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Peter Kenney

Peter Kenney was an Irish Jesuit credited with restoring the Society of Jesus in Ireland after their suppression, as well as with establishing several colleges and devoting much of his life to the education of youth.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, countries across Europe and further afield had become averse to the Jesuits, and were actively trying to suppress them. This is thought to be because of the international nature of the Society and her autonomous nature as serving directly under the pope. Monarchies wishing for a more secular government saw the Jesuits as an obstacle to be removed. This culminated in their official suppression and abolishment by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. They survived primarily in Russia, where Catherine the Great ignored the papal decree.

There were seventeen Jesuits at the time of the suppression in Ireland. No longer members of the Society, they were forced to act as diocesan priests. One of these last remaining Jesuits, Fr Thomas Betagh, taught children of poor families in Dublin. One of his students was Peter Kenney, the son of a coachmaker. Sponsored by Betagh, Kenney entered Maynooth College. From here he travelled to Palermo in Sicily to continue his religious training, as Sicily was allowed to maintain its branch of the Society of Jesus. Here in 1808 he was ordained as a priest.

Kenney travelled back to Ireland in 1811, the same year that Fr Betagh, the last remaining Jesuit in Ireland, died. Kenney arrived intent on re-establishing the Jesuits in his home country. Using money that had been put aside by the previous Jesuits, he bought Castle Brown in 1813. This would become the site of a new Jesuit school, Clongowes Wood College, which opened the following year. In 1818 a further school was opened in Tullabeg, Offaly. Tullabeg College was originally planned as a noviciate for the Society but became in time a proper college.

In 1822 Kenney travelled to America to visit the missions. In Missouri he met Jesuit farmers and was appalled that they owned slaves, ordering them to set their slaves free. Back in Ireland, Kenney and three others founded the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier in Dublin after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was passed. For his remaining years, he continued his work across Ireland, both as a preacher and as an educator, until he passed away in 1841, worn down by constant toil and travel.

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