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The Foundation and Development of the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel – A Summary of RCBL MS1043

By Sean Hanily

Archive of the Month – October 2016
Archive of the Month – October 2016
Inside cover of the visitor book of the Divinity Hostel from 1955-1960 (MS1043/7.3) with Greek inscription in the hand of M.L. Ferrar
Inside cover of the visitor book of the Divinity Hostel from 1955-1960 (MS1043/7.3) with Greek inscription in the hand of M.L. Ferrar

Various items and documents detailing the setting up of, and running of, the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel and related topics were given to the Representative Church Body Library by the Church of Ireland Theological College in 2008. They have been catalogued and accessioned the RCB Library MS 1043/. A detailed list of the collection is available at this link.

The cover of the abstract of correspondence relating to Archbishop Whately's proposals for an independent Divinity Hall for the Church of Ireland in the 1830s (Ms1043/1.1)
The cover of the abstract of correspondence relating to Archbishop Whately's proposals for an independent Divinity Hall for the Church of Ireland in the 1830s (Ms1043/1.1)

The education of the clergy of the Church of Ireland has been a topic of contest perhaps even since the foundation of Trinity College by Queen Elizabeth I in 1591. But it was not until 1839 that the issue was formally addressed by Archbishop Whately who prepared a charter and bill to found a Divinity Hall independent of Trinity College. This idea did not progress far as it was blocked and thrown out by the Senior Fellows of Trinity College. More details about Whately’s proposals were covered by our Archive of the Month for August 2015, which can be read here.

‘Poor Parsons' – an article on clergy stipends with a touch of sarcasm, published in The Irish Times in 1919 (MS1043/8.9)
‘Poor Parsons' – an article on clergy stipends with a touch of sarcasm, published in The Irish Times in 1919 (MS1043/8.9)

Whately’s ambitious plan ensured that the issue became part of the discussion of the Church and it would arise again upon the disestablishment of the Church in 1870. Initially at this time, the argument between the House of Bishops and the Board of the College focused on the governance of the college – the bishops laying claim to the entire college as a Church of Ireland institution. Very quickly, they dropped this claim and instead focused their energies on controlling the Divinity School alone. This began an argument that ultimately continued until the closure of the Divinity School in 1970, although it was settled to some extent in 1909–1911 when an agreement was made. At this point, a small group of opportunistic clergy saw the time was right to also establish a Hall of Residence for Divinity students who were training for ordination.

Service sheet of the special service to mark the Tercentenary of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1892 (MS1043/8.1)
Service sheet of the special service to mark the Tercentenary of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1892 (MS1043/8.1)

Indeed, the church connection with Trinity College is well documented in this collection, as well as the printed collection relating to Trinity College in the library (RCBL378.415, the content of which can be accessed through our online catalogue of printed books). In MS1043/8 (miscellaneous loose materials) there are also several items which reflect this connection, as well as other miscellaneous items which will be of interest to many, not least for their novel nature.

Memorandum covering the original twelve terms of operation of the Divinity Hostel which appear on the inside cover of the minute book. The first entry in the minute book, dated 20 May 1913, containing the names of all those present at the very first meeting of the board (MS1043/2.1)
Memorandum covering the original twelve terms of operation of the Divinity Hostel which appear on the inside cover of the minute book. The first entry in the minute book, dated 20 May 1913, containing the names of all those present at the very first meeting of the board (MS1043/2.1)

The Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel was founded in 1913 as a hostel for students in the Divinity School of Trinity College in Mountjoy Square. Between then and 1964, several generations of ordinands lived and were trained there while they pursued their academic studies in Trinity. By the 1960s, a need for more modernised accommodation emerged, and Fetherstonhaugh House in Churchtown (formerly the convalescent home of the Adelaide Hospital) was acquired for this purpose. The building was adapted and a new residential block added to designs of the architect Ian Roberts. The new facility was officially opened by the then Archbishop of Armagh, Dr James McCann, on 17 February 1964. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr George Simms, dedicated the new chapel. The opening and development of the Divinity Hostel Buildings at Braemor Park were the subject of our Archive of the Month for February 2014 and can be read here.

An advertisement leaflet for the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel, undated (MS1043/8.14)
An advertisement leaflet for the Church of Ireland Divinity Hostel, undated (MS1043/8.14)

Following the retirement of Canon John Brown as Warden, in 1980, the Hostel was redefined as the Church of Ireland Theological College, and Canon Jim Hartin was appointed as its first principal. More recently, in 2008, the Theological College was transformed into the Church of Ireland Theological Institute with Revd Canon Dr Maurice Elliott as its first director.

