23 May 2014

The planned closure of All Hallows’ College
is a loss to theology and to social justice

Are the lights going out for All Hallows’ College? ... Drumcondra House is at the heart of the college (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

It was sad to hear the news this afternoon that All Hallows’ College, Dublin, is to shut down. It is always sad to hear the news that another theological college is to close. The college said today it is making the decision “with huge regret and deep sadness”. But today’s news is also sad personally because I have been a visiting lecturer at All Hallows in the past, and have supervised post-graduate research leading to the MA degree.

Over the years, All Hallows has also been a welcoming place for Church of Ireland conferences, and when I was there 18 years ago for a conference organised by the International Peace Bureau, I received a warm welcome from Father Patrick McDevitt, who has been the college president since the end of 2011.

Bruce Kent and President Michael D Higgins at the presentation of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize medals in All Hallows’ College, Drumcondra in November 2012 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Father McDevitt is a Vincentian priest who was raised in Chicago in an Irish- American family. Before moving to All Hallows, he was an associate professor in DePaul University College of Education, Chicago.

The college receives no State grants, and it has been operating at an increasing deficit for many years. More recently, All Hallows began a stringent programme of sustainability, including increasing its activities and launching an extensive fund-raising programme. At the same time, an investigation of the college’s archive and library was begun to see what might be disposed of to raise funds.

All Hallows’ College has 450 students on its degree courses and a staff of about 70. The college is promising to make “every effort ... to facilitate existing students in the completion of their courses.”

All Hallows found itself at the centre of controversy in recent weeks when it offered for auction a cache of letters written in 1950-1964 by Jackie Kennedy to Father Joseph Leonard. The college had hoped to auction the letters for more than €1 million, but withdrew them from sale after communications from the Kennedy family.

Since 2008, All Hallows’ College has been a constituent college of Dublin City University, along with the Mater Dei Institute and Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. A number of non-profit organisations and charities are based on the campus, including the Volunteer Missionary Movement, the Daughters of Charity Education and Training Service, Ruhama, which supports women who have been victims of prostitution and human trafficking, Accord Catholic Marriage Counselling, Debt and Development Coalition Ireland, and Console (Living with Suicide).

The college motto is Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes (“Go teach all nations”). It dates from 1842, when Father John Hand (1807-1846) founded a college to train priests for foreign missions.

He leased Drumcondra House, which was designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and built in 1726 for Sir Marmaduke Coghill (1673-1738), who had lived in Belvedere House, now part of Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.

Coghill was an MP for Dublin and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland. He moved into Drumcondra House, and lived there with his sister Mary until his death in 1738. In 1743, Mary rebuilt Drumcondra Parish Church (previously Clonturk parish), beside Drumcondra House, as a memorial to her brother.

When Mary Coghill died the house was inherited by their niece, who married Charles Moore, then 2nd Lord Tullamore and later Earl of Charleville. Later, the widowed Lady Charleville married Major John Mayne, who assumed the name of Coghill, and was made a baronet as Sir John Coghill.

Drumcondra House was then leased to Alderman Alexander Kirkpatrick, a former High Sheriff of Dublin. The last tenant of the house was Major General Sir Guy Campbell (1786-1849), a general in the British army. His wife Pamela (1795-1869), was the daughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a leader of the United Irishmen in 1798.

The then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daniel O’Connell, donated £100 to the new college. With the Famine and consequent emigration the new priests from All Hallows began to follow the Irish Diaspora, to Canada, the US, Australasia, Britain, South Africa and other places around the world. Over the years, some 5,000 men went out; some to great cities, others to outbacks and veldts.

JJ McCarthy extended Drumcondra House and designed a college quadrangle, while George Ashlin designed the college chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The architect JJ McCarthy extended the house and designed a college quadrangle. However, only two sides of the college quad were built. The college chapel was designed by George Ashlin in 1876, replacing an earlier chapel by McCarthy, the south side of the chapel is dominated by a stained glass window by Evie Hone.

Both McCarthy and Ashlin were architectural heirs and successors to AWN Pugin, and McCarthy was appointed Professor of Ecclesiastical Architecture at the college.

Since 1892, All Hallows has been run by the Vincentian order. The Revd Nicholas Comerford (1873-1937), who joined the Vincentians in 1896, and taught in Saint Vincent’s College, Castleknock, and in All Hallows’ College, Drumcondra, before going to England to work on the Vincentian missions. He edited the magazine The Vincentian until his death in Sheffield on 15 April 1937.

His elder brother, the Revd Edmond Comerford (1870-1940), joined the Vincentians in 1890 and later served as Dean of Saint Vincent’s College, Castleknock, and in Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro. A third Vincentian priest, the Revd James Comerford, joined the Vincentians in 1884 and was later Bursar of Saint Vincent’s College, Castleknock.

In the 1980s, as the number of seminarians decreased, the college struggled to attract students before opening its doors to lay students and developing degrees and courses in areas such as social justice, ethical leadership, church and culture.

If All Hallows closes down completely, it will be a loss not only to theological education in Ireland but to the causes it has identified and promoted such as mission, social justice, ethical leadership, women’s rights, and the rights of refugees and the marginalised.

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