University College Cork - National University of Ireland, Cork,

on 5th May 2000,
on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on


A Leas-Sheansailéir agus a mhuintir na hOllscoile,

In 1997, the new Universities Act encouraged University Governing Authorities to consider splitting the post of President from that of Chairperson of the Governing Authority, and appoint an 'outside' Chairperson. When I became President of UCC last year, I decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of this new possibility in University Governance.

Since it was a new departure, considerable thought was given to the filling of this responsible post. Our priority was for a top-drawer academic who had experience in the complexities of university administration; but who would be at the same time practised in the art of presiding at meetings, effective and business-like, preferably with broad vision and foresight; someone who would keep pace with a vigorous new phase in the College's distinguished history.

Our ideal also included personal qualities, like intelligence, patience and diplomacy, being a good listener, fair-minded, unflappable, but skilful in getting the business done.

That wasn't all.

We also wanted someone from the humanities side recognising the large humanities faculty we have here at UCC and who would complement my own background in science and technology.

If possible, we thought this paragon of academic virtue should also have seniority or dignity - in a word, a certain GRAVITAS - befitting this responsible office, and commanding respect all round.

One figure emerged, and one only I may add, with a sure instinct from our collective consciousness as indisputably suitable - that was Professor Enda McDonagh, recently retired from our sister University at Maynooth.

He embodied in his person the values of the university - intellect, scholarship, sagacity, integrity and persona.

He was a man well-known for his openness, his receptiveness to different traditions and to different worlds : the worlds of theology and science, of politics and poetry, the world of Church and State affairs and the university world.

Well known too for his dedication and personal commitment: -
— to truth in all its forms, scholarly and scientific, literary, philosophical and religious;
— to justice, social and distributive justice, locally, and globally the gap between the privileged and the underclass;

his commitment to—
— to freedom
—personal freedoms such as freedom of conscience, political and religious freedom, academic freedom;

his dedication to—
—to beauty and aesthetic values, in language and in art.

Enda McDonagh was born and reared in the remote rural village of Bacon in Co. Mayo, in 1930. Even for Ireland of the 1930s, social and economic conditions there were very poor. Out of a class of 24 in Primary School, only 3 went on to Secondary; and of those only 2 ended up working in this country. That tells its own story Enda came from a family of teachers-cum-politicians, and loved books from an early age, even to the extent of attempting his first novel at the age of 9!

His first love at third-level was science. His primary degree a Bachelor of Science.

His second love was theology. More accurately perhaps - theology replaced science when Enda decided to go on for the priesthood, for which he needed a basic degree in theology. And, while initially he had no desire to be a theologian but to minister to people and give them back something of what he was gifted to receive, his mentors had other ideas.

And so, Enda was sent for postgraduate studies in theology to Rome and the University of Munich, where for his doctoral dissertation he investigated the peculiar relation between "Church & State in the Irish Constitution".

Back to Maynooth, the National Seminary and Pontifical University, where he was appointed Professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law at a precocious 28, a post he held for 36 years, from 1958 to 1995.

Subsequently, he was appointed Director of Postgraduate Studies and Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Maynooth; and spent time abroad as Visiting Professor, Research Fellow and Extern Examiner at various universities in Britain, the US, Canada and South Africa.

Like a true academic who loves his subject, Enda has been widely published; and has engaged in the major debates on Christian ethics down the years, nationally and internationally.

By now, he has 20 books and countless specialised articles in theology to his credit. And, there are more in the pipeline - including a major new work entitled "The Risk of God".

Professor McDonagh has also been busy in other circles. On the national scene, he was an elected member of the Senate of the National University of Ireland for 23 years (1972-'95). He served as a member of the Higher Education Authority from 1985-'90 and was twice elected President of the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

He was also President of the National Conference of Priests in Ireland; and was official chaplain to Uachtarán na h-Éireann, Mrs.Mary Robinson.

It is not without its irony that the first independent Chairperson to be appointed here should be a Professor of Theology, since the old Queen's Colleges, were known as "godless Colleges" because of a ban on the teaching of denominational theology as a curriculum subject.

But times have changed. We can recognise the academic merit of theology as a discipline. We can discern the authentic theologian/scholar who is open to what is new and valuable, yet steeped in a civilised tradition - or should I say traditions? - for Professor McDonagh is the inheritor of great traditions of Western civilisation - the great humanist tradition, as well as the scientific and the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the West. He enters those different worlds, interprets them, allows them to challenge each other critically in him. He allows them to inhabit him; and finds the interaction fruitful, even "explosive, illuminating and truthful", he says, in developing a theology of life, primarily of the celebration of Christian living.

On his own admission, he is more at home with questioning people - be they believers or unbelievers - than with unquestioning people, a characteristically university mindset.

There is another side to Professor McDonagh of which many of you may not be aware; and that is his involvement with NGOs in their development work, specifically with AIDS victims in Africa and Asia, from Nigeria to Bangkok.

Professor McDonagh's emotional and imaginative life lies in making things better for people, highlighting the plight of the underclass

That is why he became a priest
That is why he spreads the Good News
That is the purple thread that runs through his life

We've had ample opportunity here in UCC to sample for ourselves Professor McDonagh's expertise-in-action over the past 12 months.

We've experienced his deft handling of weighty and potentially divisive matters at the Governing Body. We admire how he takes on board the differing view points as well as the even-handed way in which he enables the different voices to be heard. Where most of us shrink from differences, Enda is cheered by diversity.

But his democratic sensibility by itself could leave us with a series of long-winded talk-shops if Enda didn't also possess the equal skill of disengaging and bringing a discussion to closure when he senses consensus.

Professor McDonagh has not only fulfilled our hopes for a competent and gracious Chairperson, but he has come to us bearing gifts, especially his own deeply enriching presence.

We thank him publicly here today and we salute his life-long achievements by conferring on him the highest honour the University can award, the Honorary Doctorate in both Laws, civil and canonical.

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Utroque Jure, tam Civili quam Canonico, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.

For further information please contact: Orlaith O'Callaghan,
Director of Public Affairs,
University College, Cork,
Tel. 021-4903771