Mission to a suffering people
Fr Thomas J Morrissey’s new book, Mission to a Suffering People: Irish Jesuits 1596 to 1696 (Messenger Publications), is the story of how Irish Jesuits used the values, talents and networks of the Jesuit order to subvert the will of the British empire. Willing to go any place and face any peril for Christ, Irish Jesuits risked everything to maintain a continuous tradition of Catholicism on the island of Ireland.
Focusing on four Irish Jesuits, James Archer (1550-1620), Richard Conway (c.1573-1626), Robert Nugent (1577-1652) and Stephen Rice (1625-1699), Fr Morrissey returns the figure of the exiled priest – a forerunner of the exiled Irish writer of the twentieth century – to the centre of the Irish story. There is a reference to a Jesuit superior dying alone in a shepherd’s hut on an island off Galway.
The book is divided into four chapters based on the four Irish Jesuits. They are titled A New Mission to Ireland; Laying Foundations in Exile; Great Hopes, Shattered Dreams; and Educator in a Troubled Land.
The first chapter on James Archer begins with an account of the state of Ireland in the sixteenth century: its inhabitants, its structures of government and something of its history. For example, Fr Morrissey writes:
“The great majority of the population of Ireland were Catholic at this time. A small number of the landowners, however, had converted to Protestantism in order to preserve their extensive lands and enjoy government support”.
Fr Morrissey goes on to document three Jesuit missions in Ireland that aimed to nourish and sustain the Catholic tradition: in 1542, 1560, and 1596.
The author notes in the third chapter that Robert Nugent became superior of the Irish Jesuit mission in 1626. He collaborated in the work of Jesuit education whereby schools operated for a while in Dublin, Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick and some other locations.
Regarding the resilience of Robert Nugent, Fr Morrissey states:
“In the 1640s, during the rise of the Irish Catholic Confederacy, religion and education functioned freely. When the conflict between king and Parliament spilled over from England into Ireland, the situation changed and Nugent’s task was to guide the mission through turbulent times, which he did with confidence”.
The author covers the fictitious plot to assassinate Charles II (the ‘Popish Plot’) when documenting the life of Stephen Rice in the fourth chapter. Plus much more.
It is thought – in a time when once again Ireland straddles the divide between the UK and Europe – the book is a lesson in the Irish ability to hold Europe in one hand and Britain in the other, with an eye fixed unwaveringly on the future.
Thomas J Morrissey SJ is a Jesuit priest, an educationalist, historian and author. He is a former headmaster of Crescent College Comprehensive, Limerick, and former director of the National College of Industrial Relations, Dublin.
Mission to a Suffering People: Irish Jesuits 1596 to 1696 by Thomas J Morrissey SJ is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications. It is priced at €19.95/£18.95.