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Look back with thanks

bbradley_01At the Province Assembly in June, Bruce Bradley, rector of Clongowes and newly named as the incoming editor of Studies, was given the job of preparing the birthday speech. Irish Jesuits have been a Province for 150 years (before that, a Vice-Province, and before that, a Mission). It was a stiff challenge, to condense that history into a brief talk. Bruce opted to write an ample account and to deliver it rapidly.’ Where has God been over the past 150 years?’ Bruce asked. ‘Did we make a difference, and if so, how? through the boys (no girls at first) whom we educated? the missions we preached? the organisations, like the Pioneers and Sodalities? the writings, in books or periodicals?’ His thoughtful narrative deserves a permanent life. Here it is.

‘WHERE HAS GOD BEEN OVER THE PAST 150 YEARS?’
Address to Province Assembly: Gonzaga College, Saturday, 11 June 2011

Bruce Bradley SJ

The province was founded in 1860 but there is a back-story, which should be briefly told. All our pre-Suppression involvement in Ireland comprised a series of missions, conducted under conditions of penal legislation and often savage persecution. When Peter Kenney and two companions came from Sicily in August 1811, almost 200 years ago, they too were at first simply a mission. The last of the seventeen men who had been in the country at the time of the Suppression, Thomas Betagh, had recently died. There were no Jesuits, there were no Jesuit institutions, there was no Jesuit property of any kind on the island. Fr Betagh had bequeathed his books and papers to those he hoped might follow him and had taken a twelve-month rent on his house in Cook St which they might be able to use. More importantly, perhaps, they also inherited the money their  predecessors, although dispersed and serving as diocesan priests, had been able to keep together and hand on. With the passage of time, the sum had an accumulated value of £32,450, quite a lot at the time. This money and their courage and commitment in the face of unknown challenges laid the foundations of the future province.
The mission had been clearly defined by the General (more strictly, the Vicar-General), Fr Brzozowski, still operating from White Russia. It was his wish, transmitted to Fr Kenney by the English provincial, ‘that a college should be set up in Ireland as soon as possible’. Three years later, with the help of his two colleagues, a group of postulant brothers, and six scholastics recalled from the juniorate in Stonyhurst, Clongowes was opened in June 1814. Although the rolls quickly filled up and Jesuit schools were in demand in various parts of the country, Tullabeg, opened in 1818, was not at first intended to be a school but conceived by Fr Kenney as a novitiate, such as a properly constituted province would require. It only gradually evolved, first, into a preparatory school for Clongowes and later, in mid-century, into a full college in its own right. By 1832, Catholic Emancipation had been passed, allowing the construction of Gardiner St Church. The small Hardwicke Street residence, acquired in 1816 as what might be called a Dublin base, was no longer strictly required. Instead of closing it, a few classes were offered in the now empty rooms. And so, more or less by accident, a third school opened in less than 20 years. It was destined to move round the corner to Belvedere House in 1841 because so many enrolled that Hardwicke St was soon too small to accommodate them.

Education had very early in the Society’s history become ‘a part of the Jesuits’ self-definition’, as John O’Malley puts it, and the  Restoration of 1814 around the world had become possible to a significant extent because of the desire of the political powers-that-were, many of them not particularly well-disposed to religion as such, to have the traditional excellence of Jesuit schools available in their territories. When Clongowes was founded, the aim, in Michael Sweetman’s phrase, was to effect ‘the gradual infiltration of the system by highly educated Irish Catholics’. The beleagured, largely uneducated Catholic population, still labouring under the disadvantages of the Penal Laws, needed education but they also needed educated leadership. Whether as part of a conscious strategy or not, providing it would form a large part of the Jesuits’ agenda in Ireland for most of the 19th century.

What all this meant was that when the province was founded in 1860 – Ireland had been a vice-province since 1830 – schools bulked large in the institutional presence and apostolic endeavours of Jesuits. This is not to discount the extent or importance of other work, not least that of parish missions, so carefully documented by Kevin Laheen. The historian Emmet Larkin has called ‘the parish mission movement … the single most important factor in making and consolidating the Devotional Revolution that took place in Ireland between 1850 and 1880’. ‘In literally a generation’, he added, ‘the Irish people as a people were transformed into those pious and practising Catholics they have remained down until almost the present day’. Jesuits were substantially involved in this response to the Synod of Thurles and the efforts it inspired to counter proselytism and transform the quality of Catholic life among the population at large.

