Irish priest pepper-sprayed during break-in at Pontifical Irish College in Rome

Fr John Coughlan injured as masked intruders make good their escape from building

A senior member of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome was pepper-sprayed after encountering intruders during a break-in recently, it has emerged,

A spokesman for the college said Fr John Coughlan, vice-rector at the college, encountered three masked men who broken in on November 30th last. After challenging the intruders verbally as they made their way up the main stairs, they turned back to make their escape. But "one of the men used a form of pepper-spray on Fr Coughlan's face as they left the building," said a spokesman.

An ambulance was called and paramedics attended to Fr Coughlan, who did not require hospitalisation.

Fr Coughlan declined to comment when contacted on Friday, but a spokesman said he has since made a full recovery.


Local police are investigating the break-in. Nothing was stolen from the property, although there was small damage done to the entrance gate.

Fr Coughlan is a native of Co Sligo and was previously a curate at St Joseph's Parish, Boyle, in the Diocese of Elphin. He has served as chaplain at Sligo IT and curate in Athlone.

He moved to the Pontifical Irish College in 2017 after being appointed director of formation.

Thirty resident seminarians

Founded in 1628, the college is the last of the many Irish seminaries that were once scattered over Europe when it was not possible to educate priests in Ireland.

Today, the college is home to two seminarian communities, one Irish the other American, as well as a sizeable international post-graduate community.

Latest figures show the college has just over 30 resident seminarians and 16 non-resident seminarians in formation, along with a number of Irish priests on the staff.

The number of Irish seminarians studying at the college has been falling over recent years.

Last summer the college’s trustees announced that no Irish seminarians are being sent there during the current academic year. The college is located in Via dei Santi Quattro in the centre of Rome and is well known by many Irish couples who have married in the chapel.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent