St. Patrick’s College Thurles Celebrates 175 Years Of “Highs And Lows”

Last Thursday, alumni gathered from home and abroad to join Most Rev. Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, in celebrating the 175th anniversary of St. Patrick’s College, in Thurles. The occasion was marked with a Mass, a meal, and the blessing of a monument erected earlier that day.

Last Thursday, alumni gathered from home and abroad to join Most Rev. Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, in celebrating the 175th anniversary of St. Patrick’s College, in Thurles. The occasion was marked with a Mass, a meal, and the blessing of a monument erected earlier that day.

Last Thursday, alumni gathered from home and abroad to join Most Rev. Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, in celebrating the 175th anniversary of St. Patrick’s College, in Thurles. The occasion was marked with a Mass, a meal, and the blessing of a monument erected earlier that day.

”Today is a red letter day” said Archbishop Clifford during the celebratory Mass.

“We’ve had many ups and downs, a bit like Katie Taylor. We thought we would be here today with many students for the priesthood, but it didn’t turn out that way. We are now in a new incarnation of St. Patrick’s College”.

Rev. Fr. Joe Egan from Boherlahan was once Spiritual Director at the College. While speaking of the challenges the College has overcome, and the ones it is yet to face, he quoted Nelson Mandela;
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”.
He said that it wasn’t the building they were celebrating that day, but the people in it who have “given it a rich and noble reputation”. He acknowledged that though much has been achieved, there is still much more to do, concluding Mandela’s quote;
“I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Concluding the Mass, Archbishop Clifford asked the congregation to pray that “the College will survive the coming years”, mentioning the recent closure of the Vatican embassy;

“The Vatican embassy was closed down because it was deemed to have no “economic value”. This College works in a similar way. Its value is spiritual, not monetary”.

When the Mass had ended, the crowd went out to the College grounds to witness the blessing of the monument. It was sculpted by Holycross-based sculptor Philip Quinn, and consists of five rocks; four outer rocks and a central standing stone. The outer rocks symbolise the College’s contribution in every direction, having educated priests and teachers across the English-speaking world. The central stone is pierced by a pluck and feather; a symbol of change and of getting something new from something old. According to the College’s president Rev. Fr. Tom Fogarty, the cross on top of the stone is identical to the one on top of the College. Around this stone is inscribed; “The stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone”.

While Archbishop Clifford valued the spiritual contribution the College has made to the community, Mayor Michael Cleary acknowledged it also has a clear economic benefit. 
“Thurles has been contributing to the country as a whole long before the GAA came along. There are over three hundred students studying in some capacity here, and a lot of them aren’t from Thurles. They spend their money in the town, they have their digs in the town, and the College directly employs over twenty people”.

Mr. Cleary and former president of the College Rev.Fr. Christie O’Dwyer agreed that St. Patrick’s could train their teachers for far less than the larger third-level institutions. Fr. O’Dwyer said their expenses were “infinitely smaller than big institution costs”.

In the last academic year the College had 230 full-time students. This was also the year their Academic Linkage Agreement was made official with the University of Limerick, and graduates from St Patrick’s now receive their degrees from UL. Shane Dempsey has been Academic coordinator at St. Patrick’s for the last four years, and is happy to see that “people can get a university education on their doorstep”.