By Beverly De Soto Stevens
The Irish have been accused of being dreamers. If so, this time they are dreaming BIG — a dream which they are sharing both in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora numbered in the tens of millions around the world. This Irish dream is to build Newman College Ireland (NCI) to respond to the challenge of atheism in today’s Irish society and to defend the Faith at the highest intellectual levels.
What’s more, it appears that this dream has just become a reality. NCI’s fledgling class of Irish students converged on Rome in September, there to begin their studies at a university modeled on the ideas of the brilliant 19th century Anglican convert, John Cardinal Newman. Happily ensconced in a place shared with Thomas More College (New Hampshire) for their first year, they hope to return to Ireland to a school property that is even now being sought.
And what a class they are – articulate, serious, and full of life. But we’ll let you be the judge of that, as they say in Ireland. Herewith, the thoughts of the first class of Newman College Ireland, from the vantage point of their first weeks spent just steps away from the Vatican.
“When I found out (about NCI in Rome) I was absolutely over the moon; not only was I moving away for the first time but I would be moving to the Eternal City of all cities!” Fiona Quinn
“In Ireland the Faith has significantly deteriorated, particularly among my peers. Even those who affiliate themselves with being Catholic don’t practise, or even know that much about it. Most wouldn’t attend weekly Mass, and those who do attend because they are pressured by their parents. It is more seen a family ritual as opposed to a religious ceremony. Now I not only live in Rome, but I live on the doorstep of the Vatican, where everyday thousands of people gather around St. Peter’s square in testimony of the Faith. You see people drawn from all four corners of the world to witness the very heart of the church, and every day it gives me real hope for Ireland, that it may one day be revitalised in its Christian faith, hope and charity.” Maria (Mia) Dovel (Front, Center)
“How do I describe being in Rome? Awesome, not in the bastardised destruction of the word originating in the U.S., but rather the true meaning of the word, i.e., something that inspires awe in the beholder. The absolute and utter magnificence being the cause of awe in this case, the sheer size and intricacy of Rome’s great architecture and art.” Fiachra Ó Leacháin
“The crowds of people I have seen in the Vatican on a daily basis have given me a small idea of the large number of Catholics across the world that I share something in common with…I think my fellow students are great. I get on with them really well and feel that if I was in trouble I could turn to them for help.” Maria Begley (left)
“Newman College Ireland has a foundation primarily built on a Catholic ethos, something which is completely unique to Ireland. It’s completely different from what I myself have experienced after spending three years in college. I would compare it to a dream, something that I wouldn’t have seen coming my way, at least not in my youth.” Fiona Quinn (right)
“The main factor that attracted me to Newman College Ireland was the fact that I could freely practice my faith while at college without being scorned by my fellow students.” Colm Begley
“In Ireland, university life is dominated by the drinking and party culture, now so prevalent in Irish society. Catholicism, in its true sense, is rarely found in such an environment. In Newman College Ireland, we are surrounded by other people living this same Catholic way of life, and striving for the same goals.” Fiachra Ó Leacháin
“The quality of art and architecture in Rome is absolutely unparalleled. It makes me proud of my Catholic heritage.” Brendan Crowe
“The greatest inspiration for me personally has to be Cardinal Pell. His talk with our class really gave me an insight into the internal workings of the Vatican and how things in the Catholic Church are so precariously balanced with today’s society.” Colm Begley
“My fellow students? Ah, they’re grand! Basically we are building a community-like feel amongst the group. A really good feeling that we can bring back to our family and friends. I do not believe this is offered at secular establishments.” Brendan Crowe (far left)
“My experience with Newman so far compared to the college experiences of friends, in a secular college, feels all that more wholesome. Also we all get along so well and our college community is small but awesome.” Seamus Doherty
“Most of my friends have had very subject specific educations… focused on getting them out and into the world of work, not that there is anything wrong with that. At Newman, though, it’s more about developing critical thinking skills, and that is a novel idea to a lot of my friends.” Erin Maria Brennan
“Newman College is simply the fairest chance you have of discovering the Truth about your faith. It is the best way of equipping yourself to return home to Ireland and pass it on, still in its full truth.” Rebecca Quinn
“I was attracted to NCI because it’s a Catholic college with Catholic subjects, and lecturers as opposed to so called ‘Catholic’ colleges that are in Ireland.” Joseph Budds
“Both of my siblings have studied at a highly ranked University in Dublin. Their overall experiences have been plagued by negative episodes due to their religious standing. They have found that due to the lack of general morals in modern society, many of their classmates have fallen behind in their studies due to their “lack of responsibility in life.” Colm Begley
“I also get to study the universal language of the church – Latin. Our college is in its first year and there are only 14 of us. We are like a small family, united in our faith.” Michelle Moitie (left)