Many of the items in this collection relate to Michael Lloyd Ferrar, who was born in Dublin in 1909, the son of Dr Benjamin B. Ferrar, the curator of the Dublin Zoological Gardens. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and ordained for the curacy of St Mary’s, Drogheda, in 1934. He was then curate of Rathmines before being appointed the warden of the Divinity Hostel in 1939, succeeding the Revd R.G.F. Jenkins, after the latter’s appointment as incumbent of All Saints’, Grangegorman. In his distinguished clerical and education career, Ferrar was also given the honourary role of Clerical Vicar at Christ Church Cathedral in 1952, and would remain in the post of warden of the Divinity Hostel until his premature and sudden death on 3 December 1960. Blind in one eye, Ferrar was attending an appointment for medical work on his other eye when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Left: Michael Ferrar pictured outside the Divinity Hostel at Mountjoy Square c.1945 (MS1043/10.4). Right: The students and staff of the Divinity Hostel pictured c.1945 (MS1043/10.4)
Left: Michael Ferrar pictured outside the Divinity Hostel at Mountjoy Square c.1945 (MS1043/10.4). Right: The students and staff of the Divinity Hostel pictured c.1945 (MS1043/10.4)
Front cover of Archbishop Simms' Memoir of Michael Ferrar (1962)
Front cover of Archbishop Simms' Memoir of Michael Ferrar (1962)

Described by former students as ‘meticulous’ and ‘humorous’, but ‘rigid’, he enforced the wearing of cassocks in all public areas of the Hostel. The students nicknamed him ‘the bagman’ and liked to mimic him. He acted in the position of a college ‘grinder’ to the students at the hostel, helping them in their coursework as well as instructing them on the pastoral side of ministry. He was a member of various church committees, and active in youth work, as well as the Anglo–Catholic Guild of Saint Hilda and Saint Erik. Much of his correspondence related to the guild is addressed to ‘Father Michael’. The collection of his personal materials (10/ in this collection) is largely made up of what can be assumed to be the contents of his office upon his death. As well as hostel– and church–related documents, there are also many items relating to his personal life and that of his family, including his sisters Ella and Elizabeth (who was known to many because of her involvement with the Dublin University Chota Nagpur Mission) with whom he lived outside of term at the family home in Anglesea Road. The collection here presents a picture of a man dedicated in his service to the church and the welfare of the students in his care.

Further information about Ferrar is available in Addresses & Papers of Michael Lloyd Ferrar 1909–1960 : Edited, with a memoir, by the Most Reverend G.O. Simms, Archbishop of Dublin (920 Fer in the RCB Library Catalogue).

John Simpson Brown was warden of the Divinity Hostel from 1961-1980. Items relating to his tenure are in MS1043/11 of the collection. Portrait from the RCBL collection
John Simpson Brown was warden of the Divinity Hostel from 1961-1980. Items relating to his tenure are in MS1043/11 of the collection. Portrait from the RCBL collection

Another person of interest who is well represented in this college is John Simpson Brown, who was warden from 1961–1980. Brown was born in 1910 and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Cambridge University. He was ordained for the curacy of Coleraine in the diocese of Connor in 1947 before becoming Chaplain to Christ Church College, Cambridge, in 1950. He was Director of Education for the Church of Ireland from 1957–1961, from which role he was appointed warden of the Divinity Hostel following Ferrar’s sudden death. He remained in this position and as Professor of Pastoral Theology at Trinity College, Dublin, until 1980, whilst also holding the positions of canon and prebendary, treasurer, and latterly precentor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He retired from ministry in 1980 and moved to Belfast, where he lived until his death in 1994. He is fondly remembered by several generations of clergy whom he influenced. The anecdotal stories about him, and quotes attributed to him have become legendary.

Extracurricular activities throughout the history of the theological training have been just as varied as the training itself. In the 1940s and 1950s, when Ferrar was warden, he arranged a Christmas play on several occasions. The students formed the cast, and the subject was often connected to church history. Mr Lennox Robinson of Abbey Theatre fame produced the plays on no less than two occasions. In later years, the College Theological Society (which was founded in 1830 as a student society) became an outlet for the ordinands. Members gathered weekly throughout the term to engage in debate and listen to guest speakers in the Graduates Memorial Building, where they were provided with a forum for the discussion of Philosophical Theology. Items relating to these meetings appear in MS1043/12 and make for interesting reading. Until recent years, ordinands were encouraged to take active membership in the society and very often made up a majority on the committee. The items in this collection cover the period between 1963 and 1965. The papers in this collection give a good insight into the level of discussion that was enjoyed by ordinands at the time.

Items, including a photo of the student cast in costume, relating to the first performance of Richard Hansen's “In the Day of Judgement”, a two part play produced by Lennox Robinson of the Abbey Theatre and performed in 1944 (MS1043/10.2). During much of Ferrar's time as warden, there was a student play performed around Christmas time each year.
Items, including a photo of the student cast in costume, relating to the first performance of Richard Hansen's “In the Day of Judgement”, a two part play produced by Lennox Robinson of the Abbey Theatre and performed in 1944 (MS1043/10.2). During much of Ferrar's time as warden, there was a student play performed around Christmas time each year.

Overall, the items in this collection provide an overarching insight into the evolutionary ideas for a self–controlled Divinity Hostel which developed between the 19th and 20th centuries. The process from a period when a divinity hostel was merely a topic of discussion to the advent of a theological college following the closure of the Divinity School at TCD is well documented in this collection and provides the researcher with a well–rounded view of the foundation, growth and evolution of the body that has become the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.


Sean Hanily is an ordinand at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. During the summer of 2016 he worked in the Representative Church Body Library, where as well as cataloguing this collection he also worked on the Library’s printed collection relating to the Church of Ireland’s connection with Trinity College, Dublin.

For further information please contact:

Dr Susan Hood

Librarian and Archivist
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Churchtown
Dublin 14
01–4923979

susan.hood@rcbdub.org