centenary celebrations. He and I lived on the banks of the Tiber for over a decade.
It is good to see you now on the banks of the Moy.  

A final word of thanks to Fr Martin, Mr O’Boyle and the entire College staff for the
work which they have put into marking this Centenary.

As many of you take a trip down memory lane this week-end, I hope and pray that this will
be a time of grace, peace, joyful reflection and reconciliation for all  as we celebrate
the Centenary of St Muredach’s College.

Thank you.
+John Fleming
Bishop of Killala
8th September 2006

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