Belvedere: change and preservation
Good evening, North Great George’s Street Preservation Society. Preservation is about continuity with the past, and energy for the present – and I think money comes into it somewhere. Linking energy with continuity is not always easy.
Let me tell you a story. In 1982, when we were celebrating Belvedere’s 150th birthday as a school, we (the community of which I was rector or chief executive) decided to spend a wad of our savings on restoring parts of Belvedere House (pictured right), which had lost some of their glory and looked tired. With the help of a good architect we redecorated the stairwell and hall. Then we tackled the Apollo room, which served as the community chapel, an exquisite room with the great sunburst of Apollo centring the ceiling. After much consultation, the altar and focus of the room was rearranged and a new tabernacle designed, with a wonderful door on a Teilhard de Chardin theme of God pervading the material world through the Eucharist. We loved the new chapel. It lent itself to prayer. When I left Belvedere, I felt that with all my mistakes, the chapel was one thing I had managed well.
Well, Jesuit rectors serve for six years; then they go back to the ranks. It is an excellent system, and discourages ambition or any notion of a career path. But one disadvantage is a certain loss of continuity. When I revisited Belvedere two years after leaving it, and came up the staircase, I noticed an appetising smell coming from the Apollo room. It had been converted into the community dining room. The glorious chapel had moved across the landing to the Rector’s bedroom. Sic transit gloria mundi.
That is why the durability of a Society such as that of North Great George’s Street is so important. It ensures some level of continuity. It has lasted a generation now, and is stronger than ever. Our chairperson, Muireann Noonan, will tell us about that generation’s work, and introduce the conservation management plan, which has just been published. Charlie Lowe will outline Dublin City Council’s support of our efforts. My friend Senator Norris will link us with a wordy young man called Joyce in whom we Jesuits invested heavily – we taught him and paid his school fees (and those of his three brothers) for five years in Belvedere. James learned his classics well, and produced one or two of his own. David will agree that our investment was worthwhile.