Irish Colleges on the Continent: Alcala, Seville and Lisbon

From the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, October, 1872:

The two interesting notices which have appeared on the Irish Colleges abroad make us conscious of the great blanks in our ecclesiastical history [see article below – shane], and make us feel the keenest regret at not knowing something more concerning the men, who, like Stapleton and Carney, served their Church and country in those colleges. Many of them who exercised great influence for good in their generation, and worked with zeal for the welfare of fatherland, dropped into such oblivion that even their names have remained unknown for more than two hundred years. One of these was “the very venerable Father James O’Carney,” of the Society of Jesus. Although he cannot well be identified with the Father James Carney mentioned in the July Record, (1) he was intimately connected with the Irish College of Salamanca, and, consequently, deserves a passing notice in our sketches of the Irish Colleges of the Continent.

F. Redan or Reade, S.J., in the preface to his Commentary on the Machabees, gives the following account of this distinguished Irishman: —

“I had made up my mind to reject all the favourable judgments of my friends on this Commentary. It is quite clear from the many encomiastic judgments prefixed by other writers to their works, that such things are not so much proofs of the merit of the books as pledges of friendship or marks of fulsome flattery. However, I have made an exception in favour of one anagram, on account of the most singular virtue of its author, whose name is worthy of everlasting remembrance.

“It was discovered without my knowledge among the papers of the late very venerable Father James O’Carney, (2) and without my knowledge was composed by him when he was reading the manuscript of this volume. Before he had time to report on my book to the Very Rev. F. General, death snatched him away from us. Though not advanced in years he was ripe for heaven, and had given so many and such singular proofs of his religious perfection, that he may justly be numbered among the great ornaments of his country and of our Society.

“He was born at Cashel of very respectable and pious parents. Having received a very solid classical education in his native town, he went to Spain in order to apply himself to those higher studies which English bigotry prohibited in Ireland. He had read philosophy in the Irish College of Compostella, and had already entered on his course of theology here in the Irish College of Salamanca, when he joined the Society in the year 1621. His soul, which seemed formed to virtue, soon rose to the highest perfection, and his singular integrity of life and his brilliant talents shone out with more lustre than before. These rare gifts of nature and grace were crowned by great humility. He said in all seriousness, that one of his reasons for entering the Society was, that, on account of the great number of its learned men, he might lie hid and devote himself to the lowlier functions of the service of God.”

“However, he surpassed all his schoolfellows, and he defended the theological theses which only the leading theologians are chosen to defend. He sustained them first in the College of Valledolid, and afterwards before a crowded audience in the University of Salamanca. On both occasions he distinguished himself by his acumen, his dexterity, and the modesty of his words and bearing. One of the doctors of the University who argued against him, and who was “not very well affected towards the Society, said: ‘I admire the genius of this Jesuit, but I admire his modesty still more.’ F. O’Carney had such absolute command over his temper and his tongue, that the heat of discussion did not wrest a hasty word, or look, or gesture from him; so careful was he in the practice of all virtues, and in the observance of even the minutest rules, that he was called a St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and was looked on as a model and mirror of religious discipline.

“This good father was worthy of admiration, not only in his scholastic career, but in all the acts of his life. During the two years previous to his death he resided in the College of Compostella as spiritual director. With the exception of those two years, his whole life was spent in governing the Irish College of Salamanca, of which he was not only the President, but the preserver. Most assuredly he saved it from ruin more than once. In most difficult times and most trying circumstances, he received from God greater aid than is given according to His ordinary Providence. How great was his love for God and his neighbour, how great was his passion for prayer and mortification, how mild he was to others, and how hard towards himself, and with what untiring efforts he struggled towards perfection, it were hard to tell; and all that will, doubtless, be treated of at full length by another writer.