What has been called the ‘cullenisation’ of Ireland, after Cardinal Cullen, would gradually change the profile of the Irish church. Ireland was recovering from the famines of the 1840s but their bitter legacy remained in the depletion and further impoverishment of the population and the upsurge in revolutionary violence, as reflected in the abortive movements of 1848 and 1867. The Church, increasingly self-confident, would enjoy an ambivalent relationship with the nationalism which continued to agitate for land reform and, eventually, home rule. Jesuits in Ireland seem to have been largely in step with the bishops in these matters throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.

By the time the transition from vice-province to province occurred in 1860, to the earlier foundations of the three schools and Gardiner St Church there had been added a small retreat house at Milltown Park (opened in 1858), a day-school in Limerick (opened in 1859), and a residence and church in Galway (opened in the same year). There were some 117 Irish Jesuits, of whom 60 were priests, 28 were scholastics and 29 were brothers. Of this total, 27 were living outside Ireland, all but five of them in formation, including 10 novices in England. To this point, apart from two brief experiments with theologates, in Clongowes in the 1820s and in North Frederick St in Dublin in the 1850s respectively, only novices – in small numbers and, latterly, brother novices only – had been in formation at home, initially at Tullabeg, later at Clongowes. All other formation – noviceship for most, juniorate, philosophy, theology and tertianship – involved travelling outside Ireland.

In 1860, a novitiate was established at Milltown, with 30 novices. Gradually, in the succeeding years, the later stages of formation were repatriated – the juniorate to Milltown in 1878, philosophy also to Milltown, in 1880 (although the philosophers were abroad again from 1891 until 1919), the theologians to Milltown in 1889. Tertianship was spent abroad for almost all of the province’s history until 1940, when it settled for an extended stay in Rathfarnham. The gradual proliferation of houses of formation at home symbolised the transition from mission via vice-province to province. We might reflect for a moment on one aspect of this transition: from self-images of the provisional and dynamic to the settled, stable, established, self-sufficient, with some of the negative connotations those latter images may carry.

There is another aspect. On the one hand, it was appropriate for a province growing in numbers and self-confidence to provide its own houses of formation. On the other hand, despite a certain grey uniformity which probably obtained in Jesuit seminaries across the globe in that narrowly scholastic, intellectually unadventurous age, where little theological or philosophical creativity could be exercised (unless you were George Tyrrell, and look what happened to him!), there must have been a benefit from having most young Jesuits exposed to some extent at least to other cultures and other ways of looking at the world, even if only in other parts of what  might then have been thought of as the United Kingdom. Something must have been lost as fewer and fewer members of the province spent time abroad. Prior to the Suppression, Irish Jesuits had been – of necessity – formed all over Europe and worked in many locations around the world, as the ‘List of the Dead’ of the province since 1572, to which many communities refer at the Eucharist each day, eloquently testifies.

The modern period, with the revolution in transport and communications, has obviously witnessed a vast increase in the international reach and experience of the province, with corresponding benefit to the work here. It might be mentioned that, in the most recent times, significant influences have come from the Americas, north and south. Peter Kenney was twice a visitor in the United States in the early 19th century, where he established Maryland as a vice-province and Missouri as an independent mission. American Jesuits have returned the compliment in many ways since. Of particular significance for the way in which the culture of the contemporary province has evolved were the workshops and other forms of guidance from American confrères in the early 1970s and later, which gave us help in the area of personal affectivity and the quality of our relationships with each other in community. Far fewer members of the province have studied or worked in South America but the emergence of a distinctive theology and spirituality in that part of the world in the latter part of the 20th century made its mark on those who did live there and, to some extent, on all of us, as symbolised by the naming of two of our smaller, inner city communities, after Rutilio Grande and Luis Espinál, respectively.

Over the period from 1860 until relatively very recent times, the number of houses in the province barely increased from the seven earlier referred to. Galway almost at once added a school to the church already functioning there. Mungret opened as a college and apostolic school in 1882. As the movement for third level education acceptable to Catholics gathered pace,  University College, where Gerard Manley Hopkins would teach and James Joyce would be a student, was established in 1885. The latter was replaced, as a Jesuit residence, by Leeson St in 1910, with its university hostel attached, and Rathfarnham was opened three years later in 1913, to accommodate juniors attending the university. The college in St Stephen’s Green was the beginning of a long association between Irish Jesuits and university education in Ireland, now – as we may hope – happily set to continue in new and once unexpected ways. Jesuit numbers in the 19th century kept on growing at a remarkable rate: 117-strong in 1860, as mentioned, the Province had 202 men in 1880, 317 in 1900, 400 in 1920, 543 in 1930. By 1970, as we moved past the province’s centenary, the numbers had finally begun to fall and we are only too familiar with the pattern of decline since then.

