Visit of President Michael D. Higgins to the Irish College, Paris

20 Feb 2013

Visit of President Michael D. Higgins to the Irish College, Paris

The President of Ireland, President Michael D. Higgins will visit the Irish College in Paris today.  During his visit, he will have occasion to view the Old Library of the College, the Chapelle Saint Patrick and he will meet the members of the governing body of the College, the Fondation Irlandaise, including its president, M. Alain Hespel, appointed by the French government, and its vice-president, Father Jacques Olier, appointed by the Archbishop of Paris.  The President will be accompanied by Mrs Sabina Higgins and Ireland’s Ambassador to France, Mr Paul Kavanagh.

During his visit President Higgins will be shown the Chapelle Saint Patrick by Father Sean Maher, Chaplain of the College and of the Irish community in Paris.  During the President’s visit to the chapel, he will be able to admire this beautifully preserved place of worship where the Irish community gathers weekly for Mass and wherein many Irish families come to celebrate the sacraments of baptism and marriage, as well as other key moments of prayer in their faith journey.

Commenting ahead of the visit of President Higgins, Father Sean Maher said “It is a great honour to welcome President Higgins to the Chapelle Saint Patrick. It is a key role of our community to be a welcoming presence for all Irish people who pass through the door of our chapel. In welcoming the first citizen of Ireland, we are symbolically fulfilling that purpose and creating again the vital link between our Irish community here in Paris and our homeland. We have often prayed for President Higgins in this chapel and we will continue to do so and we thank him for visiting our College and entering through the doors of history by crossing the threshold of our chapel.”

In passing through the doors of the Chapelle Saint Patrick, President Higgins will follow in the footsteps of historic figures such as Father Karol Wojtyla, now Blessed John Paul II, and Daniel O’Connell, who worshipped in this home of faith to the Irish community since 1770.

The Irish College was founded in 1578 by William Lee who started a community of six young priests.  The first home given to the Irish College was the Collège des Lombards on the rue des Carmes, where there was an Irish presence until the early 1800s.  In 1769 the present building was bought on the then rue du Cheval Vert, now the rue des Irlandais, and renovated to accommodate Irish students.  After the Revolution, this became the principal residence of the Irish community and remained an Irish seminary until 1939.  After the war, the College was lent to a community of Polish priests and students who had survived Dachau and the Polish presence remained until 1997.

The Irish chaplaincy began in the 1970s under Father Liam Swords.  Since then a series of chaplains based in the Irish College have served the Irish community in Paris.  It is the modern embodiment of the centuries old presence of the Irish Church in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  Mass is celebrated for the Irish community in the Chapelle Saint Patrick each Sunday at 11.30am. Many major celebrations occur throughout the year.

On his visit to the Chapelle Saint Patrick, some students from the College will sing Saint Patrick’s Breastplate for President Higgins.  He will then meet members of the Fondation Irlandaise and staff of the Library and the Cultural Centre.


Notes to Editors

•    This year the Irish community in Paris will celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick for the first time in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris with Mass in Irish.  Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, will celebrate this Mass at 12 noon on 16 March 2013.  The Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin choir, under the direction of Father Liam Lawton, will participate in this celebration.  This Mass, which will take place the day before Saint Patrick’s Day on March 16, will mark the Year of Faith and the Irish Presidency of the Union.  It is probably the first time that prayers in Irish will be used on the High Altar of Notre Dame de Paris.  Pilgrims from Ireland are expected to make the journey to Paris for this event.

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