“He was an indefatigable workman, assiduous in hearing confessions; an admirable director of consciences, and such a master of spiritual life, that he conducted many souls to a high degree of perfection. He used to attend the sick most frequently and most readily in hospitals, in prisons, and in their homes. He often spent whole nights watching by their death-beds, and preparing them for eternity; and he was so successful in this work of charity, that all whom he attended at their exit from this life, were believed to have died a most happy death. So general was this belief, that there was no one in the whole city who would wish to die without the consoling presence of F. O’ Carney.

“However, his zeal was not confined to the city of Salamanca: he preached, catechised, and performed all the other functions of the Society in various towns and villages, in which his burning apostolic zeal was rewarded and crowned by most abundant and happy results for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. While at home in the College, as often and as far as his important duties allowed him, he privately devoted himself to train to piety candidates for Holy Orders or for the Irish Mission. He tried to give them a good practical knowledge of Moral Theology, and he was well qualified for that task, as he had, for some time, professed that faculty with the greatest distinction, and had been all along examiner of the clergy, having been named to that office by Diocesan Synods and by the will of the Archbishops.

“In the midst of so many distracting duties he observed the most watchful care of religious perfection; his heart and soul were always turned tranquilly to God; the composure of his countenance was a mark of the serenity of his soul; his eyes were always modestly cast down; he kept watch and ward over all his words and all his senses, and spent a long time every day in prayer and meditation. In addition to the hour’s meditation, made by every member of the Society, he often gave another hour to prayer before he began his daily work. To the examination of his soul, and to the consideration of his state before God, he devoted more than half a day every week, and a whole day every month. Every year he spent at least eight days in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, during which time he often remained the whole night in earnest prayer, and always meditated for seven hours of the day. At all times he celebrated Mass slowly and most devoutly; but during Retreat, when saying Mass privately, he used to remain two or three hours at the altar. He always recited the Holy Office on bended knees, and with the greatest attention and devotion. Wherever he perceived the Blessed Sacrament exposed, there he remained a long time on his knees, praying, adoring, and immovable.

“His obedience was most prompt, his self-contempt marvellous, his dress poor and usually torn, and his cell without furniture.

“His conscience was unsullied, and far removed from all serious transgression, and this innocence he guarded with the bond of a special vow, which he kept inviolate to his last breath. Very often he took his night’s rest on the ground or on a board ; his diet was very sparing, his fasts were frequent. Every day he wore a hair shirt, and took the discipline, and bore round his waist a chain armed with iron hooks and points. He used these and other instruments of penance with such earnestness and sternness that the Superiors were obliged to recommend him to moderate his love for mortification, lest his attenuated frame might sink under the severity of such treatment.

“It is no wonder that a man endowed with such rare talents and virtues was highly esteemed and dearly beloved by all who knew him. As often as the two archbishops visited their dioceses in the exercise of their pastoral office, they took F. O’Carney with them, that they and their clergy might have the advantage of his example, his learning and advice. They were Cardinal Augustin de Spinola, and Archbishop de Andrada y Sotomayor. The latter was very much afflicted at the news of the Father’s impending death, visited him during his illness, and ordered the best medical advice and help to be procured at the expense of His Grace.

“As soon as it became known to the public that his life was in danger, the whole city was filled with incredible consternation, and in some religious houses public prayers were ordered and Masses were offered up for his recovery. Meanwhile he gave, during his illness, fresh proofs of his solid virtue. His sole delight was to speak of heaven, to think of God, and to converse on spiritual things, on death and on the time of his own dissolution, which he looked on as imminent, and looked forward to with longing and a feeling of pleasure. Even on the first day of his illness, and often afterwards, he foretold that he should soon die and how he should die. Not only so, but five years previously he foretold the time of his death, and even predicted many other things which came to pass. Hence some learned men, who were well acquainted with his many virtues, were persuaded that he was gifted with prophetic light.

