Forty-four (44) years ago, almost to the day, I ceased to be a student of this College. I had just done the B.A. and begun First Theology. And then bang, wham, it all ended. Please don’t jump to conclusions. I wasn’t expelled. One day I was walking around, minding my own business. It was during the October Bishops’ Meeting. The Dean of the day, Father Michael Harty, a Killaloe man like Father Hillery, came to me and told me that my bishop, Bishop Austin Quinn, wanted to see me. We met outside the President’s Arch and, in a brief conversation, he indicated to me that he would like me to leave Maynooth and go to the Irish College in Rome. It was a bit of a bombshell. I was to think about it and let him know. And so that is how I came to forsake the green plains of Kildare and the perfection of Pugin for the majesty of Michael Angelo and the beauty of Bernini.

And I want to tell you that I had many regrets leaving Maynooth – breaking the links with my classmates – moving abroad, far away from my family and, not insignificantly, I was going to miss the graduation ceremony, or BA Day as it used to be called in those days.

Yes, in Rome I was going to rejoin three of my Maynooth class who had already gone before me. I recall that on the actual day of graduation, our thoughts were very much with our classmates here in Maynooth. We knew it was a day of joy and rejoicing – a day of festivity and celebration and we were rather sad not to be part of it. I think we sent them a message of good wishes. But in recent years I have had the joy of several graduation ceremonies and they are delightful occasions.

So I most heartily congratulate and rejoice with all those on whom degrees are being conferred today. I note that nearly all the counties of Ireland are represented, as well as graduates from Bosnia, England, Ghana, India, Israel, Maylasia, Scotland and Sri Lanka. I congratulate your parents and your families and all who have helped you reach this day. I congratulate the staff on the part they have played in helping you reach this important milestone in your lives. I rejoice with you all in the fact that this University is conferring diplomas, baccalaureates, licences, and Doctorates on a huge number of people. The documents in question, which are being handed over, testify in elegant Latin that a certain degree has been taken and that this degree confers rights and privileges of such degrees – for example, to teach or to minister. So, this is indeed a day of joy. It is an Alleluia Day.

I was in Rome a couple of months ago, during Easter week. A wee lad hopped out of a car near Piazza San Giovanni and ran up to the newsagent’s kiosk and asked, obviously, for his favourite comic. When the newsagent indicated that he indeed had the item in question, the young man exclaimed ‘Alleluia’. ‘Alleluia we have got it’. So, I think that is the sentiment of many of you today. Alleluia, we have indeed got there, and thanks be to God for all of that.

The Spiritual Masters tell us that celebration is the first and deepest response to the feeling that we are loved. With St. Luke in Chapter 10 we can say,

‘In the Spirit of God, I rejoice, celebrating, with thanksgiving, for as God’s little one, I have been shown the mysteries of the Kingdom’.

I hope that each one of you, graduating here today, can honestly say that during your studies you have been shown something of the mysteries, hidden things of God’s kingdom. We are celebrating the fact that, somehow or other; you were chosen to receive this education and that you have taken the opportunity. There are so many in the world who would give their right arm to get a similar opportunity. I can think of those that I saw in Rwanda last November or San Paulo, Brazil a couple of years ago.

But, in the designs of God, nothing happens by chance, the fact that today you are being conferred with a degree has not happened by chance. The original meaning of ‘Doctor’ is one who is doctus – one who has been taught to the point where she or he can become an instrument – a teacher – a person who inculcates learning, opinions and principles.

One of the great joys of teaching is seeing the reaction of young people when the mysteries of science or mathematics – the hidden delights of poetry and literature – are revealed to them. Theology is, by definition, the science of God. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. There is surely a deep sense of satisfaction – a deep sense of fulfilment – for those who have the courage and the learning and the will to reveal the hidden plans of God – the wisdom of God.

Celebrations are the first response to an awareness of being gifted by the Lord. Gifted and loved, what is the second response? It is gratitude. After celebration, gratitude is the deepest and human response to life and gifts received. And so, this the time to give thanks, not alone for the obvious things, the money, the support, the lifts in the cars, the loans of notes – whether it is bank notes or class notes – but also for the deeper things involved.

Ø Who gave you encouragement in times of distress?
Ø Who convinced you to hang on and keep going when you were mightily tempted to quit?

You know the way the players gather in a huddle, in the middle of Croke Park, before the throw in. I wonder what sort of language and what they say to each other. I heard Colum O’Rourke recently suggest that that language on such an occasion is very much a mixture of the sacred and the profane. Well, this is the final huddle of this particular team. The chances of this precise group ever assembling under the same roof again are pretty slim. So now the throw-in is about to take place. All the training and the exercises are over and now, in a sense, you are really on your own. The pump has been primed. The thirsty are already queuing on the village green with the buckets on their heads – to draw from the wells which you can provide.

This is the month of October – the month of Missions. One of the outstanding feature of the times in which we live is the growing awareness of the role of all the baptised in carrying on the work of teaching and instructing in the faith. It belongs to the mission of everyone – lay and cleric alike – Ireland has a proud missionary record – from Columcille and Columbanus down to the martyrs of recent years.

The Philosophers tell us that good is naturally inclined to spread itself and share itself. In recent times Ireland seems to have lost its missionary zeal. But the Ireland that has lost its missionary spirit is an Ireland that has lost an integral part of its christian faith.

At the birth of Europe – following the turmoil of the break-up of the Roman Empire – the emergence of Christianity took place in the midst of a blossoming of freedom and co-operation in Western Europe. Our early missionaries – led by Columcille of Iona and Columbanus in Bobbio – played a crucial role in that whole enterprise. Their memory is not forgotten. Just this week I got a letter from a friend in the Italian town of San Colombano a Lambro recalling the links between his town and Ireland.

Europe is once again in need of a New Evangelisation. The enlightenment, the extreme nationalism, Marxism and materialistic consumerism have done their damage and taken their toll on the soul of Europe. This happened essentially because there were movements without God. I think graduates of a Pontifical University are heirs to the spirit and tradition of Irish missionary activity and are well placed to play a part in that evangelisation. The Maynooth Mission to China and St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan had their roots and found their inspiration in this College. Cork gave the Church Edmund J Galvin, founder of the Columban Fathers. He came via Maynooth. He would have been a student in this College one hundred years ago.

In February 1920 Father Joseph Shanahan, the outstanding missionary in Africa, a native of Tipperary and a Holy Ghost Father, came here to plead for volunteers to help him in Nigeria. There was an immediate response – eleven (11) volunteering – led by P J Whitney of Ardagh and Tom Ronayne of Dublin. Out of that St. Patrick’s Missionary Society was born. By any standards the contribution of those two Societies has to be one of the most glorious pages in the history of the Church in Ireland in the last century.

This is a great time to be a graduate of St. Patrick’s College. The age we are living in can seem to many, to be a time of bewilderment. Yes, Europe, despite being more free and unified, feels weary. There are weapons of mass destruction of faith and hope, like practical agnosticism and religious indifference busily at work. Many Europeans seem to live today without spiritual roots. The diminishing number of birth shows that Europe is afraid of the future. People are afraid to make life-long commitments of any kind because they have no hope. This situation would seem to me to produce opportunities for graduates in philosophy and theology to confidently proclaim that Jesus Christ, alive in His Church, is indeed a source of hope for Europe.

I wish you new graduates well. I wish you great success and great happiness as you share, with others, the wealth of wisdom and knowledge and formation, which you have received on your path to this day.