Michael Kelly meets Dr Patrick McDevitt, the passionate new president of Dubin’s All Hallows College
Dublin’s All Hallows College will next year celebrate 170 years of existence.
Nestled in the city’s Drumcondra suburb the college has undergone a considerable transformation since its establishment in 1842 as a seminary to train young Irishmen for the priesthood. All Hallows specialised in training what were known as ‘fidei donum’ priests. Those young men sent from the land of saints and scholars as ‘gifts of faith’ to the emerging Church in the English-speaking world.
By the early 1970s All Hallows had trained some 4,000 priests some serving the Church at home but the overwhelming majority spending their ministry in South America, South Africa, India, Canada, Australia, the West Indies, New Zealand, the United States, England, Scotland and Wales.
By the late 19th Century there were so many Irish priests, many of them trained at All Hallows, serving in the United States that they were often dubbed the ”FBI” of the Foreign Born Irish.
By the mid-1800s, 59pc of the priests in the archdiocese of New York were Irish-born and at the beginning of the 20th Century, 62pc of the members of the American hierarchy where Irish-American, more than half of them being Irish-born.
It is perhaps fitting then, that as All Hallows begins yet another new chapter in its history it is to America that the college has looked for a new president in the person of Vincentian priest Dr Patrick McDevitt (pictured right).
Today, All Hallows College specialises at undergraduate level in the teaching of theology, philosophy, psychology and English literature, as well as programmes in personal and professional development. Postgraduate programmes focus on a range of topics including leadership, management, social justice, spirituality, supervisory practice and ecology.
Dr McDevitt comes to All Hallows with a wealth of experience from Chicago’s DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the US with some 25,000 students. And it is exactly that experience of working in a Catholic university in an intensely pluralist environment that Dr McDevitt hopes to bring to All Hallows. ”I have only ever taught in a pluralist institute,” he says, ”I’m in third level because I believe it is a great avenue to reach young people and talk to them about values that are still important in a very changing world.
”I am proud to join All Hallows College at this challenging and exciting moment in its history.
”The mission of the College is one with which I resonate, with its focus upon community, hospitality, service and creativity in adult learning and formation,” he says. Dr McDevitt is the college’s 12th president and the eighth Vincentian to hold the office.
In tandem with the value of the Catholic ethos Fr McDevitt also believes that the relative small size of All Hallows is also a unique benefit for students. ”It allows students to develop with staff, the mentor relationship that is at the heart of education. Some people thrive in a large college environment, but for many other people a smaller, more intimate college is exactly the introduction to academic life that people need.”
And here Dr McDevitt understands academic life in the widest possible sense rather than just training. ”What we offer here helps people think, it helps people be discerners of the world, people who can question society’s values. I think that’s the value of the Catholic ethos and the value of what we offer,” he insists.
”I hope my leadership at All Hallows will be one of building upon the excellent history, legacy and traditions of the college.
”This is a unique time in history with crises in the Church, global economy and higher education. These challenges, I believe, open a new era of opportunities for fresh thinking, growth and collaboration beyond the traditional paradigms,” he says.
All Hallows College is a college of Dublin City University and all degrees are accredited by DCU. The college has approximately 500 full and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate students and over 1,000 students per year in its continuing education programmes.
Dr McDevitt has a strong background in pastoral counselling and ministry, with doctoral and master’s degrees from Loyola University of Maryland, an M. Div. from St Thomas Seminary, Colorado and a BA from St Mary’s College Seminary, Missouri. He has written extensively on education, educational development, the psycho-social influences on ministry and education in today’s society and on aspects of community health.
All Hallows has been under the direction of the Vincentian Order – the Congregation of the Missions – since 1892 and for Dr McDevitt, himself a Vincentian, the spirit of St Vincent de Paul continues to play a vital role.
”St Vincent de Paul was someone who was privileged in the 17th Century to have achieved such a good education. But he went from privileged to blessed when he went out to share that with others.”
”The call for educators, for those who are educated, is to share it with others. Not to sit back and say ‘I achieved this, I had this great opportunity’. When you are blessed and lucky, as I have been in my life, there are two responses: say thank you and give it away.
”That’s the spirit that I want the students of this college to leave with. To leave with a sense of being blessed. That’s why I think Vincent de Paul is a model for education and a model for All Hallows in particular,” he says.
Amid the challenges facing the Church in Ireland Dr McDevitt is hopeful about what a Catholic college like All Hallows can contribute. ”The only way were going to reach the younger generation is in places of education. We need to give them a different view of the Church, not by our teaching, not by standing up and teaching, but by our witness. By showing people what Catholicism is really about.”
And at this juncture in Church history he believes that a critical mind about all things is a must. ”If people are intelligent to think about the Church we’ve done our job. People who think critically about things care about things, it’s not about tearing things down or destroying things it’s about thinking about things deeply and that’s so important,” he adds.
”It’s my mission and the mission of All Hallows to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ both in season and out of season. If we stick to the message of Jesus always it’s a message of hope, of love and of care. It transforms people”.