Bishop Freeman to concelebrate Mass of Thanksgiving today with Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny
As part of the universal Year for Priests 2009 – 2010, the past pupils from many parts of the world gathered today for a keynote address, by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is to deliver the homily at a public concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving at St Mary’s Cathedral at 6.15pm this evening, Tuesday 17 August, and all are welcome. Bishop Séamus Freeman S.A.C., Bishop of Ossory, who will be principal celebrant at the Mass of Thanksgiving. This Mass will officially mark the end of the ‘Year of Priests’ in the Diocese of Ossory and it is hoped laity from all over the diocese will attend to offer their prayerful support and thanks to the priests. Members of the diocesan St Joseph’s Young Priests Society will have a special role in this unique celebration.
Ahead of welcoming Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to the Diocese of Ossory, Bishop Freeman said “Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s words will challenge and give hope to those who hear them. I hope as many as possible will come to Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny on Tuesday evening.”
Speaking in Maynooth earlier this year Cardinal Murphy O’Connor said: “We should not fear. In our prayer, our worship, our contemplation before God, and following the teaching of the Church, for those who believe in Christ, the future is always full of hope and open to new life. Nor should we forget the words of Mother Teresa: God has not called me to be successful — he has called me to be faithful.”
St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny is called after the patron of the Diocese of Ossory, St Kieran of Saighir, (near Birr, Co. Offaly), who, according to tradition, preached the Gospel in Ireland before St Patrick’s and was described as “the first-born of the saints of Ireland”.
The original College dates back to 1782 and was the first Catholic school to be opened in Ireland after the relaxation of the Penal Laws in that year, (through an Act passed by Grattan’s Parliament). “The earliest Catholic College in the Kingdom”.
The first site of the College was Burrell’s Hall where St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny now stands. In the following decades the College was housed in different places around the city: the Old Academy, (in the grounds of the Loreto Convent), Maudlin Street and Birchfield. In 1836 the foundation stone of the present College was blessed. Two years later, the College has a new and permanent home.
“The College was now before the World, not only before the people of their own country, but before the people of Ireland, England, America and Australia”. The Crest of the College was chosen in 1874, and replaces an earlier one. St Kieran is represented with mitre and staff, standing between two pillars. The motto of the crest is HIEMS TANSIIT (Winter is Past) (Song of Songs 2: 11). By ‘winter’ was meant the era of the Penal Laws. Year after year for two and a half centuries her pupils have gone forth to embark on their careers in life and to take their places in the Church, in the State and amongst the people.
In 1982, some seven hundred priests from St Kieran’s were ministers in the Church all over the world: England, Scotland, Wales, United States, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Tasmania, New Zealand, as well as at home in many of the dioceses in Ireland. This number has now dropped to just over three hundred working in diocese around the world mainly in Great Britain, U.S.A. and Ireland. Seminary studies were suspended in 1994 and now the facilities of the former seminary house the Maynooth (N.U.I.M.) Outreach programmes.
1782 Bishop Troy rented Burrell’s hall in James’ Street and appointed two priests to look after the school which opened its doors to some forty pupils on 13th January 1783. (This building was demolished to make way for St. Mary’s Cathedral in the 1840’s)
1789 The School was moved to a building called the ‘Old Academy’ (Now the Good Shepherd Brothers Home for the homeless).
1792 Historic year – the Seminary side of the College began with the first group of young men offering themselves to study for the priesthood.
1811-1814 Seminarians housed in Maudlin Street
1814-1838 Seminarians housed in Birchfield House on the Kells Road
1817 Secondary School returns to Burrell’s Hall
1836 Site for new College bought on the Callan Road
1838 New College opened for Seminary & Secondary School
1877 Moran Wing built (refectory, Theatre, Dormitory)
1905 First year halls, and glass hall
1933 Remainder of halls and glass hall area
1956 Bishop Collier Wing to correspond with the Moran Wing and complete the Architects plan for the front of the College
1970 New Seminary buildings were built and named Burrell’s Hall and Birchfield
1978 New Extension for Senior Classes, Science halls etc.
1982 Bicentenary of the College’s foundation
1994 Suspension of Seminary Studies
2004 Closure of the Boarding School
St Kieran was born on Cape Clear Island near the end of the fourth century. His family was one of the wealthy noble families of the kingdom of Ossory. (Offaly, Laois, Kilkenny). They were among the first Christians in Ireland before the coming of St Patricks. His mother was a native of west Cork.
