Britain's vital role in Irish foundation

The British Jesuit Provincial, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, was the principal concelebrant at a special Mass at Clongowes Wood College near Dublin to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus and the founding of the College. Throughout the period of its Suppression (1773 to 1814), the British Jesuits gave shelter to some of their Irish brethren as well as taking care of their funds. Once the Society was restored in 1814, these funds would be used to purchase Castle Browne (left), in the heart of Co. Kildare, where the Irish Jesuits would open a school for young gentlemen.

Given the political situation in Ireland, the Irish Jesuits had never formed a province, rather joining various European provinces and serving on the ‘Irish mission’. When Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773, the 17 Irish Jesuits remaining accepted the decree and became diocesan clergy. Their moneys were passed from man to man in anticipation that the Society might be restored at some point; and when the English Jesuits returned to Britain and took refuge at Stonyhurst in 1794, they became trustees of the Irish funds.

Fr Peter Kenney SJWhen the 35 English Jesuits who survived the Suppression renewed their vows in 1803 and established Stonyhurst as the novitiate, Ireland sent several candidates to be novices. They included Peter Kenney (pictured left) who completed his studies in Sicily before being ordained and returning to Ireland in 1811. He had been missioned by the acting General in White Russia to set up a college as soon as possible, so the English Provincial, Fr Marmaduke Stone SJ, handed over the funds that the English Jesuits had been holding for their Irish brethren. In the spring of 1814, the Irish Jesuits founded Clongowes for the education of Irish Catholics. Today it remains a boarding school located in beautiful surroundings, 20 miles from Dublin, home for 450 pupils from all four provinces of Ireland and abroad.


The readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time at the Bicentenary Mass at the college provided the basis for Fr Preston’s homily. The parable of the king’s servants who owed him varying amounts gave the British Provincial the opportunity to reflect on how much the amount that his predecessor had handed over to the emerging Jesuits who founded Clongowes in the early 1800s (£16,000) would be worth today. “It would be equivalent to 13.4 million Euro”, he told the gathering, “and it has been wisely invested in the education of young Catholic men over the past 200 years.”

Fr Preston went on to develop the theme of reconciliation and forgiveness, in the context of the gospel reading from Matthew 18.Celebration cake for Clongowes' bicentenary

“The presence of Fr Stone’s successor as provincial in Britain, Fr Dermot Preston, at today’s Bicentenary Mass, is in tribute to the vital role his province played in enabling this school’s foundation 200 years ago,” said Fr Bruce Bradley SJ, the Irish Province’s researcher for the 1814 Bicentenary.

After the Bicentenary Mass in Clongowes last Sunday, the Headmaster, Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, announced that the Clongowes Foundation has given substantial financial commitments to further developments at the College. These will allow the building of a swimming pool, a theatre (including a Debating Chamber) and a Music Centre which are expected to be completed by 2017.