17 November 2020

A new book recalls student
and staff memories
and history at Maynooth

A new book being launched this evening celebrates the 225th anniversary of Maynooth

Patrick Comerford

It is almost 33 years to the day since I was conferred with the degree BD/STB at Maynooth on 19 November 1987. The degree came after three years studying at Kimmage Manor and was conferred by Cardinal Tomás O Fiaich, Chancellor of the Pontifical University, in the name of Pope John Paul II.

I was a memorable day for the six students from Kimmage Manor: two Redemptorists, one Spiritan and one former Spiritan, myself and a friend who is now a leading television journalist. I was the only member of the Church of Ireland in this small group, and Cardinal O Fiaich recognised me from my years of activism in CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The Redemptorist theologian Professor Brendan McConvery, who had lectured on New Testament studies, presented us. It was a memorable day because the cardinal also chose that day to give an interview with RTÉ News, strongly hinting that he favoured the ordination of women to the priesthood. He died within three years.

It is a day that I recall in one of my contributions to a book that is being launched in Maynooth this evening (17 November 2020). We Remember Maynooth: A College across Four Centuries is edited by Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan, and is published by Messenger Publishing.

Maynooth College was founded in 1795 and has a singular place in the history of the Irish Church, and of the Church globally. At first it was as a small seminary with 30 students and 10 professors, most of them refugees fleeing the French Revolution.

Maynooth has been the subject of riots in the streets of London and has played host to kings and popes. Its buildings by AWN Pugin and JJ McCarthy have created a beautiful university campus that rivals many colleges in Cambridge and Oxford. The chapel is among the highest free-standing structures in Ireland.

Maynooth expanded rapidly, becoming a Pontifical University, a constituent college of the National University of Ireland and, at one time, the largest seminary in world. It has educated many thousands of students and led the way in many branches of the arts and sciences.

Maynooth has a large number of alumni, found across all sectors of society internationally, and it is a tapestry of rich memories.

This sumptuously-illustrated book of more than 500 pages is a contribution to that rich tapestry. It includes pen pictures, personal reminiscences and sketches on aspects of the college’s life and history.

The contributors have all been associated with Maynooth in many different spheres, either as students or staff, and in many cases both. Some have offered images of their time at Maynooth; others, portraits of characters and personalities they encountered there. These pages are historical vignettes, part history, part folk history, part aide-mémoire to celebrate Maynooth on its 225th anniversary.

The contributors include current and former faculty and alumni, among them Eamon Martin, Mary O’Rourke, Frank McGuinness, Susan McKenna-Lawlor and Liam Lawton.

They include representatives of both Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth and Maynooth University. The contributions from former students and staff of the Theology Faculty and the National Seminary are joined by those from Celtic Studies, French, German, English, History, Mathematics, Experimental Physics, Music, Sociology, Ancient Classics, Anthropology, and from the Library staff.

It is a delight to be part of this book being launched in Maynooth this evening. My first essay looks at the history of Saint Mary’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish in Maynooth that abuts the college grounds: Saint Mary’s, The Parish Church that Looks Like Part of the College (pp 36-38).

My second essay recalls the day I received my degree at Maynooth: A ‘day in the sun’ in mid-November 1987 with RTÉ and the Cardinal (pp 363-365).

Dr Salvador Ryan has been Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, since 2008, and we have collaborated on many of his previous books. He has published widely in the areas of popular religion and ritual from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, in academic journals and edited book collections. He lives with his family and lives in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Dr John-Paul Sheridan is a priest of the Diocese of Ferns. He joined the staff at Saint Patrick's College Maynooth as Education Programmes Coordinator and now lectures in Religious Educations and Catechesis, Liturgy and Children and Systematic Theology.

We Remember Maynooth: A College across Four Centuries, edited by Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan (Dublin: Messenger Publishing, 2020, 512 pp, hb, ISBN 9781788122634, €50).

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