“He received the announcement of his approaching death with the greatest gladness, and embraced tenderly the bearer of the good tidings, saying: ‘Haec dies quam fecit Dominus exultemus et laetemur in ea.’ Then he eagerly asked the Superior’s leave to receive the Viaticum kneeling on the ground, and then he earnestly asked and obtained the favour of dying on the floor on a mattress. He died, as he had predicted, as calmly as if he were only going asleep. His funeral was attended by the Archbishop, by nearly all the canons of the Apostolic Church, by great numbers of the nobility and gentry, and by crowds of the people, who gave vent to their sorrow by their loud lamentations and their tears. On the day after his burial a solemn Mass and office were celebrated for his soul in our church by the various religious bodies of the town. This excellent man died on the 26th of July, 1648, in the fiftieth year of his age, and the fourteenth after his solemn profession of four vows.” (3)

The lucky epigram to which we are indebted of Father James O’Carney is prefixed to Father Redan’s “Commentaria in Libros Machabaeorum,” and it runs as follows:


Rupe quid asperius? Nardo quid olentius? Et tu
Asper es ut rupes, ut bona nardus oles.
Asper es ut rupes, dum construis aspera bella,
Dum recolis palmas, ut bona nardus oles.
Asper es ut rupes Fidei dum proteris hostes,
Dumque Fidem servas ut bona nardus oles.
Asper es ut rupes, vitiis dum pharmaca praebes,
Componens mores, ut bona nardus oles.
Asper es ut rupes, patriae pro nomine pugnans,
Dum patriam relevas, ut bona nardus oles.
Asper es ut rupes, dum corripis Antiochistas,
Dum Macchabaeum effers, ut bona nardus oles.
Nardus es et rupes, ut miscens utile dulci,
Omne probes punctum scripta tulisse tua.
Nardus es et rupes, ut Petrus Petra voceris:
Et mala bella dolens, et bona semper olens.”

E. I. H.

(1) See Record, No. xciv., p. 469. Article by W. M’D.

(2) I translate Karnoeus, O’Carney, as I know that James’s kinsman, Barnabas Karnseus, was called Bryan O’Carney.

(3) Praefatio to Redan’s Commentaria on the Machabees. Operis hujus Commendatio anagrammate et epigrammate significata.



A subject of deep interest to Irish Catholics is the history and present state of their Ecclesiastical Colleges founded in foreign countries since the Reformation. These establishments were, under God, the chief means of preserving the pure faith in Ireland, and surely the memory of their pious founders and benefactors should be cherished by our clergy and people. Yet no effort has been made, as far as we know, by any Catholic writer, if we except the learned notice of the Irish College, Paris, in our own pages, to rescue from oblivion even the names of the holy men who, by founding seminaries for the instruction of Irish priests, rendered such signal services to our creed and country.

This omission, neglect, or indifference we cannot hope to supply, because the sources of our information are often scanty, and some of them not now within our reach. But we feel we shall discharge a sacred duty by directing attention to the subject, and by drawing even a rough outline, which we trust will be soon filled up by some more competent hand. We purpose, then, to give a brief notice of the Irish Colleges abroad, in the order of their foundation, according to the usually received dates, and in this paper we shall treat of the Irish Colleges of Alcala, Seville, and Lisbon.

Royal Irish College of St. George the Martyr, Alcala, Spain


The Irish College at Alcala was founded about A.D. 1590, by Baron George Sylveira, a Portuguese nobleman, who was descended, through his mother, from the McDonnells of Ulster. On the college chapel, dedicated to St. George, Martyr, he expended 1,000, and gave 2,000 per annum for ever for the maintenance of twenty Irish students, four masters, and eight servants. These very minute directions in the Baron’s will were clearly intended to secure, as far as he could, the application of the funds to the specified purpose. (1)


For the use of English Catholics, the well-known Jesuit father, Robert Parsons, (2) founded the College of St. Gregory the Great, at Seville, A.D. 1592, but as the revenues were insufficient, it was given over to the Irish before the close of the 18th century. (3) An effort had been made previously, about A.D. 1614, to establish a college for the Irish mission, chiefly through the zeal and energy of Don Felix de Guzman, archdeacon and canon of Seville, a dignitary of noble lineage and of distinguished piety. This apostolic priest used every exertion to promote the good of the new foundation. He applied to King Philip III for his support, which was promised in a letter dated at Lisboa, July 25th, 1619. Through the king’s influence chiefly, the Jesuit fathers were induced to take charge of the college, under whose government it remained until the suppression of the order.

