Irish College in Paris

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The Irish College in Paris (Collège des Irlandais) was for three centuries a major Roman Catholic educational establishment, for Irish students. It was founded in the late 16th century, and closed down by the French government in the early 20th century. From 1945–97 the Polish seminary in Paris was housed in the building. It is now an Irish cultural centre, the Centre Culturel Irlandais.[1]

Foundation[edit]

The founder was the Reverend John Lee, an Irish priest who came to Paris, in 1578, with six companions, and entered the Collège Montaigu. Having completed his studies he became attached to the Church of St. Severin, and made the acquaintance of a French nobleman, John de l'Escalopier. He was President of the Parliament of Paris, and placed at the disposal of the Irish students in Paris a house, which served them as a college, of which Father Lee became the first rector about 1605.

Seventeenth century[edit]

By letters patent dated 1623, Louis XIII conferred upon the Irish priests and scholars in Paris the right to receive and possess property. The Irish college was recognised as a seminary by the University of Paris in 1624, and at that time it had already sent a large number of priests to the mission in Ireland.[citation needed] But the college founded by Father Lee was not spacious enough to receive the numerous Irish students who came to Paris. Some of them continued to find a home in the Collège Montaigu, others in the Collège de Boncour, while some, who were in affluent circumstances, resided in the Collège de Navarre. This situation attracted the attention of Vincent de Paul and others, who sought to provide them with a more suitable residence.[citation needed]

Later still, in 1672, it engaged the attention of the bishops of Ireland, who deputed Dr. John O'Mollony, Roman Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, to treat with Colbert as to the establishment of a new college. What the bishops desired was eventually obtained, through the influence of two Irish priests resident in Paris: Dr. Patrick Maginn, formerly first chaplain to Queen Catherine, wife of Charles II of England, and Dr. Malachy Kelly, one of the chaplains of Louis XIV. These two ecclesiastics obtained from Louis XIV authorisation to enter on possession of the Collège des Lombards, a college of the University of Paris founded for Italian students in 1333. They rebuilt the college, then in ruins, at their own expense, and became its first superiors. The acquisition of the college was confirmed by letters patent dated 1677 and 1681. Some years later the buildings were extended by Dr. John Farely, and all the Irish ecclesiastical students in Paris found a home in the Collège des Lombards.[citation needed]

Eighteenth century[edit]

The number of students went on increasing until, in 1764, it reached 160. It was therefore found necessary to build a second college. The building was commenced in 1769 in rue du Cheval Vert, now rue des Irlandais, and the junior section of the students was transferred to the new college in 1776. The Irish College in Paris was open to all the counties and provinces in Ireland. The students were divided into two categories, one, the more numerous, consisting of priests already ordained in Ireland, the other of juniors aspiring to orders. Both sections attended the university classes, either at the Collège de Plessis, or at that of Navarre, or at the Sorbonne. The course of study extended over six years, of which two were given to philosophy, three to theology, and one to special preparation for pastoral work. The more talented students remained two years longer to qualify for degrees in theology, or in canon law.[citation needed]

In virtue of the papal bull of Pope Urban VIII, Piis Christi fidelium, dated 10 July 1626, and granted in favour of all Irish colleges already established or to be established in France, Spain, Flanders, or elsewhere, the junior students were promoted to orders ad titulum missionis in Hiberniâ, even extra tempora, and without dimissorial letters, on the representation of the rector of the college – a privilege withdrawn, as regards dimissorial letters, by Pope Gregory XVI. The students in priestly orders were able to support themselves to a large extent by their Mass stipends. Many burses, too, were founded for the education of students at the Lombard college. Among the founders were nine Irish bishops, thirty-two Irish priests, four medical doctors, some laymen engaged in civil or military pursuits, and a few pious ladies. The college was governed in the eighteenth century by four Irish priests called provisors, one from each province of Ireland. They were elected by the votes of the students, and confirmed by the Archbishop of Paris, who, as superior major, nominated one of them to the office of principal. In 1788, the system of government by provisors was abolished, and one rector appointed.

In 1792 the two Irish colleges in Paris, namely the Collège des Lombards, and the junior college, rue du Cheval Vert, were closed, as were all the other Irish colleges in France. The closing of the colleges on the Continent deprived the bishops of Ireland of the means of educating their clergy. They therefore petitioned the British Government for authorisation to establish an ecclesiastical college at home. The petition was granted, and Maynooth College was founded in 1795. In support of their petition the bishops submitted a statement of the number of Irish ecclesiastics receiving education on the Continent when the French Revolution began.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, forty students of the Irish college in Paris were raised to the episcopal bench. Over the period 1660 to 1730, more than sixty Irishmen held the office of procurator of the German nation – one of the four sections of the faculty of arts in the ancient university. Dr. Michael Moore, an Irish priest, held the office of principal of the Collège de Navarre, and was twice elected rector of the university. Many Irishmen held chairs in the university. Dr. Sleyne was professor at the Sorbonne. Dr. Power was professor of the college at Lisieux; Dr. O'Lonergan at the college of Reims. Dr. John Plunkett, Dr. Patrick J. Plunkett, and Dr. Flood, superiors or provisors of the Irish college, were in succession royal professors of theology at the Collège de Navarre.

