Pope John XXIII on Holy Cross College, Clonliffe

The following letter was sent by Bl. Pope John XXIII to the Most Rev. John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, on the occassion of the Centenary of Holy Cross College, Clonliffe (then the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Dublin):

The forthcoming celebration in your diocesan See, on the occasion of the Centenary of the foundation of the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Dublin is, to Our mind, entirely fitting and opportune. For if a Seminary, by reason of its object and its importance, has always been regarded by this Holy See as illustrious and worthy of veneration, it is indeed suitable that this Seminary, bearing the title of the Holy Cross and so distinguished in its beginnings and in its achievements, should be acclaimed.

The foundation of the Seminary in the year 1860 was the work of a most distinguished and eminently praiseworthy man, Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin, and former Rector of the Irish College and of the Roman College of Propaganda, who was raised to the Cardinalate by Our Predecessor, Pius IX, of happy memory, in recognition of his magnificent services on behalf of the Chair of Peter and of the Universal Church. He thought it wise to link the College, which was destined for students of Philosophy and Theology, to the Catholic University, which he had established six years before to the great benefit of the whole of Ireland.

But more than with the material foundations of the edifice, his concern, in the greatness of his soul, was with the outlook and spirit with which the students residing there should be imbued, taking care that they should be distinguished for their cultivation of virtue, for their earnest pursuit of learning and for their prompt obedience to the Vicar of Christ on earth.

It is only to be expected, therefore, that a Seminary, so illustrious in its founder and so auspicious in its beginnings, should forthwith not merely take root but that, with the number of its students, it should steadily grow and blossom forth with an abundance of marvellous fruit.

For from the Seminary went forth through all the years, without interruption, a great multitude of priests to labour in the archdiocese of Dublin. Their competence and conscientious devotion to duty have had this result, that the great multitude of the faithful there committed to their care are resplendent equally in the practice of their religion and in the integrity of their lives. This, to Our mind, could not have been otherwise; for the virtues of the priestly state with which these ministers of God were furnished — their piety and wisdom and learning — raised a hope that could not fail to be fulfilled.

In this institution of ecclesiastical training it is particularly gratifying to single out for praise two innovations gladly introduced by the Superiors, the importance of which must be evident to all: namely, the introduction of the Thirty Days’ Retreat, in accordance with the system of St. Ignatius, for all students at the beginning of their course of philosophical studies; and for the newly-ordained, an opportunity of performing their sacred functions publicly in the Seminary church, under the guidance of the Superiors and Professors, with a view to gaining experience in the ministry.

In this survey of the history of your Seminary, short though it may be, We cannot fail to mention the names of two personages whose virtues are renowned throughout the world: Abbot Columba Marmion, who was first a student and later a Professor in the College; and Matthew Talbot, who strove earnestly after great sanctity when he had been rescued from vice through the influence of one of the Professors of the College.

In view of all these considerations and for many reasons, the worthy celebration of this historic occasion, concerning which you have advised Us, has Our approbation. For We share your hope that henceforth, as a result of these celebrations, the thoughts of the faithful shall be turned more attentively towards this Seminary from which shall go forth the priests to whom they will entrust the salvation of their immortal souls.

May they not neglect any occasion of supporting it. It should be their primary conviction that there is nothing more desirable, nothing more advantageous open to them to do than to come to the aid of this, their Seminary, with no less zeal than heretofore, by increasing the numbers of aspirants to the priesthood upon whom the future hopes of the archdiocese chiefly rest.

The primary purpose, however, of these solemn rites and ceremonies, as you assure Us, is to direct the minds of the students of the present day to the example of those who have adored this House up to this time.

We exhort them to walk in the footsteps of their elders with such disposition of mind and will that they may not only emulate them as models of virtue but even, if it were possible, surpass them. May these young men foster in their hearts with the greatest zeal that respect for religion — so vainly repudiated by those who spurn the salvation of souls — upon which is based, in accordance with the precepts of Christ, the rule of conduct not only for the whole of life but also for the fulfilment of every priestly duty.

‘For young men will never persevere in perfect ecclesiastical discipline, except with a very special and almost singular grace of Almighty God, unless they have been fashioned in piety and religion from their tenderest years.’ (1)

Furthermore, let them train themselves within the walls of this House, like athletes in the gymnasium, in the exercise of those virtues that are proper to a man and to a Christian and to a priest and implant them so deeply in their souls, that no evil contagion may soil them when they go forth among their people but rather they will enkindle others by their example to integrity of life.

For this purpose, it is their duty to devote themselves thoroughly to the study of Theology and Philosophy and the sciences called social so that they may have no difficulty in resolving the difficulties that are being raised by scholars at the present time. Likewise, they should respect the sciences called secular, lest they may appear to others versed in them to be wanting in matters of common knowledge.

The cultivation of virtue and the training of mind and character are two matters that were the subject of a wise admonition by Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII: ‘The Clergy will most certainly fulfil completely and in full measure the duties entrusted to them wherever the Bishops take care that they have been provided in the seminaries with the mental and spiritual training which the dignity of the Christian priesthood and the conditions of the time demand. It is evident, therefore, that they should be outstanding in their reputation for learning and, what is of capital importance, outstanding in the fame of their virtue so that they may win the favour and respect of men.’

Finally, We exhort you, insistently, to continue without interruption, even as you are doing, the formation of these young men before they leave the shelter of the Seminary for the exercise of their sacred functions.

The value of this training will be twofold: on the one hand, they will not experience any distaste nor be affected by any discouragement when they are sent forth among the people who are entrusted to them. May these things, indeed, never happen to them! And, on the other hand, they will direct their attention to their work all the more zealously from the very beginning, as is their duty, without wasting any time during the springtime of their labours.

Venerable Brother, you have received these exhortations delivered from Our Father’s heart. You have already the pledge of assured success in your own zeal, in the diligence of those committed to your care, and especially in the grace that is liberally bestowed by God’s Providence. As a pledge of this divine assistance, We impart to you with all Our heart, to the Clergy of your diocese and especially to the Rector and Professors and students of the Seminary and to all the Faithful committed to your care, Our Apostolic Benediction.


(1) Council of Trent, Sess. 23, De Ref. c. 18


Posted on July 8, 2011, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Cardinal Paul Cullen, Celibacy, Irish Colleges on the Continent, Irish History, John XXIII, Matt Talbot, Vocations. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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