The income was always scanty, and the number of students necessarily limited. Their uniform was a dark blue cassock, bound with a green sash or girdle. They attended all the lectures in art, philosophy, and theology in the College of St. Hermenegild, under the professors of the society. Zuniga, our chief authority, closes his account of the Irish College of Seville thus: — “The students, after receiving orders, return home disguised in a secular dress, to promote the Christian cause in their own country, which has derived, so far, most important aid from their pastoral zeal.” (4)


Harris says that the College of Lisbon was founded in 1595 by Ximenes, a Spanish nobleman, “who is buried there, and a weekly Mass offered for his soul . . . At its first foundation the Irish seculars were prefects of it; but now the Portuguese Jesuits govern it, and it supports -not half the number it was founded for. Each student, at the expiration of his studies, receives £5 to pay his passage to Ireland, a gallon of wine, and some flour for biscuit. One Leigh, an Irish merchant, was a benefactor to it, and is interred in one of the chapels there.” (5)

The foundation of our college at Lisbon dates farther back than 1595. Juvencius, in his History of the Society, states that the college was opened, in 1593, by Father John Howling, an Irish priest, whose holy mission it was to watch the Irish refugees, and to afford them protection. In 1593 he received into the new college 30 boys, who fled from persecution in Ireland. But there was a still earlier effort to establish an Irish college in Lisbon, probably some twenty years before. There was certainly then a school or seminary, perhaps not deserving the name of college, which was conducted by Irish priests for the use of the Irish Mission. The tradition in the College of Lisbon is distinct and decisive on this point. Our account is chiefly derived from the late Most Rev. Dr. Crotty, Bishop of Cloyne and Ross, who had been Professor and Rector of St. Patrick’s in Lisbon for twenty years, and knew thoroughly its history from its first origin. Though the college existed long before the time of Ximenes, he got the credit of founding it, because for many years it had no settled revenue, being supported by the voluntary contributions of a few noblemen and merchants, who felt sympathy for their persecuted Irish brethren, and a zeal for religion. When these pious offerings began to fail, Don Antonio Fernandez Ximenes provided out of his own purse for the maintenance of the college, changed its site, and thus came to be looked upon as its first founder. He purchased the grounds of the convent of Discalced Carmelites, repaired the old building, and gave out of his own income means for the permanent support of fourteen students. With them he resided during the last years of his life, and bequeathed to them all his property, upon the failure of legitimate male issue of his body.

The brother of Ximenes was also a generous benefactor, and his nephews protected the Irish seculars against some unworthy scheme to alienate their just heritage.

The first rector was Father White, an Irish Jesuit, and the priests of the Society continued in charge of the college until the great earthquake of 1755. It was then presided over by a Portuguese Jesuit, who, perhaps from age or natural timidity, showed much weakness in a trying hour. While the city was still in flames, he called the students together, and exhorted them warmly not to remain longer within its unhallowed precincts. God had, indeed, so far specially protected them, for although 60,000 of the citizens perished in the first shock, or in the conflagration yet raging, their college suffered no harm, they could not hope that the same special protection would be vouchsafed to them for ever. They should now seize the first opportunity of returning home, and thus avoid the death which seemed otherwise inevitable. This address did not influence the students much. If they escaped unhurt hitherto, they said, they owed that blessing to God, who would give His heavenly aid in further peril. They told the rector boldly that they knew full well their danger, but were resolved rather to die than go back to Ireland without having accomplished the great end for which they had left home and kindred. Among those most determined in resisting the suggestion or order of the President were the Rev. P. Sherlock, afterwards P.P. of Meath-street, Dublin, and Mr. M. Brady, who was destined, as we shall see, to have a great share in the varying fortunes of the College. They were determined not to leave the house while a stone remained upon a stone. It was the property of the Irish nation, confided to their care, and they should guard it at any sacrifice.

