Posted: 18th March 2015

European Confederation of Jesuit Alumni/ae

The European Confederation of Jesuit Alumni/ae (ECJA) brings together the Committees of Past Pupils’ Unions from Jesuit schools throughout Europe. The Irish Federation (IFJA) is the umbrella group for the five Irish secondary schools with Fr Michael Sheil (Rector of Clongowes) as current President and Gerard Long (Old Belvedere) as Secretary/Treasurer. The ECJA Committee meets twice a year in a different country – and this year, to mark the Irish Province’s Bicentenary in the restored Society of Jesus, it was decided to accept IFJA’s invitation to hold the spring meeting in Ireland over the weekend of March 13th-15th. As part of the Clongowes Bicentenary the College and Jesuit Community combined to host the first day of the meeting.

There were 32 Delegates present from ten European countries – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Spain and Switzerland. The President of WUJA (World Union of Jesuit Alumni/ae) – Alain Deneef – was part of the Belgian Delegation. On the eve of the meeting there was a visit to Trinity College to see the famous Book of Kells and all gathered for an evening meal in the Canal Bank Café.

On Saturday the delegates and spouses arrived in Clongowes by ‘bus from Dublin at 09H30 and, after light refreshments, assembled in the Green Room for the opening session. Meanwhile, the accompanying spouses – led by Ms Margaret Doyle (College Archivist) – set off on an outing (with their minibus sponsored by the College ‘bus company, Bartons).

The agenda for the morning saw reports from the various Federations. Unlike Ireland – where each school has its own independent Alumni/ae Union – the continental countries gather at national level. The morning concluded with a sharing of ideas about the forthcoming Congress in Rome in autumn 2016 – before adjourning for a snack lunch in the Castle. The afternoon session was led by Fr Sheil. He invited each person – each Federation – and ECJA itself – to answer the famous Ignatian triple question: What have I done (for Christ)? What am I doing? What ought I to do? – if we are to take up the challenge to become ‘agents of change’ in present-day society.

The spouses returned in the evening, happily satisfied from their trip to Russborough House, the National Stud and Japanese Gardens. They joined the delegates for a very informative talk on the history of Clongowes by Brendan Cullen (former History Teacher and local Historian) followed by a tour of the school with Poetry (5th Year) Students as guides. Everyone then gathered in the Boys’ Chapel for concelebrated Mass led by Fr Provincial, Tom Layden with Cyril Murphy’s Schola providing the singing and members of the Orchestra the music, while the Higher Line (5th and 6th Year Students) made up the congregation. After Mass John Bruton (Bicentenary President of the Clongowes Union, former Taoiseach and European Union Ambassador to Washington) shared some thoughts on present challenges to Jesuit Alumni/ae to stand-and-be-counted in a secular world. The evening concluded in the Castle with dinner hosted by Fr Rector on behalf of the Community and College.

All the visitors were loud in their praise for the welcome received from everyone in Clongowes – especially Ms Ann Cooke and her catering staff who provided a veritable cordon bleu menu for the dinner as well as regular refreshments during the day. And so it was that with great reluctance the delegates answered the call to board the bus for their return journey to Dublin, where Gonzaga College was to be the hosting venue for the Sunday morning session.

The last morning was spent looking forward to and making preparations for ECJA’s forthcoming European Congress in Rome in autumn 2016 – while the spouses visited the National Art Gallery and St Stephen’s Green. The gathering concluded with an informal lunch in Tribeca – another local restaurant – and the delegates headed for the airport and back to ‘normal’ life after an enjoyable weekend in Ireland.

Michael Gerard

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