The National College of Ireland (NCI) celebrated its Jesuit heritage on September 20th with the launch of a book on the college’s history and a permanent exhibition. Irish Provincial, John Dardis SJ, spoke at the event.
The National College of Ireland (NCI) celebrated its Jesuit heritage on September 20th with the launch of a book on the college’s history and a permanent exhibition. Irish Provincial, John Dardis SJ, underlined the values of social justice and personal empowerment which have marked the College’s history.
I am delighted to be here today and honoured to take part in this official launch and opening of this permanent exhibition about the history of NCI that you can see around here in the panels on the wall and also in print. I congratulate all of those associated with this. I want to thank Paul Mooney, the Head of the College, Denis O’Brien, Chair of the Board of Governors, Paul Rose, Owen Kinsella and Mark Durkin who wrote the book.
I had a chance to look through the book earlier on and just let me point out some key words that leaped out at me as I read it. First of all, in terms of ‘vision’. Phrases like ‘overcoming disadvantage’; ‘unlocking potential’; ‘respecting and developing the dignity of people’; access – all of these are what the College is about. It is working on a formal Vision Mission at the present, I understand, but the heart of it is that, and that was the heart of the Jesuit vision for this, back in 1950. It was ground-breaking at the time. The 1950s were a time in Ireland when not that many radical things were happening. It was a very structured society, a very polarised society in many ways, and across Europe it was the time of recovery from the second World War and the divisions that that had brought. And here was a College that was beginning to move in that direction, speaking about people’s dignity; speaking about equality; trying to break down barriers. That has been a hallmark of the College from the beginning.
The second thing is the people. I want to mention the names of those associated with the College, and honour them officially – Fr. Eddie Kent, Fr. Coyne, John Brady (who is here today, I think), Bill Toner (who could not be here), Todd Morrissey and of course Joyce O’Connor and now Paul. They are just the names of the Directors, obviously. Directors cannot do much without a staff. I want to acknowledge all that, because you know the phrase “without a vision, the people perish”. But without people, the vision does not get done. The vision does not get implemented, the vision remains a dead letter – it remains something on a plaque on the wall. So I compliment and honour all these people, both those who are here today and those who cannot be here and also those who have passed on. I compliment all of those.
Lastly, very briefly, I want to speak about the Jesuit family of third level institutions. I was in Santiago in Chile over the summer and saw there that they have a Jesuit Workers’ College – a Workers’ University (Universidad de Travahalores). It is amazing what goes on there. When you see the energy, when you see the enthusiasm. And what they are about is similar. Disadvantage is being overcome. People are getting access. People are getting training and are being empowered.
The Jesuits in Africa are discussing setting up a Jesuit University for Africa. Exciting discussions, and part of those discussions are, at least, on the margins of them. A similar kind of vision, when you think of the disadvantage in Africa and the need to overcome it. A great vision.
Places like Georgetown University in the States, Boston College where as I stated again, there the foundation was again to provide for, at the time, the Catholic community, giving them a chance to access the University. They have expanded and grown. The vision has developed and deepend over the years to become more inclusive., and at its heart is seen that education is key which unlocks the door into a fuller life, a deeper life, a richer life, and living the life that as Christians and as Jesuit, we believe God calls us to. That depth, that richness, that variety of creativity that all of us, as human beings honour and that people who are Catholic or Christian asee as part of the desire of God for humanity.
So, NCI is linked to that Jesuit family and we are proud of that and I think that NCI is proud of it, as witnessed by the exhibition today. Obviously there have been bumps and bends in the road since the 1950s. It has not been all plain sailing. But something of worth never is. Something of worth means fighting for what you believe in; it means strong opinions; it means passion, it means enthusiasm, it means conflict. Achievement of something of worth always means that. No-one said it would be a breeze for any worthwhile project. I compliment everyone who is here; all the people who work at the College; the students – for coming to this project with the passion that they have, brining their creativity, their energy, their desires to it, and here is what we have today as a result. A wonderful campus in the docklands.
What about the future. The future is in your hands. All the people here. Fr. Brendan MacPartlin, who lectured here until recently, and who retired to take up a job in the Jesuit European network, and he is the last Jesuit at the moment to lecture in the College, but I am glad to say that the Jesuit Young Adult project, which is called ‘Slí Eile’ will work on a kind of chaplaincy basis to reach out and support people and to accompany people as they make this journey, and, hopefully, to encourage this kind of passion and energy that has to underlie anything today. Our age is an age of cynicism where nothing is new and a certain boredom can come in. At NCI education in general should have to fight that. We have to fight cynicism and encourage people to believe in themselves, to believe in each other – not to be cynical but to be passionate about their potential and to develop that to the full.
Thank you very much.