If there was that imminent danger which the rector dreaded, and pictured so vividly to them, why not retire for a few days to their country house, leaving only two or three students in the city? They felt it their conscientious duty not to shrink from danger. This was, they said, the first lesson taught them at home, and the first lesson which they should teach others on their return. The rector might go away if he choose they never would.

This strong remonstrance had a wholesome effect; the Rector and a large number of the students, leaving only a few volunteers on duty, withdrew to the country house. On their arrival, they found it, to their great surprise, a heap of ruins, the effects of the great shock having been more terrible there than in the immediate suburbs.

The Irish youths did not anticipate this trial, but they fearlessly resolved not to be overcome by it. While some were engaged in pulling out the broken rafters and boards, others prepared a canvas covering. A shed was thus improvised in a few hours, which gave sufficient shelter in the unusually mild season which happily followed the earthquake. These young men had suffered greater privations, and just escaped the most dreadful and sudden calamity that, perhaps, ever visited a city. They thought little of their inconvenient quarters, and in a short time learned to be cheerful and contented.

One day, as they were amusing themselves in their recreation ground, a venerable father of the Society, familiarly and affectionately called Father John of Antwerp, remarked how thoughtless they seemed to be in the midst of danger. “Don’t you notice,” he said to the first group that saluted him, “how your rector rides off on his mule early in the morning to the Ajudas, where the king and court are now in tents. His only object in these visits is to obtain a royal order for your instant removal. The scheme will succeed unless you appeal to the king’s confessor, who will protect you against the fears of this old man, whose mind is actually weakened by the remembrance of the scenes in the city.”

Early next morning, as soon as the rector set off on his mule, two of the students hurried to the king’s confessor, a Dominican friar, and a pious and learned priest, who received them most kindly, entered at once into their views, and promised to lay their case before his Majesty at the earliest opportunity. On the next day but one the royal decision was announced. The rector was ordered to remain in charge of the College, while the students would be provided for in the College of Evora until the end of their course. Thus far the students saved, for a time, the revenues of the College, but a worse fate still awaited it. When the Jesuits were banished from Portugal, and their property seized on by the crown, the funds of the Irish College in Lisbon were also confiscated, on the plea that the College was in the hands of the Society, and belonged to them. In vain did the Irish bishops protest against this glaring spoliation. The unscrupulous Pombal would heed no remonstrance. As the property, he said, was given by Ximenes, it should now revert to his family. The Irish bishops were equally resolved not to submit to this injustice. At a solemn meeting held in Dublin, they deputed Dr. Carpenter, once a student in Lisbon, then a curate in Dublin, afterwards Archbishop, to represent to the King of Portugal, the grievous wrong done to the Irish Catholics by seizing on the funds of their College. Pombal not only insisted on his own measure being carried out, but insolently told Dr. Carpenter that, if in his power, he would treat the Irish as he did the Portuguese Jesuits.

After this answer, Dr. Carpenter thought it useless to press his claim further, and returned at once to Ireland. One of the alumni of Lisbon, who removed to Evora, was young Michael Brady, the unflinching advocate of the College, as we have seen, in its hour of need. He was a man of rare acquirements, a ripe classical scholar, and reputed the ablest canonist of his time. He was, besides, an accomplished linguist, and conversed with ease and elegance in French and German. He had hardly finished his studies at Evora, when he was invited by the Marquis of Pombal to accept the professorship of Greek in the magnificent college of the Nobles, just then established. No better choice could have been made, and Dr. Brady’s services were gratefully remembered in Portugal. To him and to his friend, Dr. Birmingham, afterwards rector of Salamanca, is justly ascribed the glory of reviving the study of the Greek language in the Peninsula.

