History of Crescent College Comprehensive SJ
Jesuit schools in Limerick before the Crescent:
Early Jesuit schools existed in Limerick between 1565 and 1773. David Woulfe S.J., a native of Limerick, who came as the Popes envoy to Ireland in 1561, set up the first such school. His cousin, a Jesuit scholastic, Edmund Daniel (alias O’Donnell) aided him in running the school. William Goode, an English Jesuit also worked there, and we know about the school from letters written by Goode, which still exist.
There were no holidays at the school, but students were withdrawn by their parents at harvest time, to protect the crops from thieves. Classes took place in very confined space, and students could only attend class in rotation. Students first learned to read, and progressed to ‘read selected letters of Cicero or the dialogues of Frustius. The students copy all the works, as there are no books on sale’. They studied catechism either in English, or in Latin for the Irish speakers. Goode notes that the students were piously inclined and that they had devotions on the feast of patron saints, they prayed the rosary, and went to frequent confession and Communion.
Drama played an important part in Jesuit schools on the continent, and the first recorded school play was produced at the Limerick Jesuit school in 1566. It was about the birth of John the Baptist. The play was presented on the Feast of John the Baptist, and was well received by the local population.
In 1565 the city Council decided that the masters should be paid an annual salary of ten pounds, but this money was not accepted as this was to be raised as a levy on ships entering and leaving the port.
Under Queen Elizabeth, there were laws restricting the Catholic faith, and occasionally the sheriff and a captain of the soldiery raided the school. The school moved for a time to Kilmallock to avoid the attention of the authorities.
In 1572 Daniel was arrested, after he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy renouncing the Pope. Daniel was condemned to death, and executed in Cork on 25 th October 1572.
The sites of the early Jesuit schools in Limerick were at at Castle Lane off Nicholas Street, and at Jail Lane, and also for a short time at Kilmallock. A stone from the Castle Lane site, dated 1642, can be seen today at the corner of the Crescent and Newnham Street.
In 1859 at the request of Bishop John Ryan of Limerick, the Jesuits agreed to run the diocesan seminary school of St. Munchin at Hartstonge Street. This was a secondary school from which it was hoped boys would go on to become priests. By 1862 the Jesuits moved to Crescent House, where they offered a full curriculum, which included classical and modern languages, maths, physics, history, geography, and elocution. The school also had a ‘Mercantile Department’ in which ‘an extensive and accurate knowledge is imparted of arithmetic, book-keeping, abstracts and other requirements of the actuary’s office’. Young men were prepared there for ‘the university and the ecclesiastical colleges . the learned professions. the public service, civil and military’.
In 1864 the new Bishop of Limerick, Dr. George Butler, asked the Jesuits to also open a school specifically for poor boys, where no fees were charged, in addition to St. Munchins. And so St. Patrick’s school was opened in Bedford Row. The income from St. Munchins was meant to pay for both schools, but some students left the fee-paying section to enrol in the free school. The new school could not be sustained for financial reasons and because of the workload of the staff at Crescent, who also taught at St. Patrick’s. This school had to close within a year in 1865..
The Crescent lost many boys at 13 or 14 years to boarding schools. And this plight was worsened in 1867 when Bishop Butler decided to re-establish his own seminary at Hartstonge Street. A notable depletion in numbers followed at Crescent House, and the school’s only income was from the tuition fees of students.
The name of the school was changed to the Sacred Heart College. The arrival of a new generation of Jesuit teachers, notably Tom and Peter Finlay, brought a new vigour and prestige to the Crescent in the 1870’s. In 1879 when the results of the first nation-wide Intermediate Examinations were published, a Crescent boy, Charles Doyle, obtained first place in Ireland. This was seen as a triumph for Crescent, and for all schools that received no subsidy from the government.
In the early years the Crescent catered for around 100 pupils drawn from the professional classes, from the ranks of business people, city officials and strong farmers. Even by 1939 the school population remained under 130, and the Jesuit community was identified almost entirely with the upper and middle class population. In the 1940’s the school population grew to 300 boys.
At the time of the Irish war for independence, 1916 – 1922, a Jesuit called Fr. Hackett regularly invited Nationalist politicians to school debates at the Crescent, and he formed a group of Crescent students, called the Crescent Volunteers, modelled on the Irish Volunteers, who drilled with arms and live ammunition. The Chief Superintendent of the police in Limerick sent his son to the Crescent, and young Harold Craig joined Fr. Hackett’s volunteers, and became a fervent nationalist. His memories of this time exist in a tape-recorded interview. After the setting up of the Irish Free State in 1922, his superiors sent Fr. Hackett to Australia, probably at the request of the new Government. In Australia Fr. Hackett took a strong interest in social issues.
In the 1960’s entered the free-education system introduced by former pupil and Minister for Education, Donagh O’Malley. Land was purchased at Dooradoyle, in the suburbs, for a new school, and the Minister O’Malley proposed that the new school should become a comprehensive school. The Provincial, Fr. Cecil McGarry agreed, as the Jesuits were attracted by the possibility of returning to the early Jesuit method of funding education, where a sponsor would provide funding, and where the Order could involve itself is assisting children from all backgrounds, including those from disadvantaged areas.