Part of what a province characteristically does, when it reaches province-status, especially with this kind of steady growth in numbers, is to take responsibility for missions. When the Irish Jesuits went to Australia in 1865, the  Austrians had already been there since 1848. Irish foundations quickly sprung up in Victoria and New South Wales and  elsewhere. Gradually, they took over what the Austrians had founded as well and, in 1901, the two missions were united as one. When what was, in effect, now an Irish mission became a vice-province in 1931, many Irish Jesuits remained in Australia. Meanwhile, in 1927, the Hong Kong mission had begun and it too would quite rapidly expand, within China and to Malaysia and Singapore. Characteristically, in both mission territories, colleges and educational endeavour were hall-marks of Irish Jesuit presence, reflecting their predominant commitment and area of expertise at home.

1914 is one kind of watershed, marking the centenary of Clongowes, the first foundation, when the degree to which the college had achieved its original aim seemed embodied in the person of John Redmond, the hugely committed, deeply Catholic man of the hour. In him, the province, a little more than 50 years old, and not just Clongowes itself, still then, perhaps, the flagship enterprise, could take some justifiable pride. But Yeats’s ‘terrible beauty’ was about to be born and ‘utter change’ lay ahead, in part mocking the aspirations of a century’s Jesuit endeavour to produce leaders for a different kind of Ireland than the one now emerging. That endeavour had been, in some measure, inseparable from the pursuit of a certain kind of ‘respectability’, in competition with – and risking contamination by – English standards and English values. In its institutional presence, distinct from the  inclinations of individual Jesuits, the province was a little wrong-footed by the revolutionary events of the early decades of the 20th century. James Joyce’s depiction of Jesuits – in Finnegans Wake he translates the motto ‘Laus Deo Semper’ which he and his fellow-pupils were taught to write on their exercises, as ‘Lawdy Dawdy Simpers’ – though certainly unfair, may not be altogether so. A somewhat awkward change of gear is, as it were, audible in the pages of school annuals as Gaelic games were    hastily introduced and articles began to appear in Irish.

What the revolution in time made way for is another twist in our tale: a ‘Catholic’ Ireland, because of partition more narrowly Catholic than, in other circumstances, it might have been. This, the historian Ronan Farren wrote some years ago, led to the creation of ‘an unnaturally large Catholic majority in the 26 counties by amputating the Protestants of northeast Ulster who might otherwise have ameliorated the overweening Catholic  triumphalism that came to characterise the Irish Free State’. What gradually emerged in the early years of independence, and especially after the Civil War, was more or less ‘unswerving allegiance to the Catholic Church’. As a province, we inhabited this uncritical, hothouse Catholic culture more readily and more comfortably than we might. Despite the occasional political  commentary to be found in Studies, first published in 1912 and following earlier periodicals like the Lyceum and the Irish Monthly, and pioneering activities such as those of Fr Tom Finlay with Sir Horace Plunkett in the co-operative movement, the question may be asked as to whether a more creatively critical stance to the prevailing culture might not have been taken by Jesuits and by the former students of our schools, for all the sterling service so many of the latter gave to the new State. In the light of subsequent developments, the failure of the Irish Church to foster a much more theologically literate laity has to be regretted and we must take our share of the responsibility for the inadequacies of evangelisation in Ireland. Unfortunately, in  the closed society such as the country fair ly rapidly became, these questions were rarely asked.

Even so, with the privations of the world war over, there were plenty of signs of vigour in the province in the 1950s, often thought of as a self- satisfied,  moribund time in the Irish Church and in Irish life more generally, economically straitened, unimaginative, culturally  blinkered, a society largely closed to the influence of a wider world. Manresa Retreat House had been opened in 1948, to extend the work of Milltown and Rathfarnham and to blossom into the Centre of Spirituality it has since become. 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. In the 1980s, in the wake of so much disturbance and upheaval, two small communities were founded in the north, one in the flashpoint town of Portadown, one in Belfast. The Centre for Faith and Justice had been established and the Jesuit profile was altering as some strong voices emerged among us – Peter McVerry’s in particular – influencing all of us and advocating more or less radical social change in Ireland.

