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.