Jesuits serve up theology on NUI menu
Dr Brian Grogan SJ, President of the Milltown Institute, assesses the significance of Milltown being formally inaugurated as a Recognised College of the National University of Ireland on October 5th. The Chancellor of the NUI, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, led the ceremony.
This will be a proud and long desired moment in Milltown’s history. From its inception in 1968, the Institute has sought links with the world of the university, because its staff believed that Newman was right in arguing that theology should have its place among all other branches of learning. Both, he argued, would be the richer. One would nowadays add that Church and society would also be enriched by the collaborative exploration, by the disciplines of faith and reason, of the deepest meaning of human life.
Thirty seven years have passed since the Institute was founded. Many avenues have been explored over the years as it searched for its rightful setting, only to end in frustration. In the late seventies and then in 2000, exploratory talks were held to see if a link could be made with TCD leading to the establishment of an Interdenominational School of Theology in which Protestant and Catholic traditions might retain their distinctiveness while enriching one another. Another avenue explored through the years was the establishment of a Faculty of Catholic Theology in UCD.
In both those ventures, it now appears that too much was being sought. Recognised College status offers a middle ground: Milltown retains its independence and its ethos within the NUI, while it makes available to all a philosophy consciously open to the transcendent and a theology which is unashamedly Catholic. While there are five other Recognised Colleges in the country, Milltown hopes to link especially with UCD: the possibility of combined degrees opens up – Theology and a language, Theology and Business Studies etc., and thus theology is made available to a wider audience.
UCD, we believe, also stands to gain from the Institute’s new status. Milltown has been referred to as supplying ‘the missing dimension’ in Irish third level education. Since its foundation in 1908, UCD has lacked theology. Now at last it can place theology on its menu while retaining its own secular ethos. Currently UCD is feting Newman, in this 150th year since he inaugurated the Catholic University of Ireland. The development of strong theological links would be the best tribute to that prophetic thinker. Dr Hugh Brady, whose brainchild this celebration of Newman is, has stated that UCD still abides today by Newman’s ideas of knowledge as the ultimate end of our endeavours. Newman would respond that there is a lacuna in the pursuit of knowledge by a university if theology is missing. Again, Dr Brady states that UCD offers the most extensive range of subjects, courses, degrees and research of any university in Ireland. Links with Milltown Institute and its specialised courses would make that statement even more impressive.
The Institute currently has 650 students, divided between full and part time. They represent 34 nationalities. Some are school leavers, but the majority are mature: these are second chance students, persons in pursuit of life long learning, seekers after meaning. Personal attention is a key factor in the Institute’s popularity: the Institute is small enough to cater for individual needs and interests. The appropriation of truth is a personal affair and this factor is respected. Holistic development is encouraged: students are invited to serve the needs of society rather than to focus on themselves alone. Milltown offers a rich blend of traditions of learning, Augustinian, Carmelite, Franciscan, Jesuit, Marist etc. As it enters this new chapter in its story, there is every confidence, given the commitment and quality of its staff, that it will play en ever more important role in the shaping of the new Ireland as an inclusive and caring society, strong in its vision of the ultimate goal of human life.