When thus placed in a position of trust, Dr. Brady did not forget his old alma mater. He urged so repeatedly the necessity of restoring the revenues to the Irish college, that Pombal more than once rudely interrupted him when referring to that subject. The day of retribution, however, is sure to come, though it may sometimes appear to men slow. Pombal lost all his power, fell into disgrace, and died, almost in a prison cell, detested at home and abroad. The Irish College was opened again soon after his death, and Dr. Brady, now emeritus professor of the Nobles, was appointed its first worthy rector in 1782. He continued to rule the college until he died, in 1801, full of years and merits.

He was succeeded by the Rev. Dr. Crotty, who was one of the first pupils of the re-established college, and a professor from 1791. He held office until 1811, when he returned to Cloyne, became P.P., and with the old fondness for college life, took charge of a little seminary. On the 13th of November, 1813, Dr. Crotty was elected President of Maynooth College, and consecrated Bishop of Cloyne, 11th June, 1833. Few Irish priests were better known and more esteemed than this venerable man. He filled the highest and most difficult positions in our church, and was always distinguished by his graceful manners and zealous devotion to duty. He died on the 4th of October, 1846, and is buried in the convent chapel at Middleton.

Dr. Crotty’s successor in the rectorship of Lisbon was the Rev. Dr. Dunne, P.P. of Palmerstown, county Dublin, who, at the urgent request of the Irish bishops, left his parish, and devoted himself for a long time most zealously to the improvement of the College. After his return to Ireland, the Rev. Mr. Joyce was appointed rector, and held that office in the early part of 1839, when the writer had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.

This last date reminds us that we have unconsciously come too near our own time. The further history of the Irish College of Lisbon we must leave to living witnesses of its revival, and, we sincerely trust, of more than its former glory.

The revenues of the Lisbon house, always inadequate to the support of more than a dozen students, were by no means improved after its restoration. The superiors received little or no recompense. Dr. Brady lived on his pension from the Nobles, which he enjoyed to the last day of his life. Dr. Crotty was passing rich on a salary of £7 a year as professor, and the dignity of rector brought him only £4 more annually. Before the suppression of the Society the number of students hardly ever exceeded fourteen; afterwards it increased to thirty, and sometimes forty or more, partly owing to the disturbed state of France, and partly to the dissensions in the Irish College at Paris, and the strong condemnation of its government by the Irish Bishops. All these young men paid for their maintenance. Hence, after the peace of 1815, the number fell again to the average of twelve or fourteen on the foundation. Nor was even this state of things destined to be of long duration, for after the civil war in Portugal, the College of Lisbon was closed for a long period, Father Joyce having, in the meantime, obtained merely permission to remain in charge of the building. Though the revenues of the College were insufficient, and the number of students very limited, the building itself was very well designed and commodious, and always kept in good repair.

Whatever may have been the faults of those who presided over the College of Lisbon, they were at least free from the charge which the Roman historian looked upon as the great disgrace of his own age, “aetas incuriosa suorum.” In its records are inscribed the names of its alumni, most distinguished for learning and piety, and excellent portraits of the Irish Bishops who studied there Burke (Tuam), Talbot, Russell, Carpenter (Dublin), Verdon (Ferns), Kelly (Waterford), Crotty (Cloyne) are still hung up in the large class hall.

(To be continued).


(1) See Harris’ Ware, I, p. 256; Anderson’s Sketches, p. 70, for fuller details.

(2) Of this celebrated man a good account is given in Dr. Oliver’s Collections, p. 157

(3) Zuniga (Annales Eccles. et secular de la Cuidad de Sevilla, p. 577), says it was held by the English down to 1677.

(4) D. Diego de Zuniga, Annales de Sevilla, Madrid, folio 1677, pp. 631-2.

(5)  Hams’ Ware, vol. i, p. 257; compare the interesting and learned biographical notice of F. FitzSimon in Record for March, 1872.


Posted on May 24, 2011, in Catholic Education, Irish Colleges on the Continent, Irish History, Persecution, Portugal, Reformation, Spain. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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