The new Headmaster, Fr. Tom Morrissey entered into lengthy negotiations with the Department of Education to have a Central Concourse, which would promote community, and to have extensive playing fields at the new site. A stone inscribed ‘IHS 1642′, done in the style of the Jesuit seal, was transferred from the possible site of an early Jesuit school, and incorporated into foundation stone ofthe new school in 1973, to signify continuity with an old and notable tradition.
At the start of the Comprehensive School the Department of Education did not permit entry of girls because the need in Limerick at the time was for boys’ places. The Board of Management decided to go co-educational in 1974, though the intake of girls would be limited because of the still greater need for boys’ places. The aspects of education such as sporting activities, drama, debating, choirs, school outings and societies, which were part of the tradition of Crescent and other Jesuit schools, were taken on as part of the Crescent College Comprehensive from the start.
Due to pressure of places in Limerick the school population rose in the 1980’sand 1990’s from an initial 750 to 940.
The Roots of the Society of Jesus
Community life in the Society of Jesus is based on the companionship of Ignatius of Loyola and the graduate students he befriended at the University of Paris. Seven students gathered in a chapel on Montmartre Hill in 1534 and vowed to continue their companionship after finishing their degrees. They would live in evangelical poverty and go on a mission to Jerusalem. They called themselves “amigos en el Senor” — friends in the Lord. “It’s always said that the Jesuits were founded by Ignatius of Loyola, but I like the thought that the Jesuits were founded by a committee, not by one man. And it’s crucial because if the real mainspring of Jesuit spirituality is companionship, then our being together in a company is really right out of that reality, that we are together in a companionship.”
-Father Joseph Tetlow, S.J. (from Shared Vision: Jesuit Spirit in Education) Inigo Lopez de Loyola, who later took the name Ignatius, was the youngest son of a nobleman of the mountainous Basque region of northern Spain. Trained in the courtly manner of the time, he dreamed of the glories of knighthood and wore his sword and breastplate with a proud arrogance.
When Ignatius was born in 1491, the Middle Ages were just ending and Europe was entering into the Renaissance. So Ignatius was a man on the edge of two worlds.
Europe of the late 15th Century was a world of discovery and invention. European explorers sailed west to the Americas and south to Africa, and scholars uncovered the buried civilizations of Greece and Rome. The printing press fed a new hunger for knowledge among a growing middle class. It was the end of chivalry and the rise of a new humanism. It was a time of radical change, social upheaval, and war.
In a quixotic attempt in 1521 to defend the Spanish border fortress of Pamplona against the French artillery, Inigo’s right leg was shattered by a cannon ball. His French captors, impressed by the Inigo’s courage, carried him on a litter across Spain to his family home at Loyola where he began a long period of convalescence.
During that time, he read several religious books, the only reading material readily available. These books and the isolation of the recovery period brought about a conversion that led to the founding of the Jesuits. Ignatius began to pray. He fasted, did penance and works of charity, dedicated himself to God and, after some troubles with the Spanish Inquisition, decided to study for the priesthood
As a student in Paris he drew a small band of friends to himself and directed them in extended prayer and meditation according to his Spiritual Exercises. After further studies, the first Jesuits were ordained to the Catholic priesthood in Venice and offered themselves in service to Pope Paul III. In 1540, Paul III approved the Institute of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was elected General Superior and served in that post until his death in 1556 at the age of 65.
For over 450 years Jesuit priests and brothers have lived an amazing story of serving the Church in new and unexpected ways. We are still men on the move, ready to change place, occupation, method–whatever will advance our mission in the Church. We are expected to do anything or go anywhere to teach Jesus Christ and preach his Good News.
Today that “we” has expanded to include men and women who share this vision of service to faith and to the justice that faith demands. Together Jesuits and lay partners place themselves in the presence of the God who created all people and ask themselves the questions that St. Ignatius suggested to his first companions during the period of prayer that led to their permanent companionship:
What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?
Irish Jesuit History
From the beginning the Jesuits put themselves at the service of the Pope to go wherever he might want to send them. In the century of the Protestant Reformation this inevitably brought them to work in countries ruled by Protestant governments. Many were arrested and executed. Blessed Dominic Collins, a Jesuit brother was martyred in Youghal in 1601.
Everywhere the Jesuits went they set up schools. In the 17th and 18th centuries they became known as the “Educators of Europe”. In Ireland at this time they were obliged to live very much in the background, operating schools in side streets and remote country areas. With the end of the Penal Laws they entered openly into the area of secondary education. When Father Peter Kenney SJ, led the Jesuits back to Ireland in 1814 after the Suppression of the Society (1773 – 1814) his first action was to open a new school at Clongowes. Later, with the success of their college on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, the Jesuits helped to establish the National University of Ireland. In the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century the Order was associated with training Catholics to take on a leadership role in the emerging independent Ireland.