St. Patrick's College
The Birth of Carlow College
By Rev. P. J. Brophy
O'Connell was a frequent visitor to the
college, addressed mass meetings within the
grounds, had his cousins at school here and
numbered many friends among the professors. When Montalembert the
great French Christian democrat
visited Carlow in 1833 he confessed himself charmed by the
patriotism of the priests he met
there. De Tocqueville, who came to
Carlow two years later, found Dr.
Fitzgerald the President to
be a well-informed critic of the local landlords, regarded as
among the worst in the country.
One feels that the transfer to Knockbeg was
a loss to town and college alike.
Carlow College had become associated with London University
after 1834 one of the first
institutions in the country
to do so. The college prize day gathering,
play, band recitals and occasional gatherings in the grounds
were events appreciated by the
Dean Staunton combined with his duties as
President of the College the office of Parish
Priest of Carlow. His work for the parish was
unremitting. William Farrell, author of Carlow in '98, says
this of him. 'Rev. Mr. Staunton was
a most zealous and exemplary clergyman, and
as soon as he was settled in the parish he set about reforming every
abuse that came within
his reach . . . bull-baiting, cock-fighting, man-fighting,
gambling, and everything of that
description. He also formed a religious society and choir—a thing
before unknown to us which he taught himself.
Besides that he assembled a select number of boys in the vestry
he became their schoolmaster, where he spared
no pains to seek out our genius and to improve
'Father Staunton was spare of figure,
below the average height, eyes searching and
expressive, a man of few words to
whom it was more congenial to listen than to talk. He was
hospitable to his fellow-priests
and was trusted by them to
a man.' He built the chapel which served the people of Carlow before
it was incorporated into the
Cathedral. The gate leading
to the chapel is that now in use at St. Leo's Convent and bears the
initials H.S. 1792.
Father Staunton brought the Presentation
nuns to Carlow in 1811 and opened a Free
School for boys in School Lane in 1813. This
latter was incorporated into the Academy buildings
in College Street of 1859. The two rooms
had to accommodate 180 boys in Father
Staunton's time. When he died in 1814 the
College was in a flourishing condition and the parish of Carlow well
provided with the essentials of
Catholic life in the form of church and
What a shame on the people of the town
that the name of this great priest is forgotten
amongst them. Will they not at least pay him
the tribute of naming a street after him?
Dr, Andrew Fitzgerald succeeded to the
presidency of the college in 1814. He too was a
Kilkenny man, educated abroad at Louvain and
Lisbon, a member of the Irish
branch of the Dominican
Order who had come to Carlow in
1800 and was to remain until his
death in 1843. Thus he was associated with the institute during
the first fifty years of its existence. He saw the
rapid development of its
catering entirely for the needs of Irish
dioceses and then extending its
scope to the English-speaking world.
It was in 1820 that John Therry set sail for
Australia and John England for America, two
remarkable pioneers. John Therry was the first
priest allowed to minister to the
Catholic convicts of the penal settlement of Australia. He
proved a fearless defender of the
rights of his countrymen in face of bigotry and injustice. He
laid the foundations of the
flourishing Catholic Church of present-day Australia, secured the site
of St. Mary's Cathedral,
Sydney, which now occupies a
central position in that great city.
He began a long line of Irish missionaries
to the Antipodes as did John England to the New
World. England and Therry were natives of
Cork. England became first Bishop of Charleston,
pioneer Catholic journalist of the United
States, a foremost orator and champion of
democracy. The majority of ecclesiastics in the
College not destined for Ireland went to America
from about 1840 onwards.
All Hallows College was founded in 1842
and from this year we can date the missionary
movement of priests and nuns to
the English-speaking world, Canada, U.S.A., India and then
the Antipodes. As Maynooth
developed its national
status — liberal grants from the
Treasury made this possible — the
other seminaries became ever
more conscious of the
greater needs abroad.
A college has no history but the record of
its pupils. We can let
the record of the Irish
missionaries stand for itself.
The work of training aspirants to the
priesthood must of necessity be pursued in
retirement. What is being done and has in the
past been done by the missionary colleges should
be better known among our own people.
Founded Before Maynooth
The oldest and pioneer colleges are those at
Carlow and Kilkenny. They were founded before
Maynooth and were originally intended to cater
for local needs.
From the very beginning they had separate departments for lay pupils
and church students.
Maynooth had a lay school, too, but it did not
In these, our most venerable Catholic
schools, were educated most of the great national
leaders of the past century. Later came St. John's at Waterford, St.
Peter's at Wexford and
St. Patrick's at Thurles.
The growth of these colleges took place
during the years when thousands of Irish emigrants
were fleeing the country in search of a livelihood, to the United
States or to the English
colonies. Very naturally the exiles looked back
to Ireland for priests and nuns to
attend to their spiritual
needs. In 1842 All Hallows College
was founded at Dublin by the
saintly Father Hand.
He wrote to Rome outlining his project. "A
number of Irish priests, considering the deplorable
condition of millions of their own people in all the English colonies,
in America and in other
parts of the world, on account of the lack of
Catholic missionaries in these
countries, and considering
at the same time that there are in Ireland abundant means to
satisfy this need in ample fashion,
have resolved to dedicate themselves to the establishment and
direction of a seminary in Dublin
for the Foreign Missions."
Providence seems to have intended the new
seminaries to meet the ever growing
demands from abroad.
America developed at such a rapid pace
that the Church authorities there could not
provide native-born priests.
Irishmen volunteered in great numbers.
The democratic spirit of the New World republic
was very congenial to them.
To the rapid growth of the Church in
America the labours of John England of Cork,
the Kenrick brothers of Dublin, John Ireland of Kilkenny made a
powerful contribution. Ireland
gave more bishops to the United States than any other country in
Europe. Indeed, the number of
Irish-born bishops does not fall far behind the
total number of native-born.
Evelyn Waugh's Tribute
John England, as Bishop of Charleston,
solved some of the knottiest problems of Church
administration arising out of the trustee system.
The bishops and priests who came after him
have consolidated the work of the pioneers. An
observer little suspect of sympathy with Ireland,
Mr. Evelyn Waugh, has paid this
tribute to the Irish in America: —"The Irish with their truculence and
good sense have built and paid for
the churches, opening new parishes
as fast as the population
grew; they have staffed the active
religious Orders and have created
a national system of
If to-day the prestige of the Catholic
Church in America stands high we must not forget what the Irish
missionary priests and
Sisters contributed to its expansion.
In England, too, the fruits of their labours
are evident. Professor Denis Gwynn, who
knows more than most about the recent history
of the Church in England, has thus summarised
the Irish achievement: —
"Their monuments are to be seen in the
flourishing churches, schools and institutes
which have arisen from their personal labours,
each man performing all that lay within his
power while he lived, and relying on his successor
to continue and develop further what he
Apostles Of The Spirit
Irish names stud the pages of Australia's
Catholic story from Father John Therry, the
pioneer, to Cardinal Moran and Archbishop-Mannix.
Statistics help us to measure the importance
of Ireland's missionary effort to-day. Since
1900 close on five thousand priests have gone
out to the English-speaking nations. All Hallows
College has seen over three thousand priests
pass through its halls. For the other colleges, figures are not
Source: Carloviana. Journal
of the Old Carlow Society Vol. 1. No. 4, New Series, Dec. 1956. Pages
33 - 36