Evolution of Governance in IRS 1843 – 2019      Challenges and Opportunities

Each stage in the development of governance in IRS required vision, empathic listening, understanding of many different points of view, courage to change.     There were difficulties along the way!

1842    Northern European ProvinceFoundation of Roscrea by Eliza Croft and companions

Opportunity: To bring the Society’s presence and work of education to Ireland        

Challenge: Integration of the elderly Brigidine community in Roscrea into the Society of the Sacred Heart

1851 Vicariate of Belgium, Holland, Prussia, Ireland and England: Foundation of Armagh by Eliza Croft and companions

Opportunity: Foundation of the first girls’ Catholic secondary school in Ulster and a free school

Challenge: Poverty of Catholics and anti-Catholic prejudice

1853 Foundation of Glasnevin by Eliza Croft and companions  / Mount Anville (1865)

Opportunity: Education of daughters of leading Irish Catholic families

Challenge: Illness of pupils due to unhealthy environment at Glasnevin

1859   Vice-Vicariate of England and Ireland

1866 Marcella Goold, an Irish woman from Cork, was the first Irish vicar of the Roehampton vicariate, consisting of 3 Irish convents and 1 English convent, with its centre near London.  She proposed that the Irish houses become a separate Irish vicariate.  However she was recalled suddenly to Paris in 1872, and the proposals came to nothing.  She was replaced by Mabel Digby as vicar at Roehampton.

Opportunity:   Inculturation of the Society’s schools into the growing sense of Irish national identity, already evident in the programme of annual Mount Anville school concerts

Challenge:   The centre of the vicariate and the noviceship were located in England.    Madeleine Sophie had wanted foundations in Ireland as a means of bringing the Society to England and the English speaking world.  Charlotte Goold, Marcella’s sister, was the first novice mistress in England and, already in 1847, wrote of difficulties with English novices.

1875 Foundation of Harcourt Street/Leeson Street (1885) by Suzanne West and companions

Opportunity: To start a free school for working girls and a day school for girls from middle class families, and to provide a central meeting place for retreats and for the Children of Mary

Challenge: The constant need for more finance and space to cope with the extreme poverty and growing numbers of pupils in the Free School and the Night School.

1880 “Affair of 1880” Five Sacred Heart Sisters in Mount Anville  (Julia and Marianne Scully, Annie and Mary Finlay and Augusta FitzGerald), encouraged by Archbishop McCabe of Dublin and some Jesuits, proposed that the 4 houses in Ireland become a separate Irish vicariate.  Mabel Digby was not in favour and arranged for R.M. Lehon, the Superior General, to go to Dublin.  There followed ‘stormy meetings’ with the Archbishop and other interested parties and the proposal again came to nothing.  The five rscj were removed from Mount Anville; three of them were sent to Central/South America.

Opportunity:    To bring back talented Irish rscj to teach in our Irish schools instead of in Roehampton.

Challenge:    At a time of growing Irish nationalism and the Celtic Revival, there was tension between the Irish Catholic hierarchy’s support for an Irish educational system on the one hand and Mabel Digby’s formation of her Roehampton novices to bring the English model of education into the Society’s schools in Ireland on the other.  Pupil numbers in Mount Anville were down and many Castle Catholics and Anglo-Irish families tended to send their daughters to school at Roehampton.

1895    First Scottish Foundation of Aberdeen by Anne Walsh and companions

Opportunity: to provide girls from the Highlands with Catholic secondary education in the boarding school; to promote ecumenism in the North of Scotland.

Challenge: the distance of many of the pupils from families and homes; the remoteness of the community from the rest of the vicariate/province

1918   Foundation of Moray Place/Craiglockhart by Margaret Walsh and companions

On 10 July 1918 the Superior General, Maria de Loe, wrote to the Superior at Craiglockhart, Margaret Walsh, informing her that she was to be the superior vicar of the new Edinburgh vicariate, as the English vicariate was to be divided in two.

Opportunity:   To cooperate amicably and effectively with the State in implementing the 1918 Education Act.   This relieved the Catholic Church of the burden of financing the capital and running costs of Catholic schools.

Challenge:   To train Catholic teachers for the East of Scotland and further afield in the College and Demonstration School

September 1918    Foundation of the Irish/Scottish Vicariate (with Newcastle till 1924), centred at Edinburgh till 1928 when it moved to Mount Anville

Under the pretext of breaking up the vicariate of England, where the number of houses had increased and which covered England, Ireland and Scotland, the Society of the Sacred Heart addressed this (the Irish political) situation discreetly.   In 1918 a vicariate including the houses in Ireland and Scotland was created.   With Newcastle in its midst it avoided a split that could have given the impression of support for the current political and national changes.    The centre of the vicariate was placed in Edinburgh.   It was hardly possible to establish it elsewhere because of the troubles in Ireland.   (Monique Luirard: The Society of the Sacred Heart in the World of its Times 1865 – 2000 (iUniverse MO, 2016))

Opportunity:  Inculturation of Irish and Scottish rscj and schools/college in their respective national identities and educational systems.

Challenge:   Irish Rebellion against British Rule; sending young Irish women to the noviceship in England, e.g. Moya Plunkett was a novice in Roehampton in 1916 when her brother, Joseph Mary Plunkett, was executed after the Easter Rising; the ban on talking about politics in community.

1921   Foundation of Mount Anville Noviceship with Alice Ryan as Novice Mistress

1930    Foundation of Kilgraston by Margaret Bennett and companions

Opportunity:   Enabled the Craiglockhart College and Demonstration School to expand; provided Catholic boarding education for daughters of families living abroad and promoted ecumenism

Challenge: Cramped living conditions for pupils and community

1945   Foundation of Monkstown by Dorothy Meldon and companions

Opportunity:   Need for a Catholic Secondary School for a growing Catholic population in a largely Church of Ireland area.

Challenge:    In late 1970’s, lack of available rscj to staff the school;   another Catholic girls school had opened nearby.

1967   Closure of Leeson Street, the sale of which helped to set the province on a sound financial basis.

1967   The Irish/Scottish Province with Team Government

Opportunity:  To move from obedience to discernment and dialogue in relation to authority and in response to the needs of the world

Challenge:  To grow in co-responsibility

1968    Ireland/Scotland and England/ Malta Provinces. Division of capital.

 (The chapter of 1967 had given Provinces a certain autonomy, including managing their own financial affairs.)     The capital held in London for the central Administration up to then was divided out between IRS and ENG/MAL by Joan Dillon and Vivian Bowman.

1967 – the present:   It is beyond the scope of this short account to mention all the changes in houses and ministries over the past 52 years.      However it is important to salute the vision, creativity and courage of all those involved in both new individual and corporate  ministries and in the schools/college, as well as the support given by provincial leadership over these years.     There have been many opportunities and challenges!!!

2018   IRS Governance Plan with Shared Leadership

Opportunity:     To grow in trust and in open and inclusive ways of relating – a profound way of living our charism and ministry as rscj.

Challenge:   To be creative and pro-active in sharing leadership at a time of diminishment and to welcome lay facilitation and assistance.

Compiled by Carmel Byrne

  • from material in the Archives of IRS and ENW
  • from research on the history of IRS by Eileen Brady, Carmel Byrne, Phil Kilroy, Nuala O’Higgins, Maire O’Sullivan and Joan Stephenson.

With gratitude to Eibhlis Connaughton (IRS Archivist) and Barbara Vesey (ENW Archivist) for their invaluable assistance and to the members of Achill Road Community for their interest and encouragement.