St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is the national seminary for Ireland as well as a pontifical university, located in the village of Maynooth. Together, the college is known as Maynooth College.
Maynooth College as it is known today has a long and complicated history. It was officially established as the Royal College of St Patrick by an act of parliament in 1795. A man by the name of Thomas Pelham, the chief secretary of Ireland at the time, introduce the bill for a foundation of a Catholic college, which was then enacted by parliament.
Before the creation of St Patrick’s, men studying to become priests could not receive their education in Ireland. In order to receive a college education, and become a priest, men had to travel to mainland Europe, France in particular, and study there.
During the French Revolutionary war, however, England was worried that these men coming back to Ireland from studying in France would have adapted a revolutionary way of thinking. Having too much on their plates, and not wanting to deal with an Irish revolution on top of the French, British government slowly began removing the Penal Laws, including allowing Irish priests to be educated in their homeland.
Established on June 5, 1795 as the Royal College of St Patrick, it’s initial purpose was to provide a university education for Catholic lay and ecclesiastical students.
The lay college, or the college for regular people, not religious life, was based in Riverstown House on the South campus. This part of the college closed down in 1814, after the opening of the Clongowes Wood College, a voluntary secondary boarding school, and the Royal College of St Patrick functioned solely as a seminary for almost 150 years.
In 1966, the college allowed lay students to attend once more. St Patrick’s became a constituent college of the Catholic University of Ireland, while the Pontifical University of Maynooth continues to confer its own theology degrees, as these had been prohibited in the Royal University of Ireland.
It wasn’t until 1997, with the passing of the UniversitiesAct, that resulted in the transfer of faculties, such as arts, Celtic studies, philosophy, and science, of the recognized college of St Patrick’s college to the new university.
Since it’s creation, the seminary at St Patrick’s College has ordained more than 11,000 priests. Most recently, in 2016, the seminary found 80 men were studying for priesthood.