By Eoin Kelleher
“WHATEVER you do, do it well.” The educational philosophy of St Patrick’s College has served it well for the past 175 years, allowing it to grow from humble origins into the Third Level College of Education it is today, Rev Fr Tom Fogarty told guests and dignitaries at a Civic Reception held on Thursday in the Source Library, marking the College’s 175th Anniversary.
Some 1,600 priest and clergy have been ordained in the College in that time, many going on to serve as far afield as Australia, California, New Zealand, South Africa, and Florida.
“The vast majority did outstanding work in spreading the gospel all over the world,” said Fr Fogarty. “The College takes it responsibilities very seriously, and is committed to producing teachers of the highest calibre”, added Fr Fogarty, who thanked the Town Council, people of Thurles, and the wider county for always supporting the College.
St Patrick’s long and storied history was recalled by Mayor of Thurles, Cllr John Kennedy. Thurles was a “very squalid town” in 1837 when the first stones were put in place to build the new College, observed the late Cardinal Henry Newman.
But the College has “risen from the ashes a number of times” like a Phoenix, Archbishop Dermot Clifford told guests, and is now linked to the University of Limerick, providing a wide range of courses in education, theology and business.
Present at the reception were County Manager Joe McGrath, Town Manager Matt Shortt, Town Clerk Michael Ryan, Fr Tomas O’Connell, Fr Joseph Walsh, Fr Martin Hayes, along with Town Councillors, invited guests, lecturers, teachers, and students.
Cllr John Kennedy said it gave him great pleasure to confer a Civic Reception to the College. “The Town Council deemed it appropriate for the local authority to recognise the College on reaching such a milestone,” he said.
“St. Patrick’s College stands alongside Semple Stadium, Hayes Hotel and the Cathedral as ‘flagship’ buildings in Thurles which are recognised throughout Ireland and further afield.
“St. Patrick’s College owes its existence to the vision and generosity of Archbishop Patrick Everard who donated the significant sum of 10,000 pounds for the purpose of founding a college in Thurles. The foundation stone was laid on the 6th. July, 1829, by Archbishop Laffan in the presence of Daniel O’Connell and a large gathering. Fr. Thomas O’Connor, a curate in Thurles parish who was subsequently appointed the first President of the College, was assigned to oversee the construction of the College. Eighteen pupils entered the College on the opening day – 1st. September, 1837.
“Since 1837 St. Patrick’s College has been part of the fabric of Thurles with its imposing entrance off Cathedral Street opposite the Cathedral and the long tree lined avenue to the main entrance. The current entrance was one of the improvements carried out for the National Synod which was held in the College in 1850. One of the decrees of the Synod was the decision to establish a Catholic University in Ireland.
St. Patrick’s College was put forward as temporary location in which to launch the University. For a time Dr. Newman, Rector of the Catholic University, later Cardinal seemed favourable to Thurles but following a visit to Thurles wrote: ‘this would never do for a site – a large fine building but on a forlorn waste, without a tree, in a forlorn country and a squalid town.’”
St. Patrick’s College for most of its 175 years has been seminary dedicated to the training of priests for service at home and abroad.
Past students of the College have given distinguished service to the Church at home and abroad. “I noted in my research on the College that the first bishop of Salt Lake City Dr. Lawrence Scanlon, a native of Gaile, Moycarkey, is a past student of the College. Thurles Town Council at the behest of Fr. Paddy Carley, Iona Avenue, also a past pupil of this College, entered a twinning arrangement with Salt Lake City in 2000 and I had the opportunity of making an official visit to Salt Lake City.
“During the past 175 years St. Patrick’s College had to meet many challenges and showed a resilience and capacity to adapt to changed circumstances. I think it is fair to say that the College met its most serious challenge for survival in recent years with the very sharp decline in vocations to the priesthood.
“However St. Patrick’s College, as in the past, adapted to meet this challenge – it is now a College of Education, primarily specialising in preparing students to teach in post-primary schools – offering two full time BA in Education degrees. I would like to congratulate Fr. Tom on his leadership in taking the College along this new path.
“I wish to acknowledge the co-operation of the College Authorities with the local authority over the years. In the 1920s the Archbishop and College purchased stock to create a fund for the implementation of an electric light scheme for Thurles. I note from the minutes that, at a meeting held on Tuesday 16th. September, 1924, the Chairman explained that the stock held by the Archbishop for the convents, colleges etc would be represented by the Adm, President and Vice President of the College - Rev Canon M K Ryan, Rev M J Ryan and Rev Cooke.
“The land on which the Shopping Centre and Erin Foods is located was made available at the time by the College for the building of two factories – Phoenix Yarns and Erin Foods.
“The land on which this facility is built was also donated by the College for the princely sum of £1.00 by the College for a carpark and swimming pool. I would like to thank the College for their co-operation in the past and feel that the same co-operation will be forthcoming into the future if required.”
The evening ended with a formal presentation of a Crystal Vase, presented by Cllr Kennedy to Fr Fogarty.