As a young man he was sent to school in France and later in Italy. He studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there. While in Rome he met with St Patrick who asked him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Before he left Rome he was ordained a Bishop.
St Kieran founded his first monastery at a place called Seir near Birr. Today it is called Sier-Kieran in his memory. From the monastery at Seir he preached the true faith all over the kingdom of Ossory. Everywhere he met with great success, young men came forward in great numbers to study for the priesthood at Seir. When St. Patrick came to Ireland in 432, St. Kieran joined forces with him and together they worked for the spread of the Gospel. As far as is known St. Kieran died before St. Patrick. He is remembered as a very holy man who had a great love of the Bible. He became the first Bishop of Ossory. On his death the people of the diocese regarded him a Saint. In fact in the very old books he is called: “The first born of the Saints of Ireland”. March 5th is his feast day.
On 29th September, 1782, two priests from the city of Kilkenny, Fathers John Dunne and James Lanigan, secured a house called Burrell’s Hall from Ann Carpenter for 14 years, at a yearly rent of £22.15s. The house, an old 17th century mansion, stood on the site of the present St Mary’s cathedral and faced St. James’s Green. Two weeks later, the lease was signed and soon afterwards a prospectus sent out “To the Public”. In this house, on 13th January, 1783 in a city long famous for its schools, the first Catholic college in Ireland since the relaxation of the Penal Laws opened its doors to students thirsty for learning. The long Winter of discrimination was past. A Spring full of hope had dawned. And the biblical motto on the college crest, “Hiems Transiit” (Winter has passed) stands as a permanent reminder of this historic moment.
The Relief Act of 1782 had made this possible. It enabled Catholics to set up schools on taking the Oath of Allegiance and obtaining a licence from the Protestant Bishop of the diocese. Dr Troy, then Catholic Bishop of Ossory, took immediate advantage of the new situation, and with the help of his two able and zealous priests, who were to be his successors in the See of Ossory, he set an example which the rest of the country gradually followed. The school was intended especially for those destined for sacred orders, but it prepared students for all walks of life. English grammar, writing, arithmetic, French, Latin and Greek were on the original curriculum. So too, were geography, mathematics, ancient and modern history, “in short, every branch of useful and polite literature on the most improved plan”. The “strictest care would be taken to inculcate religion, and form a taste for virtue and purity of manners”. The fees were relatively high – £20 a year for boarders, exclusive of washing and £4-11s. for dayboys. There were to be quarterly examinations, a solemn distribution of prizes and but one vacation.
All the respectable Catholics of Ireland who were educated at home were to be found there, wrote one of the first pupils. There were rebels there too. And one of its early pupils, John Henry Colclough, was executed for his part in the Rebellion of 1798. Another, Philip Hay, was tried and acquitted.
It took over 50 years for the academy, as it was called to find a permanent home. In 1789 it moved to a house near St Canice’s Cathedral which is now occupied by the Loreto nuns. Here ecclesiastical studies began in 1792, the first such course in modern Ireland. Dr. Andre Fitzgerald, its first professor of philosophy, provided a link with another famous college – Kilkenny College. He had received his early education there. From its earliest years, many of the students came from the North of Ireland, thus establishing a link that has lasted to the present day.
Lay and ecclesiastical students studied side by side for close on 20 years in the Old Academy. John Banim (author) was a student here. So too were Theobold Matthew, the Apostle of Temperance, who won the medal for good conduct in 1806, and Laurence Renehan, later to become President of Maynooth College.
