The Blackrock College Story


The holy Ghost fathers are a French congregation of priests and brothers. Their largest province is France. Ireland is the second largest, followed by Nigeria.

Fr Sean Casey, president of Blackrock College, says: "The main thrust of our work has been to Africa and Latin America. In the French-speaking colonies in west Africa we established schools as part of our work. Some of the government authorities in the English-speaking colonies applied to us with a view to founding schools there.

"And since we had no English-speaking members, it was decided to come to Ireland. When we arrived, on July 5th, 1859, we discovered there were very few opportunities for the education of young Catholics. We started a school in 1860. The idea was to help young Irish people who wanted to go and work in the English-speaking colonies in west Africa, preaching the bible."

A regular secondary was set up side by side with an apostolic school. On the school's centenary in 1960 past pupils included the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid; the former Irish President, Eamon de Valera, and the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff. At least 600 past pupils have been ordained as priests with many going to work in west and east Africa. And 21 bishops have passed through Blackrock as pupils or teachers. The goal in Africa and Latin America was to establish indigenous churches. Today, Nigeria is the third-largest province of the Holy Ghost fathers.

Blackrock College now has 77 teachers. Holy Ghost fathers on the staff are few: Fr Joe Gough who teaches full-time and who is involved in sport; Fr Tom Nash, the chaplain; Fr Pat McNamara who is involved in Transition Year; Br Paul Kehoe who's in administration and Fr Miles Healy, the bursar. A board of trustees for the five Holy Ghost schools in Ireland was set up early this year. Called the Des Places Educational Association Ltd, it is a limited company. Members include six Holy Ghost priests along with Judge Mella Carroll, Dr Andrew Burke (professor of education in St Patrick's, Drumcondra, Dublin), Shane Murphy (barrister) and Gerry Jeffers, head of the Department of Education's Transition Year unit.

The board of trustees sits somewhere above the direct school management and acts as a support and a resource, says O Brolchain, as well as overseeing the continuation of the ethos.

Four of the schools - Blackrock College, St Mary's College, Rathmines, St Michael's College, Ballsbridge (all Dublin) and Rockwell College in Co Tipperary, have managers (all Holy Ghost fathers) and Templeogue College has a board of management. In time, all of the schools will move towards boards of management.

There are some 600 Holy Ghost fathers in Ireland and more than 200 Irish Holy Ghost fathers working in third world countries, says Casey, at least one-third of these are under 40. Increasingly, young Holy Ghost fathers are opting for missionary work (at home or abroad) rather than teaching in Ireland.

A group of three young Holy Ghost fathers and one brother are working in a group, Spirasi, running a house on the North Circular Road for refugees coming into Ireland.