Our falling numbers reflected a wider vocations problem in the Irish church. Religious orders, including our own, were asked to help – Gardiner St and Galway became parishes and we assumed responsibility for one of the parishes in Ballymun. Apart from ‘earthing’ us more securely in local communities, this contributed to a growing involvement in the diocesan church and much greater closeness to diocesan clergy. The contribution of Jesuits to priestly formation in Belfast and Maynooth and in the communications office of the Dublin diocese – the latter at a time when the abuse scandals were beginning to engulf the Church – was eloquent testimony to how far trust had grown.

Today, as our numbers continue to fall and as more houses close (Rathfarnham a few decades ago, along with some of the temporary  addresses assumed in the era of ‘small communities’, and, more recently, Belvedere, the Crescent, John Austin House) and despite the grave problems facing Church and country alike, morale among us remains surprisingly high. ‘Irish Intellectuals’, along with ‘Dutch Humourists’ and ‘Italian War-Heroes’, used to be mockingly described as either so many palpable  oxymorons or else as three of the smallest volumes in the world. But, in recent decades, many Irish Jesuits have made significant contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of the country in written form. Micheál Mac Gréil’s continually updated sociological surveys, Michael Paul Gallagher’s sophisticated work on faith and culture, and Gerry O’Hanlon’s suggestive recent work all spring to mind. but it is probably invidious to name names as there are now so many admirable candidates for mention.

While acknowledging the possibility of some degree of denial on our part, in addition to the influence of the interior workings of the Holy Spirit in so many, who remain faithful despite the difficulties, a more hopeful  consideration, two external factors might be pointed to as part-explanation for our generally good spirits: the development of European consciousness in the province and the expansion of lay-partnership. Irish Jesuits have played significant roles in the European structures of the Society (as well as the JRS in Europe and world- wide) and young Jesuits from European  provinces, as well as from further afield, have come in numbers to study or do tertianship here and, more recently, to work in our schools and other ministries. The very sizeable development of lay partnership, emerging long since in the schools, is one of the most striking features of the province today. It confers many benefits – educating us about ourselves and about still much-neglected lay perspectives in our Church, extending our reach, ensuring the future.

This has been a brief, partial tour d’horizon, one man’s hasty, not particularly well-informed perspective on the past 150 years and slightly more. I have missed or omitted many contributions that should have featured in any such account. I know I have not mentioned the outstanding work of Fr James Cullen, founder of the Messenger and the Pioneers in the late 19th century, and the continuing influence of his work. With Pat Coyle sitting beside me, I have not mentioned the work of the Jesuit Communications Centre. I have not mentioned the outstanding holiness of Fr John Sullivan, in particular, or the heroism of Fr Willie Doyle and his fellow- chaplains in two world wars. I have not mentioned our contribution to the Gregorian and other Roman houses, where, in terms of the numbers involved, we have often punched above our weight as a province. I have not mentioned the development of youth work outside the schools – in Tabor Retreat House in the 1970s and, more recently, through the activities of Slí Eile (now Magis Ireland). I have not mentioned An Timire and the Irish language apostolate. I have hardly mentioned at all all the quiet, faithful, unsung labours of those who served and administered houses and communities over the years, the brothers not least; or those who toiled in classrooms and lecture-halls with little palpable return, ‘seed-time workers’ as Paul Andrews once memorably called them; or the hidden one-to-one evangelisation of those involved in church work, sitting for hours in parlours and confessionals, listening, counselling, healing wounds; or so many other apparently more minor ministries, hospital and university chaplaincies and the rest – all those hidden labours which, rather than any great achievements of the Society at large, Karl Rahner famously said in 1973 were the reason he himself remained a Jesuit. Those whose work may seem neglected in this potted history will, I hope, forgive me.

As we face now into an increasingly secular age, with all its challenges and possibilities, we ask ourselves, chastened and humbled by our history but also consoled and full of hope, where God is leading us now. Much has been accomplished through those who have gone before us, seen and unseen, beginning with Peter Kenney’s small missionary band in 1811, moving to the inauguration of Fr Joseph Lentaigne as first provincial on 8th  December 1860, and then through all the years since. Now for the future!