Today Rome has two churches dedicated to St. Patrick.  Given the number of churches dedicated to St. Patrick throughout the Catholic world, this is hardly a surprise.  What is perhaps more surprising is the fact that for over 1,500 years Rome was without a church of dedicated to the Irish national saint. This was rectified on 1 February 1888, when the foundation stone of the present church was laid.  This was the brainchild of Fr. Patrick Glynn from Limerick.  But it would take more than 20 years and another hand, Dr Alphonsus Maurice McGrath from Waterford, before the church was completed.  It was officially opened on St Patrick’s Day 1911.

It is no accident that both Fr. Glynn and Dr. McGrath were members of the Augustinian Order (OSA).  For St. Patrick’s church is intimately connected with the history of the Irish Augustinians, who still own the property and administer the church.  But the history of the Irish Augustinians in Rome goes back more than 200 years before 1888, and the present site at St Patrick’s is but the fifth location in Rome where the Irish Augustinians have been based.

The beginnings of the Irish Augustinian association with Rome go back to a more troubled period of Irish history when the Catholic faith was under threat in the British Isles.  The training of priests – to take one example – was forbidden by the Penal Laws.  The Irish Colleges which dotted Europe in the wake of these laws reflect one solution to the problem.  To this day in Rome, there are colleges which belong to the Irish bishops, the Irish Dominicans and the Irish Franciscans as well as the Augustinians.

In the case of the Irish Augustinians, there were several unsuccessful attempts to establish a college in various parts of Europe.  But the various efforts eventually bore fruit in 1656.  There is a document in the archives of the Augustinians in Rome, dated 2 July 1656, in which Fr. James McCarthy OSA is given responsibility for the church and priory of San Matteo in Merulana in Rome.  San Matteo was to be the first base for the Irish Augustinians in Rome.

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