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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Little has changed in this oasis of calm

Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor

LITTLE has changed in the outward appearance of All Hallows College since Jackie Kennedy visited Fr Joseph Leonard there in the 1950s.

While it has modernised many of its facilities in recent years, it remains now, as it was then, something of an oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of Dublin city.

The college was established in 1842 by Fr John Hand to train missionary priests for work abroad. It was taken over by the Vincentian Fathers in 1892 and it remained a seminary right up until the late 1980s.

During that time, it produced thousands of missionary priests who ended up in countries right around the world.

Like all institutions of its type, the college has seen much change in recent years.

With vocations falling, it opened its doors to lay students, offering courses in liberal arts subjects. In later years it came under the umbrella of Dublin City University.

Since 2008 DCU has accredited the college's degree programmes and provided access to supports such as library and IT services to All Hallows students.

The college's board of governors and trustees retained an involvement from the Vincentians, but are now mainly constituted with lay people.

Its current president, an American-born Vincentian, Dr Patrick McDevitt, has been in situ since 2011.

He set about a programme of modernising the college's educational offerings and sought ways to gather funds.

This included seeking philanthropic donations in Ireland and the US, an initiative which had a limited degree of success.

He also ordered a review of the college's archives to see if there were items of value which could be sold.

The Jackie Kennedy letters to Fr Joseph Leonard were something he was alerted to almost immediately after he arrived at the college.

The future US First Lady had met Fr Leonard in 1950 while on a student visit to Ireland. They would correspond for 14 years, up to the time of Fr Leonard's death.

The 33 letters covered major events in her life, including her engagement to then Senator John F Kennedy and her husband's assassination in 1963. Auctioneer Philip Sheppard estimated they could fetch between €800,000 and €3m if sold.

When the existence of the letters was publicised they attracted attention around the world.

Mrs Kennedy had never written an autobiography and the letters provided a real insight into her character, portraying her as a warm, witty and intelligent woman.

Although the letters remained largely unknown in the world outside the college until recently, Fr Leonard is reputed to have shared them with society friends prior to his death.

Unfortunately for the college, Mrs Kennedy's estate believes it holds the copyright to the letters. This development, allied with a claim this week by the Vincentian Fathers that the order owns the letters, and not All Hallows, was enough to derail the auction.

However, the review of the college archives has thrown up a number of other potentially valuable items, although they are likely to raise just a fraction of what the letters could have been sold for.

These include a painting by Sir John Lavery of Cardinal Patrick Hayes and a rare medieval Book of Hours from the 1400s, believed to have belonged to the Duke of Burgundy.

Fr Leonard was also known to have corresponded with George Bernard Shaw, but these letters have not been found at the college.

"For the three years I have been here, that has been the focus, to sell whatever we have to do the mission of the college," said Dr McDevitt.

Although the letters will not now go on sale, many other items will.

Unfortunately for All Hallows, the money raised will go towards the winding down of the college, rather than securing its future.

Irish Independent

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