The Welcoming Address by Bishop Leo O’Reilly
at the Launch of ‘The College Boys’
St Patrick’s College, Cavan, 12 June 2008

Your Eminence Cardinal Seán, Rev Fathers, Sisters, family and friends of Bishop MacKiernan, Mr. Raymond Dunne and members of his family, Past Pupils of the College – among whom I see Ambassador Frank Cogan, members of the Past Pupils Union, public representatives, Members of the Board of Management and present staff of the College and all who have joined us on this happy occasion,

I join in welcoming you all to the launch of “The College Boys”. I will leave it to others to talk about the book which is about to be launched, but I do want to congratulate Mr. Ray Dunne and, posthumously, the late Bishop MacKiernan, on this very important piece of work, and thank them for undertaking it, labouring long and hard at it, and for bringing it to completion. They did a huge amount of work over a period of six years in compiling the lists of students who attended the Kilmore Academy and St Patrick’s College, from 1839 to 2000.

For both of them it was a labour of love but it involved painstaking research and hard work. Sadly, Bishop MacKiernan did not live to see this day. His unexpected death on 23 December 2005 was a setback to this project. He had just planned a meeting with Ray Dunne, Ray Fadden and Fr. Liam Kelly to plan the final stages of the work when he got suddenly ill. I am very happy that members of his family are with us today, one of them, Seamus MacKiernan here at the table, to take part in this launch. I know that his spirit is near us tonight and that if spirits smile, he wears a smile of satisfaction as he looks down on these proceedings.

I would like to thank also Ray Fadden who brought immense patience and great skill to the work and spent many hours on the design and layout of the book; Fr. Liam Kelly for his invaluable advice and expertise, particularly in relation to the photographs, and his meticulous proofreading of the manuscript; Mr. Ruari Dunne for his help at different stages of the work; Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne for publishing the book and hosting this launch.

The Significance of this Book
This book is a very important one for researchers, for all past pupils of the college, for anyone with a connection to or interest in St Patrick’s College and for anyone with an interest in the history of the diocese of Kilmore. It stands alongside several other important histories of the diocese: Dan Gallogly & Terence P. Cunningham’s St Patrick’s College Cavan, a centenary history (published in 1974 to mark the centenary of the college), Francis J. MacKiernan’s Diocese of Kilmore, Bishops and Priests 1136-1988 (published in1989), Dan Gallogly’s The Diocese of Kilmore 1800-1950 (published in 1999), Kilian Mitchell’s The Missionary Priests and bishops of the diocese of Kilmore (published in 2000) and Liam Kelly’s Churches of the diocese of Kilmore (published in 2005). Br Gerald Smith is working on Religious brothers and sisters of the diocese of Kilmore – and we hope it will be in print within the next year or so.

The diocese is indebted to the people who wrote these books and to Cummann Seanchais Bhreifne for fostering the study of history in the diocese over the past 50 years.

Vision and Courage
The diocese was blessed with two very able men, James Browne (1829-65) and Nicholas Conaty (1865-86) who were bishops of Kilmore at a crucial stage of our history and who had the vision and courage to set up St Augustine’s Seminary or Kilmore Academy in 1839 and St Patrick’s College in 1874 and established Cavan town not just as the place where the bishop resided but also as the centre and cathedral town of the diocese.

It would be hard to overstate the poverty that existed in the diocese in the decade preceding the Great Famine. Yet the brave and reforming Bishop Browne had the courage and foresight to set up the Kilmore Academy despite the difficulties of the time. Bishop Browne acquired a large house and out offices in Farnham Street from Captain Joseph Maguire, Lord Farnham’s land agent, in October 1838 on payment of £3,500 and a yearly rent of £17 -5s to Lord Farnham. Already the bishop and clergy of the diocese had contributed £1,800 to the cost of the property and then Bishop Browne wrote a pastoral letter to the people of the diocese stating:

We had neither a respectable and central residence for the bishop nor a seminary … where the candidates for the sacred ministry could be trained under his eye and where other gentlemen would have an opportunity of receiving a liberal and religious education…

In that short statement Bishop Brown set out the vision he had for the new academy. It was to be a seminary for the training of priests and a Catholic college for second level education.

Approximately 900 students passed through the Kilmore Academy in its 35 years of existence. At least six bishops were educated in the academy (Nicholas Conaty, Bernard Finegan, Edward Magennis, Andrew Boylan, Patrick Finegan and Matthew Gibney (Bishop of Perth). Just over 100 students from the Academy were ordained in Maynooth and many others went to the other seminaries in the country.

By the late 1860s it was obvious that the diocese needed a new diocesan college or minor seminary. The buildings of the Kilmore Academy were inadequate and Bishop Conaty was very anxious to get a new college out from the town of Cavan because he said students were ‘living in the whiskey shops of Cavan.’ The Anglo Celt, on 5 September 1869, outlined Bishop Conaty’s vision for the new college:
His Lordship, our zealous bishop, has determined to build a college that will be at once an ornament and a source of pride to the diocese…where learning and… religion may go hand in hand, and health and strength of body make equal… progress with the culture of the mind.

On 24th June 1869 Bishop Conaty bought Cullies house with 569 acres of land in Cullies and Drumbo for £14,000. The house became the bishop’s residence in 1871 and he then set about having a new college built nearby. The College was completed at a cost of £33,176 and opened on 12 March 1874. As well as providing second level education, St. Patrick’s College was a senior seminary in the early years of its existence. 39 priests ordained there, 31 for the diocese, including Bishop Patrick Finegan, and 8 for foreign missions.

On an occasion like this I think it is important to recall and pay tribute, not only to Bishops Browne and Conaty for founding St. Augustine’s and St. Patrick’s College but to all the other bishops and leaders of religious orders, men and women who founded the hundreds of other schools for boys and girls throughout the country in those years. Those schools are still the largest sector in second level education today. It is impossible to overstate the contribution of these colleges to the Church and to society. I hope they will continue to make that contribution into the future and I hope that the recently published pastoral letter of the Bishops on Catholic education will help all our schools to rediscover and renew their vision and ideals and enhance that contribution in the years ahead.

St. Patrick’s College and St. Augustine’s provided a wonderful service to the diocese of Kilmore in educating and forming their students in the Catholic faith. Most of the priests and bishops of the diocese since then were educated in one or other of these colleges. But they also made and continue to make a huge contribution to society providing a high quality education and forming leaders in all areas of life in our country. I want to pay tribute to our present very professional and dedicated staff who continue the great tradition begun so long ago. And I pay tribute to all former staff members and a special tribute to the generations of priests who, in poorer times, gave up most of their salaries and lived in very Spartan conditions so that education could be provided at an affordable cost.

Change and End of an Era
In June 2000 St Patrick’s College ceased to be a boarding school. For the first time since 1839 there were no students boarding in a Catholic school in Cavan town. It was the end of an era. By then the number of priests on the staff had decreased greatly. The year 2005 saw the appointment of the first lay principal, Mr. Patsy Lee. The Hague building was refurbished and became the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. Department of Education approval has been given for the building of a new school but recent budgetary constraints have delayed commencement of the project. Meanwhile the great work of the college continues under the able leadership of Mr. Liam McNiffe.

This book is a timely tribute to all who contributed to the wonderful educational enterprise represented by St. Augustine’s Academy and St. Patrick’s College.