Peter Kenney

Peter James Kenney SJ (1779–1841) was an Irish Jesuit priest. He founded Clongowes Wood College and was also rector of the Jesuits in Ireland. A gifted administrator, Kenney made two trips to the United States, where he established Maryland as a vice-province and set up Missouri as a separate Jesuit mission.

Peter James Kenney
OccupationJesuit priest
Known forFounding Clongowes Wood

Early life

Kenney was born in Dublin on 7 July 1779. His father was a coachmaker and he received his early education in Carlow College and St. Kieran's College, Kilkenny. His early education was sponsored by the Jesuit Rev. Thomas Betagh SJ. He entered the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1804, continuing his religious training at Stonyhurst College and Palermo, Sicily, where he was ordained in 1808 and where he also obtained his D.D. degree. He returned to Ireland in 1811 with colleagues in order to re-establish the Jesuits in Ireland.[1] At the request of the Irish bishops, Kenney served for a year as vice-president of Maynooth.[2]

Life as an educator

At the time of the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, there were seventeen Jesuits in Ireland. No longer Jesuits, they became diocesan priests. In hope of the order's re-establishment at some point, they began to save some funds for the purpose of re-viving their work. In 1813, using money set aside by the Irish Jesuits, Kenney purchased Castle Brown and the grounds for Clongowes Wood College to provide education to the Irish Catholic gentry. It was the first school set up by the restored Jesuits society. He was also involved in the establishment of the sister school to Clongowes, Tullabeg College in County Offaly.[3] Father Kenney was a friend of the founder of the Christian Brothers Edmund Rice whom he advised (Rice helped Kenney in purchasing Clongowes Wood) and also played a big part in the foundation of the Irish Sisters of Charity.[4]

Upon his return from his first visit to America, in 1822 Kenney became superior of the mission and rector of Clongowes for a second time. He served as a witness in Royal Commission on Education and the House of Lords Enquiry of (1825–1826).

The United States and slavery

In 1819 he visited the Jesuit missions in Maryland in the United States, including Georgetown College.[5] A number of years later he again was appointed Visitator of the American Mission of the Jesuits in Missouri. During his visitation in 1822 he gave an order to Jesuit farmers to "part with slaves".[6] Although slaves were still owned by the Jesuits up until the pope declared it immoral, Kenney visited many Jesuit plantations.[7] At one point he declined working with the Bishop of Dublin Diocese, preferring his work as a Jesuit in education.

In 1830, he returned to the United States, where he spent three years. He established Maryland as a vice-province and Missouri as an independent mission.

Later life

Kenney returned to Ireland in 1834 and was one of the four founders of the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier, Upper Gardiner Street, the first Catholic church erected in Dublin following the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.[8] He died in Rome on November 19, 1841.


In St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, the Peter Kenney Prize is awarded to students of ecclesiastical history studying for BD or BTh degrees.


  1. As One Sent: Peter Kenney SJ (1779–1841) His Mission to Ireland and America by Fr. Tom Morrissey SJ, Four Courts Press, 1996. Paperback edition published as Peter Kenney, SJ (1779–1841): The Restoration of the Jesuits in Ireland, England, Sicily, and North America The Catholic University of America Press, 2015.
  2. "Father Peter Kenney Day", Clongowes Wood College
  3. Tullabeg (Rahan), 1818-1968 By Francis Finegan, Rahan Parish Website.
  4. Jesuit Fathers 150 years in Clongowes Wood Leinster Leader, March 1st 1964.
  5. The Visitation of 1831-1832 The Jesuits of the Middle United States Part II.
  6. Old Bohemia Archived 2012-06-21 at the Wayback Machine St. Denis Church, website.
  7. Memorial to Missouri Province, Peter Kenney, SJ (1832) Archived 2011-01-04 at the Wayback Machine The Jesuit Plantation Project.
  8. Art and Architecture Gardner St. Parish Website.