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Some notes on the history of the college

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the college is an opportune time to acknowledge and celebrate our rich history and while it may seem that we have moved from our original foundations we adhere to the original principle and concept that the college is based on, the belief that access to education can make a positive impact, not merely on the lives of individuals, but on the overall social and economic aspect of Irish life.

Reflecting on forms of social organisation that ended in disaster, the Jesuit top policy making body met in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Decree 29 of the 29th General Congregation contained the following directive:

In each Province…centres of social studies and action should be set up. They should have sufficient expertise and subsidies to explain and advocate the social dimension of labour and to motivate appropriate social action and communication on the part of Jesuits. Provincials should assign one or more Jesuits to areas where workers live to engage in this sort of social labour.

A later instruction developed this idea by distinguishing between a Social Centre and a WorkersCollege. A Centrum Sociale is a centre of study, research and information. Its general aim is to study and advocate the whole range of Catholic Social Teaching and help to build a fuller expression of justice and charity into the structures of human life. It engages by publishing, holding conferences, giving occasional lectures, consulting with groups and individuals.

Workers Colleges referred to schools and courses, either separately or together, for workers and for employers. The second type of school, for workers and employers together, seemed more important at that point in history.   The focus was on the industrial field and on workers’ and employers’ particular problems. The means of working was through teaching and counselling.

Jesuits implemented these guidelines through many weird and wonderful arrangements all over the world, ranging from the social commentary Blueprint that still arrives monthly form New Orleans to the National College of Ireland in Dublin.

The Irish Province of the Jesuits decided, in 1947, to establish a “Social Centre” with a “Workers College” attached. Its implementation was postponed for four years while Fr Eddie Coyne directed the newly established Extra-mural Department at UCD. One of its courses was the Social and Economic Studies. When students of this course wanted to bring their studies further and UCD was not in a position to meet their need the Jesuits opened a joint workers-employers College in February 1951 under the name of  The Catholic Workers College. It was located in Sandford Lodge which had been purchased for the purpose from the Bewley family in 1947. This college developed into the College of Industrial Relations and later into the National College of Ireland. 

The purpose of the Catholic Workers College was to increase awareness among employers and workers of social rights and social obligations and to develop, through education, leadership in workplaces and trade unions.

It was not until 1981 that a centre of social concern was set up with the founding of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, more under the inspiration of the 32nd General Congregation’s Decree 4 on social justice.

History of the College

The College took its origins from the need that was widely felt in Ireland around 1950 for courses which would be helpful to workers in their role as active trade unionists. The first course commenced on February 6th 1951 at Sandford Lodge in Ranelagh. In the autumn of that year the first course for managers and employers began. Numbers were small at first, and lectures were held in some rooms in what is now the Jesuit Community House attached to the College. Fr. Edmund Kent S.J. was the first Director of the College. He was assisted by a small Jesuit staff and a number of dedicated laymen who worked on a voluntary basis during the early years of the College. The numbers of students grew rapidly. Courses for Supervisors commenced in 1955. With the growth of student numbers the extension of the College premises became imperative, and this was done in two stages, the first in the year 1956 and the second in the years 1961-62. The financing of the building programme was helped greatly by a number of generous benefactions from people who believed in the importance of the work the College had set itself to do. By 1964 the College had a spacious and well-equipped premises, capable of seating 400 students in the lecture halls, and with all the supporting facilities, such as a library, film projecting room, and tea room. The early nineteen sixties were very buoyant years for the College, with high enrolments in all courses. Significant developments in the latter part of the decade and the early nineteen seventies were the introduction of the Personnel Management Course in 1968, and of the proposed National Diploma Course in 1971. In 1971 the College also inaugurated its Commencement Course for entrants to the profession of Chartered Accountant which was the first venture into full-time third level education. The result of this gradual development is a College which provides a wide range of Courses for many diverse groups, right across the industrial spectrum. An enrolment of 550 students in 1975-76 indicates a measure of success in meeting the needs of these groups, and in creating a milieu in which all can feel at ease and have a sense of belonging, which is a characteristic of College students both past and present.


Source: C.I.R. Silver Jubilee 1976.

Founders, Directors and Presidents
Chronology of the College


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