St. Patrick's College, Thurles

The College was opened in 1837 as a second level boarding and day school for Catholic 
youth destined for the priesthood, professional and business careers. Soon the College 
developed into a major seminary.   In 1842 a philosophical department was introduced 
and almost immediately an attempt was made to have a theological faculty. A few students 
were ordained to the priesthood in the late 1840's but the planned major seminary did 
not materialize at the time.


The College struggled to survive during its early decades. Having weathered the twin 
hardships of the Famine and chronic debt the College gained a new lease of life in 
the mid 1860's. A permanent theological faculty was established in 1866 and the College 
was now a major seminary. Annual ordinations to the priesthood have been a feature of 
College life since 1873 when the first group ordination of fifteen took place in Thurles.

Hand in hand with these developments there was a corresponding scaling down of the lay 
department in the College. No further lay boarders could be accommodated. A small number 
of extern lay students continued to attend the College until 1907 when the lay department 
finally closed.


The College quickly flourished as a major seminary. Soon Thurles priests were to be found 
all over the English-speaking world. The early established pattern of serving the Church 
in the United States, Australia and New Zealand remained substantially unchanged well 
into the twentieth century. Links with British, especially English, dioceses began to 
develop during the early decades of the 20th century whereas the trend towards the 
southern hemisphere slowed down from the 1940's and had practically ceased by the early 
1960's. For much of the 20th century the majority of students opted for the United 
States mission. At present there are about 180 past students serving in the States.   
During the 1980's small numbers of students of the College were ordained for ministry 
in Zimbabwe and Iceland. During the past twenty five years the majority of students of 
the College were destined for service in dioceses throughout Ireland.


Over 1500 students of the College have been ordained to the priesthood in Thurles. 
A considerable number of others have received part of their priestly formation in St. 
Patrick's College before transferring to other seminaries, especially seminaries in 
the United States.

Past students of the College have given distinguished service to the Church at home 
and throughout the English-speaking world. Some were pioneering priests and bishops 
who laid the foundations and paved the way for the remarkable growth of the Church 
in newly developing English-speaking countries. Less well known, perhaps, but no less 
important are the many who ministered to the day to day needs of the Church in more 
established surroundings at home and abroad.

Among the past students of the College who became pioneering bishops were Drangan-born 
Dr. James Byrne of Toowoomba, Australia, Dr. Lawrence Scanlan of Gaile, Moycarkey, 
first bishop of Salt Lake City and Dr. John Cantwell, first archbishop of Los Angeles, 
who was reared in Fethard.

Bishop Thomas Quinlan of Borrisoleigh spent over four years in the College before 
joining the newly founded Columban Missionary Society in 1918. He gave sterling service 
in China and Korea, survived an infamous death march during the Korean War and was 
later decorated by the President of South Korea in recognition for his service. The 
long-serving Superior General of the Columban Missionary Society, Dr. Michael O'Dwyer 
of Holycross, was a member of the College staff when he opted for missionary service 
in 1920. And there were many more notable past students and staff of the College 
including Archbishop Morris, Bishops Russell and Lee of Waterford and Dr. Thomas 
Flanagan, Auxiliary Bishop of San Antonio.

The arrival of students from the adjoining Pallottine College in 1909 added a further 
dimension to the work of St. Patrick's College. From 1909 until 1986 most Pallottine 
students received their academic training in St. Patrick's College. Through this 
association the work of St. Patrick's College was extended very widely into the more 
strictly missionary fields of Africa and South America during the past century.


In 1988 the lay department of St. Patrick's College was once again revived with the 
introduction of a B.A. Theology degree course. Since that date lay students have 
graduated each year. An important milestone was reached during the past academic 
year with the granting of maintenance grants and fees to students of St. Patrick's 
College. These welcome developments will now facilitate the College's desire to 
further expand its service to education in the wider community.

Rev. Christy O'Dwyer
St. Patrick's College

Date:  28 August 2002.

The Catholic Communications Office is an Agency of the Irish Bishops' Conference
Email us at