From the late 17th century Ireland was very much under the control of Protestant England. Over the course of time, through what were known as the “Penal Laws”, Catholics lost their land, their rights and their lives. Catholics were not permitted to hold positions of authority, to own land, or to practice their faith.
When Daniel Delany was a boy in the mid 1700s, like many other Catholic children he gained his early education secretly behind hedges - “hedge schools” - or by private tuition from teachers prepared to risk the wrath of the British authorities. When Daniel wished to study for the priesthood he had to be smuggled away to France.
He returned to Ireland in 1776 to visit his mother, and she persuaded him to stay to help the people regain their Catholic faith.
When he was consecrated a bishop in 1783 Ireland was still very much under English control, however the Penal Laws were not so stringently enforced. Still, Catholics had to tread carefully as obvious trouble-makers were dealt with harshly as was the case with Father John Murphy who was savagely executed by the English for his rebellious activities. This execution took place in 1798 in the town of Tullow just metres from where the Brothers were founded ten years later in 1808.
By the time Daniel Delany became bishop of the Kildare Leighlin diocese, the people who came under his spiritual care had close to lost any knowledge and devotion to their Catholic faith. Naturally, Bishop Delany saw re-eduction in the basic faith and traditions of the Catholic Church as his primary mission.
He attempted several strategies to achieve this mission, and found the most successful to be the active religious education of the young.
Within a few years he offered members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament the opportunity to form themselves into Religious Institutes. And so, on the 1st February, 1807, six women offered themselves to God’s service as Sisters of St Brigid (Brigidine Sisters). One year and one day later, on the 2nd February, 1808, four men consecrated themselves to God as Brothers of St Patrick (Patrician Brothers).
Within months the Brothers found themselves in great difficulty and Bishop Delany offered them the option to disband. They decided to continue on, and in 1810 established their first branch house at Mountrath. Other houses and schools in Ireland quickly followed.
Within forty years priests and bishops from lands foreign and far away began to invite Patricians to their dioceses. In 1846 three Brothers left Ireland from Baltimore on the eastern coast of America. Unfortunately this mission was not to succeed.
In 1875 the Brothers were invited to take over an orphanage in Madras (now Chennai) in India. This was a land much more foreign than America, but the need was one the Brothers felt they could met. And that they did. India is today the Congregation’s largest Province.
Eight years later two Brothers left Ireland for New South Wales, Australia. As with India, the Brothers had been invited by local bishops to take over or establish schools for boys.
Despite earnest efforts since 1837, it was not until 1888 that the Brothers received Provisional Papal Approbation as a Religious Congregation. In 1892 the Brothers received Final Approbation.
In 1948 the Brothers sent six Irish Patricians to Los Angeles on the western coast of the United States. In 1961 three Irish Patricians responded to a bishop’s call to assist with a school in Kenya. In 1968 the Brothers in New South Wales sent two of their own - one born in Ireland and the other in Scotland - to assist with a school in Papua New Guinea.
Despite the famine of vocations to religious life, all these missions still continue today. Fortunately, the Brothers in India, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea, continue to train young men as Patricians to carry on Bishop Delany’s mission of Catholic education.
It is because of the wealth of vocations in India that in 2008 the Brothers were able to establish a school in Dormaa, Ghana.