“So far the most inspiring thing has been the deeply rooted faith on campus, seeing fellow students rise at 6am to get mass before class and attending holy hour several times a week is just so uplifting.” Seamus Doherty (right)
“I think I’ve surprised myself a bit, by opening up to ideas that I once would have been very closed to. Not that my convictions have changed in any great way but I’ve learned to appreciate the fragments of truth in, and the motivation behind, ideas I consider to be wrong. I’ve become more tolerant, really. That is largely due to the quite diverse group of people I’m studying with but it definitely surprised me. I didn’t expect to become more tolerant of people while studying at a Catholic Liberal arts College!” Erin Maria Brennan
“Well, up until now I think I’ve always felt guilty that I didn’t go into studying something practical and useful, like law or medicine. I genuinely felt a gnawing sense of guilt about that, like I was wasting myself or my time, that there was something wrong with being interested in ideas and meaning and things like that. This semester we’ve talked a lot about the importance of good ideas, having a sense of who we are and what it’s all about, as well as what can happen when we have really bad ideas that are allowed to take hold. I think all of my teachers have talked about that and it’s inspired me. I don’t feel embarrassed for liking poetry anymore, I think it can actually be important.” Erin Maria Brennan
“Many of my family have gone through Catholic liberal arts colleges, and yet none of them have had the opportunity to spend an entire year in Rome, as a freshman in the first year of the first Catholic, Newman Guide college brought to Ireland. The ones who studied in the States absolutely loved their courses, and to an extent their course was very similar to my own. However they didn’t get the feeling of being an initiator of something greater than their own education. Because really, we fourteen Irish are the beginning of higher level Catholic education and re-evangelisation in Ireland.” Maria (Mia) Dovel (left)
“The ethos and the idea behind the creation of the college really appealed to me. I really wanted the opportunity to be able to study at a Catholic university alongside other young committed Catholics, without having to travel to the USA. I also wanted to be part of this new college which will hopefully regenerate the faith in Ireland.” Joseph Denniece
“Here everything, including past knowledge, is to be presented in a fresh way. It’s exhilarating, because everything is fresh, it gives one that exciting feeling in the pit of the stomach.” Brendan Crowe
“Catholicism was ultimately what attracted me to Newman College Ireland. The chance to learn, not only about the Faith and understanding it, but to learn more about myself as a child of God.” Brendan Crowe
“The difference that I have noted would be the demeanour of the people. Relationships here are based on common beliefs and this I believe makes the bonds between us all stronger.” Fiona Quinn
“My lecturers and peers have inspired me the most so far. The depth of their faith and their enthusiasm for Catholicism has greatly inspired me.” Michelle Moitie
“My fellow students are all really good craic. We all get on very well with each other. Looking at us, you would think we had known each other for years instead of six weeks. They are all ‘sound’ as we say in Ireland.” Joseph Dunniece
“The city of Rome is so incredibly rich with history. Every corner has another relic of the days past, where other men walked. The more that I learn about Roman culture, the more I realise how incredibly alike we are to the ancient Romans. It puts into perspective the incredible vastness of God’s splendour, to have created so many marvels, and yet each person has infinite value.” Maria Dovel
“What is the most surprising thing that has happened so far? Being able to go to the Tridentine Latin Mass every morning around the corner in St Peter’s Basilica.” Joseph Budds
“I felt that after one day that I knew my three roommates for years. There was a great natural friendship made instantly between our whole class and I know that our religion has much to do with the friendly atmosphere around the college.” Colm Begley
“It’s just a blessing every day to wake up and be here. People save and wait so long to come on holiday for a week or two and here we are here for a year studying in the heart of the church. I’ve lived in America and Australia and they don’t hold a candle to this place. Its unexplainable, you begin to fall in love with it all. There is so much more to Rome then pizza, wine and gelato.” Rebecca Quinn
“John Paul II asked us to be ‘prophets of joy’, to communicate to our peers the sign of great hope and to encourage young people everywhere to stand out as individuals and become actively involved in making a difference. I truly believe that, in Christ, we have the ability to make the world a better place.” Joseph Dunniece
Update from Rome
What three words best describe how you feel about your Newman College Ireland experience?
Fiona Quinn: Fulfilling, astounding and flourishing
Joseph Budds: Interesting. Fascinating, Engaging.
Brendan Crowe: New. Exhilarating. Reassuring.
Seamus Doherty: Gratifying, Exciting, and Rewarding.
Joseph Dunniece: Amazing. Interesting. Enriching.
Maria Dovel: Formative. Community. Cultural
Erin Maria Brennan: Informative, enjoyable, breathtaking
Michelle Moitie: Beautiful. Exciting. Adventurous. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to study in this beautiful city. This is a life-changing experience that I will never forget.
Colm Begley: Mozzarella, Parmesan, Gorgonzola.
Based in the United States, this organization has received approval from the IRS as a tax exempt 501(c) (3) and tax deductible contributions can be made to:
Friends of Catholic Education in Ireland, Inc.
999 Vanderbilt Beach Rd
Naples, FL 34108