Nineteenth century[edit]

After the French revolution, the Irish college in Paris was re-established by a decree of the first consul, and placed under the control of a board appointed by the French Government. To it were united the remnants of the property of the other Irish colleges in France which had escaped destruction. The college in Paris lost two-thirds of its endowments owing to the depreciation of French state funds, which had been reduced to one-third consolidated.

After the Bourbon Restoration, the French Government placed at the disposal of the British government three million and a half sterling, to indemnify British subjects in France for the losses they had sustained in the Revolution. In 1816 a claim for indemnity was presented on behalf of the Irish college. That claim was rejected by the privy council in 1825 on the grounds that the college was a French establishment. In 1832 the claim was renewed by Dr. M'Sweeny, director of the college, with the same result. Another attempt to obtain compensation was made by the Rev. Thomas McNamara in 1870. On 9 May in that year a motion was made in the House of Lords for copies of the awards in the case of the Irish college in 1825 and 1832. This step was followed up by a motion in the House of Commons for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the claims of the college to compensation for losses sustained during the French Revolution. The motion was introduced on 30 April 1875, by Isaac Butt, MP for Limerick, and, after a prolonged discussion, it was defeated by 116 to 54 votes.

After 1805 the administration of the college was subject to a "Bureau de Surveillance" which gave much trouble until it was dissolved by Charles X of France, in 1824. After that date, the superior, appointed on presentation of the four archbishops of Ireland, became official administrator of the foundations, subject to the minister of the interior, and at a later period to the minister of public instruction. The students no longer frequented the university. The professors were Irish priests appointed by the French Government on the presentation of the Irish episcopate. In 1858, with the sanction of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, and with the consent of the French Government, the bishops of Ireland placed the management of the college in the hands of the Irish Vincentian Fathers.

In the nineteenth century the college gave to the Catholic Church a wide array of good priests and bishops, including Dr. Fitz Patrick, Abbot of Melleray; Dr. Maginn, Coadjutor Bishop of Derry; Dr. Keane, of Cloyne; Dr. O'Hea and Dr. Fitz Gerald of Ross; Dr. Gillooly of Elphin, and Dr. Croke of Cashel. Dr. Kelly, the Bishop of Ross, and Dr. McSherry, vicar Apostolic at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, were also alumni of the college. Cardinal Logue held the chair of dogmatic theology from 1866 to 1874.[citation needed]

Alumni and rectors[edit]

In the three hundred years of its existence, the college has not been without a share in the ecclesiastical literature of Ireland. Among the rectors of the college have been Thomas Messingham, prothonotary Apostolic, author of the "Florilegium Insulæ Sanctorum" (Paris, 1624); Dr. Andrew Donlevy, author of an "Anglo-Irish Catechism" (Paris, 1742); Dr. Miley, author of "A History of the Papal States" (Dublin, 1852); Dr. Thomas McNamara, author of "Programmes of Sermons" (Dublin, 1880), "Encheiridion Clericorum" (1882), and several other similar works. Abbé Mageoghegan, Sylvester O'Hallaran, Martin Haverty, and probably Geoffrey Keating, all eminent Irish historians, were students of the college. Dean Kinane, a student and then a professor in the college, is widely known for his "Dove of the Tabernacle" and numerous other devotional works. More recently, the Rev. John MacGuinness, C. M., vice-rector, has published a full course of dogmatic theology. Amongst the rectors of the college were Dr. John Farley and Dr. John Baptist Walsh, in the eighteenth century, and Dr. MacSweeney and the Rev. Thomas MacNamara, in the nineteenth.[citation needed]

Last years[edit]

From 1873 the administration of the property of the college was with a board created by a decree of the Conseil d'Etat. On that board the Archbishop of Paris was represented by a delegate, and he was also the official medium of communication between the Irish episcopate and the French Government.[citation needed]

In December 1906, the law of separation of Church and State in France came into operation. In the following January, the French government notified the British Government of its intention to reorganise the Irish Catholic foundations in France so as to bring them into harmony with the recent legislation regarding the Church. It was further stated that the purpose of the Government was to close the Irish college, to sell its immovable property, and to invest the proceeds of the sale, to be applied together with the existing burses for the benefit of Irish students.[citation needed]

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