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College of Saint Isidore

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The College of Saint Isidore, in Rome, was originally founded for the use of Spanish Franciscans during the pontificate of Gregory XV. In the year 1625 the buildings passed into the hands of Father Luke Wadding, who, after making numerous additions and alterations, and with the sanction of the General of the Friars Minor and of the Sovereign Pontiff, converted them into a college for the education of Irish Franciscan students. Within a few years, Wadding had provided accommodation for, and had gathered within the walls of the new college, a community of over thirty religious; and some years later the number had increased to fifty. Wadding was fortunate in being able to assure the success of the new undertaking by attracting to the college as professors some of the ablest members of the order at the time, all of them countrymen of his own. These included such men as Hickey, Fleming, Ponce, Walsh, and some years later Harold, Molloy, and Bonaventure Baron. The last mentioned alone has to his credit no fewer than twenty-two volumes, in the various domains of philosophy, theology, history, and poetry. It is easy to understand what prestige such distinguished teachers must have brought to the college. In fact, within thirty years of its foundation, we find no fewer than seventy of its alumni engaged as professors in various schools of the order. But its claim to recognition does not rest less in the stimulus which it gave to the study of Scotistic philosophy and theology during the seventeenth century than in the number of highly trained and efficient teachers which it sent forth. Its professors were all convinced adherents of the Franciscan school and it is no exaggeration to say that, at a time when the doctrines of Scotus were beginning to lose favour even amongst Franciscans themselves, they found no more ardent nor able defenders than the professors of St. Isidore's College. It is to Wadding and his fellow-workers in the college that we owe the first complete edition of the Subtile Doctor's works, namely, the Lyons edition of 1639. While sending forth, year after year, numbers of zealous workers into the Irish mission, the college continued to possess amongst its professors men of acknowledged learning and merit.

On the occupation of Rome by the French in 1798, St. Isidore's suffered the fate of other British institutions in the city. The friars were expelled, and the college and adjoining garden confiscated and put up for auction. They were bought in by the Prince of Piombino, who let the rooms out to lodgers, with the exception of a few which were reserved for one of the fathers who had volunteered to keep watch over the place until the advent of better times. These came with the return of the pope in 1814. The college was soon restored to its rightful owners, and the year 1819 saw Father Hughes installed as superior over a fresh band of students who had come from Ireland to fill the places of those who had been expelled in 1798. Since then St. Isidore's has remained in undisturbed possession of the Irish Franciscans, for whom it still serves as the theological and philosophical training-house of their students. Amongst its alumni may be mentioned Dr. Egan (d. 1814), first Bishop of Philadelphia; Drs. Lambert (d. 1817), Scallan (d. 1830), and Mullock (d. 1869), the two former vicars Apostolic, and the latter second Bishop of St. John's, Newfoundand; Dr. Hughes, Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar ; and Drs. Geoghegan (d. 1864) and Shiel (d. 1872), bishops of Adelaide, Australia. The college library is famous for its collection of rare and valuable books. Owing to Wadding's position as annalist of the Franciscan Order and agent with the Holy See for his native country during the stormy period of the Insurrection of 1641, the archives of St. Isidore's became the repository of many precious documents relating to Franciscan subjects and to the civil and ecclesiastical history of Ireland during the seventeenth century. Such among the valuable manuscripts belonging to the sister college of St. Anthony's, Louvain, as escaped destruction or dispersion during the French Revolution also found, for a time, a domicile in St. Isidore's. They included many of those old Irish manuscripts saved from destruction by Brother Michael O'Clery, during his tours of Ireland in search of material for the "Annals of the Four Masters". They are sometimes referred to as the "St. Isidore manuscripts " After the taking of Rome by the Piedmontese in 1870, these, together with such others as had any bearing on the civil or ecclesiastical history of Ireland, were for greater security removed to the convent of the order at Merchant's Quay, Dublin, where they are now preserved.

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