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At the Province Assembly in June 2011, Bruce Bradley, rector of Clongowes and newly named as the incoming editor of Studies, delivered an excellent account of the Irish Jesuits, who have been a Province for 150 years (before that, a Vice-Province, and before that, a Mission). Below is the full text of his address.

History of the Irish Province

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.