Pontifical Irish College : Ireland and Italy

The Counter-Reformation, Council of Trent (1545-63), an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church, held three sessions in Trento, Italy. Part of its recommendations was for seminaries to be established for the training and education of aspirants to the priesthood. Their aim was to provide a Catholic clerical elite who would spearhead the Counter-Reformation in Ireland.
The first Irish college was founded under the patronage of Philip II at Salamanca in 1592. In 1611 twelve Irish Colleges existed in Spain, France and the Low Countries. While most of them closed in the eighteenth century the Irish Colleges in Paris, Rome and Louvain have survived. Books by Patricia O’Connell in 1997 and 2001 titled The Irish College at Alcala de Henares (1649-1785) and The Irish College at Lisbon (1590-1834) provide extensive sources and bibliography.
By 1690 there were thirty colleges throughout Europe run by religious orders including the Dominicans, Capuchins, Augustinians and the Jesuits, the latter two being the most influential. With the extended network of such colleges on the European mainland, prevailing regional and national rivalries in Ireland were reflected in the bitter disputes between the ‘Old English’ and national Irish students.
Recent research shows that many lay students attended these colleges, while a substantial number of Irish clerics who trained at them remained on the Continent. However the work of those who did return to Ireland was decisive in checking the Reformation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Convents were also established where girls received training for the religious orders in Europe.
Pontifical Irish College
The Pontifical Irish College in Rome was established in 1628. It was always used as more than a seminary serving as an ‘embassy’ and focus of Irish catholic interests in Rome. It remained such until the twentieth century when Ireland established formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The College was described as ‘an island of Gaelic Catholicism in exile … a corner of a foreign field that was forever Ireland.” Its co-founders were the eminent Cardinal Ludivico Ludovisi (1595-1632) and Luke Wadding (1588-1657), a Waterford-born Franciscan, eminent theologian, historian, critic and writer of major works.
The present Irish College is located in its own grounds on the Coelian hill in the shadow of the Coliseum and close to other historical sites. Each year it offers residential courses and retreats for people involved in the life of the Church in Ireland and elsewhere and maintains contact with many religious institutions. To celebrate its 375th anniversary a collection of essays that originated in annual lectures delivered in the Pontifical Irish College was published in 2008. The book illustrates the College’s dual role based upon its archival holdings and presents insight into the history and complex world of the Pontifical Irish College. Photographs represent a unique memorial to the singular existence of an Irish community on the continent.
An essay by Ciaran O’Carroll gives an account of The Papal Brigade of St. Patrick.* Between 1859 and 1860 the Irish Church launched a campaign to assist the beleaguered Pope Pius IX, in defence of his territorial possessions against the forces of the Italian Risorgimento which were working towards the unification of Italy opposed by the Pope. ‘Faith of our Fathers’, the hymn sung before the Battle of Spoleto, became a rallying cry not only for religious festivities but also cultural and sporting occasions when for generations following the years of the Papal Brigade, Irish nationalists sang it with pride in Gaelic Athletic Association stadia.
A splendid brochure provides a background and vivid images of the recently refurbished Irish College Chapel. Dedicated to All the Saints of Ireland its mosaic walls offer light and inspiration. One of St. Patrick, St. Brigid and other Irish saints was installed in 2010. Reserved for the religious services of priests, seminarists and College community, the Chapel is opened on Sunday for pilgrims to Rome who join local families for mass and share in other religious preparations. Many weddings have been celebrated there.
Left of the main entrance to the Pontifical Irish College a wall plaque reads … This stone was erected on the 375th anniversary of the foundation of this College in Rome to commemorate the contribution of all Irish Colleges in Europe to Catholic faith and learning and to nurture the historic links that bind Ireland and Europe. 1628 Pontifical Irish College 2003. Right of the main entrance, a wall plaque reads … Conversion Communion Mission, John Paul II, Supreme Pontiff … in the eucharist I am celebrating with you today I have present in my heart your families and friends and the entire Irish nation. In a particular way I am praying for the youth of Ireland … Homily at the Irish College, Rome, 13 January 1980.
Among the many historical statues and monuments in place, a sculpture by G.M. Benzoni in 1866 is erected to Daniel O’Connell (1755-1847), Irish political leader and ‘liberator’. It is engraved … O’Connell who dying in Genoa on his way to the eternal city bequeathed his soul to God, his body to Ireland, and his heart to Rome. It was erected by Charles Bianconi Esq, the faithful friend of the immortal liberator of Ireland and of the land of his adoption.
Beneath the marble sculpture, Daniel O’Connell is represented at the Bar of the British House of Commons in MDCCCXXIX (1829) when he refused to take the anti catholic declaration with the following words … I at once reject this declaration : Part of it I believe to be untrue, and the rest I know to be false”. A monumental crypt in honour of Ireland’s liberator can be visited at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.
Villa Irlanda
A short walk from the Pontifical Irish College is the entrance to what used to be a convent run by an order of nuns who recently returned to Ireland. Still the property of the Pontifical Irish College it has been totally renovated in the style of the 1930s with state of the art facilities and a choice of lodging for paying guests.
Ita Marguet
Note : Acknowledgment is given to sources used in preparation of this text. It follows a visit to the Pontifical Irish College, Rome (June 2012). *Ireland and Italy : Pope’s Irish Battalion is the subject of a published text by Ita Marguet (December 2011).