Irish Seminary Calls On Dioceses Its Priests Served For 200 Years

Posted: December 05, 1992

Fresh from Ireland, Father John McDonald is making an offer no American bishop can refuse.

"We feel we have a lien on the bishops," said Father McDonald, the president of St. Patrick's College, a small Roman Catholic seminary in Carlow, a town south of Dublin.

For nearly 200 years, St. Patrick's College has been sending new priests to the United States. Since the college was founded in 1793, 1,200 have crossed the Atlantic, and today 300 Carlow-trained priests, including 26 in New Jersey, work in American parishes.

Hence the lien.

Father McDonald and Father Patrick J. Brophy, a former past president of the college, have been skipping around the United States for the last month coaxing a little cash from the diocesan accounts of American bishops.

So far, they have met more than 35 members of the hierarchy, and yesterday it was Camden Bishop James T. McHugh's turn.

St. Patrick's College educated priests at little or no cost to American dioceses, Father McDonald said, but the seminary in Ireland has no endowment and a $1.7 million bill for renovating its manor-like quarters.

The college hopes to raise $1 million in the United States through direct contributions from the bishops, collections in churches where alumni are serving and private contributions. Contributions can be sent to the St. Patrick's College Bicentennial Fund, in care of the Rev. Edward J. Dillon, 680 W. Peachtree St. N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30308-1984.

"Their contribution has been enormous not only in this area, but throughout the United States," Bishop McHugh said of the graduates of St. Patrick's College. "We are more than receptive to their fund-raising efforts here, and we would encourage the American people to recognize their contribution."

"Most of the bishops would freely admit that they have an obligation," Father McDonald said. He met Bishop McHugh at St. Mary's Church in Cherry Hill, where one of the priests, Father John Killeen, is a St. Patrick's alumnus.

Father McDonald said the fund-raising drive was concentrating on bishops who have alumni in their diocese. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, there are no longer any priests from Carlow, and Father McDonald said there wasn't much potential to raise money. The two Irish priests met yesterday with a representative of Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

"We didn't push them," said Father McDonald. "If we can get anything in Philadelphia, we'll be doing well. That's the reality."

St. Patrick's College does, however, have strong historical connections with the city and its Pennsylvania suburbs. In 1842, a group of Augustinian priests based in Philadelphia, including a Carlow alumnus, Patrick Moriarty, bought land outside the city for Villanova University.

Another famous alumnus was John England, the first bishop of Charleston, S.C., who founded the first Catholic newspaper in the nation. Bishop England, an accomplished speaker and a high-profile advocate of the separation of church and state, was also the first Catholic clergyman to address Congress, when he described Catholic doctrine for two hours in 1826. President John Quincy Adams even dropped in to hear him speak.

"In many ways, we are trading on the past," Father McDonald said of his trip through the United States.

Indeed, the college ordains only three or four priests a year now, compared with 34 at its peak. It also has 150 lay students. Of the 35 seminarians in the college, only two plan to go the United States when they are ordained; Ireland no longer has a priest surplus.

"The whole movement of priests and nuns to Ireland was a gift from Ireland to the United States, and the whole nation has profited from it," Father Brophy said.

But, he added, those days are done.

The college's promotional literature says as much.

"Your pledged gift . . . is a visible investment in the future of the church," a brochure reads. "You may never see the young men who train there, or the laymen and women who study with them, but you will know that you have directly supported them and their commitment to serve the church into the next century."

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