Three more significant enterprises were undertaken in the 1950s: Gonzaga (1950), a second Dublin day-school, founded with a radical prospectus at least vaguely reminiscent of the aspirations of the Ratio Studiorum; the Catholic Workers’ College (1954), hardly less radical as an Irish Jesuit work; and the Chikuni mission, launched on 1st January 1957. And, at the end of the decade, Michael Hurley, in so many ways the father of Irish ecumenism, bore witness to another kind of radical thinking. He would have to swim against the tide not just in Ireland and the Irish Church but to quite an extent in the Irish Jesuit province as well, but Michael kept swimming and, happily, lived to see much of his work bear fruit.
If 1914 is one kind of watershed in the history of the Province, 1960, the centenary, or 1964, the sesquicentenary of our restored presence in Ireland, was arguably another. In the Society at large, those 150 years were a period of extended reconstruction, after the nightmare of the Suppression, and of huge expansion all over the world. One historian of the Jesuits, Jonathan Wright, who is, perhaps, not right about a lot of things, says today’s Society is only ‘a very distant cousin of its 19th century self’.
Certainly, something happened in the 1960s – to Ireland, to the Society and to the Church. Ireland opened up – there was television, economic planning, free education. Vatican II opened windows, catching the Irish Church largely unawares. We ourselves recognise the election of Pedro Arrupe as a key moment in the history of the Society and we see it as a moment of rediscovery, a return to something of the dynamic inspiration of our beginnings, very much in tune with the urgings of the 2nd Vatican Council to return to the sources.
The increasingly sharp downturn in numbers joining the Society in Ireland (and in the west more generally) coincided with these changes. New questions were arising about the viability of so many schools. The question of justice as a structural issue had been raised in the wake of the Council and its application to the educational ministry was focused by Fr Arrupe’s ‘Men for Others’ address in 1973. Mungret closed in 1974 and the schools, for so long the mainstay of the province and still, in large measure, the public image of Jesuit presence in Ireland, felt under pressure, those charging fees particularly so. Crescent College Comprehensive was opened, in partnership with the government; Galway entered the free scheme; Gonzaga would attempt to do so. Small communities, some ‘inserted’ – in the inner city or Ballymun – were founded.