Fate of All Hallows College mirrors ‘collapse of vocations’

Long-term decline in seminarians led to insurmountable financial difficulties

Patrick Mc Devitt CM president of All Hallows (centre), with students in the college grounds. From left William Locke, Emma Schmid-Looney, Emmet Tracey and Joseph O Hara. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Patrick Mc Devitt CM president of All Hallows (centre), with students in the college grounds. From left William Locke, Emma Schmid-Looney, Emmet Tracey and Joseph O Hara. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Former president Mary McAleese could hardly have known how prescient she was being in an address she delivered at All Hallows College in September 2000.

Speaking to the then National Conference of Priests of Ireland, itself dissolved in 2007 through lack of interest, she referred to “disappointment and impatience on many fronts” in the Catholic Church and the “sense of drift rather than direction in the face of the collapse of vocations in the western world”.

Left to fester, such feelings generated indifference, she said, noting that “as Edmund Burke remarked, ‘Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference’.”

She recalled more hopeful days at All Hallows, 30 years beforehand. “We had gathered here, young people from all over Ireland, to contemplate a new vision for our Church. Blessed John XXIII (now saint) had said emphatically: ‘I have come to cultivate a garden, not to guard a mausoleum.’

“We queued up to join his Ground Force team . . . the future was collaboration, priests and laity, men and women; the future was ecumenical, a sisterhood of Christian churches, a family of world faiths respectful of each other, the future was egalitarian, all God’s creatures equal in his eyes and entitled to equal respect.

“The future was a place we could not wait to get to. And so here I am once again in All Hallows, much of our future already lived.”

All saints All Hallows College (meaning all saints) traces its origins to 1842, when Fr John Hand founded a college there to train priests for the foreign missions. In February of that year, after receiving permission from Rome to open a seminary, he began looking for a suitable location and found Drumcondra House.

Its previous occupiers had been Sir Guy and Lady Pamela Campbell. Sir Guy was a general in the British army and Lady Campbell was the daughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, executed for his role in the 1798 rebellion.

Fr Hand leased the house and, at the suggestion of the then Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray, he called it All Hallows. A monastery, the Priory of All Saints, had once been on the same site. The then lord mayor of Dublin, Daniel O’Connell, contributed £100 to the new college.

With the Famine and consequent emigration, new priests from All Hallows followed the Irish diaspora, to Canada, the US, Australasia, Britain, South Africa and other countries.

Since 1892, the college has been run by the Vincentian congregation, a French order of priests founded by St Vincent de Paul but which has been in Ireland since 1646.

All Hallows alumni were the largest group of secular priests in California until the late 1890s. Over the years, as many as 5,000 All Hallows men went to some of the world’s major cities.

Global reach By 1973 the college had trained priests for England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, South America, South Africa, India, Canada, Australia, the West Indies, New Zealand and the United States.

In the 1980s, as the number of seminarians decreased, the college opened its doors to lay students and degree and other courses evolved in areas such as social justice, ethical leadership, church and culture.

In 2008, along with the Mater Dei Institute and St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, All Hallows became a college of Dublin City University.

In recent years it has experienced growing difficulties in recruiting students, which provoked underlying financial problems. In an attempt to address these, an inventory was undertaken earlier this year of valuable books and paintings, as well as other items at the college, with a view to selling them to raise funds.

In this context it was decided to sell the Jackie Kennedy letters which, as staff had been aware, were stored at the college since 1964, when their recipient ,Fr Joseph Leonard, died. They were withdrawn from auction last weekend following intervention by the Kennedy family.

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