Growing numbers caused the ecclesiastical students to move to Maudlin Street in 1811. But only some of its 150 students from many parts of Ireland found accommodation in the house. The rest were boarded out in the city. The first stirrings of a missionary spirits were to be felt here as priests left for Newfoundland with the fishing fleets that called regularly at Waterford harbour. Three years later the students moved to more spacious surroundings in Birchfield, just outside the city. Here, for the first time, it was called St Kyran’s College. Missionaries went from here to Newfoundland, Canada, the United States and Australia.
The lay students, meanwhile, stayed on in the old academy and returned to Burrell’s Hall in 1817. From its halls went forth the ‘Callan Curates’: Father Matt O’Keeffe and Tom O’Shea who founded the ‘Callan Tenants’ Protection Society in 1849, and did sterling work for tenants’ rights.
The foundation stone of the present Gothic style building was laid in October 1836, and three years alter lay and ecclesiastical students were together again under the one roof, St Kyran’s College had at last established a permanent home. Work continued on the building right through the harsh years of the Famine, but lack of funds caused it to cease in 1849.
The original plan would remain incomplete for over a century. Difficult times were in store for the seminary over the next 20 years. But it survived. And, as in every generation, the College had its luminaries: Fr. Healy, author of The Antiquities of Kilkenny and Dr. Wattie McDonald, long time professor at Maynooth College.
During his 12 years as Bishop of Ossory, Dr Moran left a deep imprint on the life of the college. The Moran wing completed the original design on the east side. The grounds were extended and athletics began to figure prominently in college records. The Ossory Archaeological Society was founded in the college; the college museum was set up, and a new crest adopted. The seminary took on a definite missionary aim and sent a stream of priests throughout the English-speaking world.
Among those influenced by the learned Bishop’s ardent interest in history was one pupil of the time. William Carrigan. He wrote: History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, recently republished and this is, arguable, the finest diocesan history in Ireland. A distinguished visitor to the college in those years was Mr. Gladstone, whose wife had some of the art of handball explained to her by a student during the trip.
The turn of the century brought memorable successes in the academic line. It also brought to the staff two men, Thomas McDonagh and Francis Sheehy Skeffington, who were later to achieve national fame. Hurling, rugby and handball were the games played in those years. Rugby was the only one played on a competitive basis but under Fr. Doody, Gaelic games came into their own the college won the first unofficial hurling All-Ireland in 1909. The War of Independence did not pass unnoticed. British soldiers paid ‘visits’ to the college and on one such ‘visit’ a student, James Butler, was arrested and detained at Woodstock for a day or two.
Additions were made to the college to cope with growing numbers of students in 1905, 1933 and in 1958, when the original design for the front was at last completed. Missionaries continued to go forth in ever-increasing numbers and two successive Presidents of the college, Father Collier and Dr. Staunton, became Bishops of Ossory and Ferns respectively.
The episcopacy of Dr. Birch, past pupil, past professor and college historian, witnessed many developments in the life of the college. New seminary buildings were constructed during the Presidency of Canon Holohan and ecclesiastical studies were reorganised. The number of students has decreased, but there is an upward trend – this, the Bi-Centenary year, with 49 students to join the over 700 priests from the college scattered throughout the world preaching the Word of God. Major changes have also taken place in the secondary school with revolution in secondary education. Numbers have increased dramatically, from 333 students in 1965 to 517 in 1982. Co-operation with the City Vocational School, which began in 1966, has developed during the Presidency of Fr. Tommy Maher into a unique working relationship which merited the recent praise of the Minister for Education. A new complex of buildings owned by the college and the local V. E. C. and completed in 1980, provides a full range of academic and technical subjects to meet the needs of the pupils in both schools.
The college has come a long way from Burrell’s Hall and its wine cellar, which was its first schoolroom. Its original curriculum has changed beyond recognition.
But its students continue to distinguish themselves in all walks of life; in the service of the Church; in politics; in business; in the professions and in the arts. St Kieran’s looks forward confidentially to the third century, new beginnings and to furthering its own – unique contribution to education in Ireland. The Winter is long past. The Spring is full of life and hope.
Fr. Dan Carroll, Diocesan Communications Officer 087 907 7769
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth 086 172 7678