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Ciphers of Transcendence, Essays in Philosophy of Religion in Honour of Patrick Masterson

Ciphers of Transcendence, Essays in Philosophy of Religion in Honour of Patrick Masterson

Newman House, Tuesday 10 December 2019

Launch by Professor Andrew J Deeks and Dr Maurice Manning

Uachtarán na hÉireann agus Bean Uí hUigínn, fáilte go Teach Newman.  

President and Mrs Higgins, welcome to Newman House on this most special of occasions.  

Archbishop, Senators, Reverends, distinguished guests and friends.

We are delighted that you have joined us as we honour the doyen of university presidents emeriti, Patrick Masterson this evening.

Twenty-five years since he was President of University College Dublin, Paddy remains one of the most admired scholars and university leaders.  And it is testament to the esteem in which he is held that among this most distinguished gathering of guests are Dr Art Cosgrove and Dr Hugh Brady who, along with myself, followed in Paddy’s footsteps as President of UCD.

It is a great pleasure for me to co-host the launch of this festschrift with the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Dr Maurice Manning.  

Paddy Masterson graduated from UCD in 1958 with a BA in Philosophy, first class honours, first place and with a scholarship from the NUI to undertake doctorate studies at the University of Louvain in Belgium where he was awarded a PhD avec grande distinction in 1962.  

In 1963 he returned to UCD to join the Department of Metaphysics and pursue an illustrious career, firstly as a scholar, author and teacher of philosophy and subsequently as an academic leader.  

His first book Atheism and Alienation. The Philosophical Sources of Contemporary Atheism, published in 1971, received international acclaim and was taken up by publishers in the USA and the UK as well as being translated into Japanese.   

He was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology in 1980, became Registrar in 1983 and served as President from 1986 to 1994.

Paddy has always been a man of action and his foresight during his presidency set a footprint onto the campus canvas that inspired and enabled his successors.  

Back in the 1980s, Irish universities experienced ‘serious reductions in State funding’, which presented an enormous challenge for the then young Belfield.  Undeterred, Paddy established a President’s Development Council and appointed a Director of Development with responsibility for alumni relations, relations with donors and sponsors and fundraising. Among his legacies, supported by philanthropy, are the elegant aula maxima O’Reilly Hall, the iconic UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School at Carysfort, Blackrock, and the first restoration of Newman House – where we are this evening.

In 1989 Paddy created the Newman Fellowship Programme to provide promising early-career researchers with an opportunity to nurture their academic careers and bring new talent to UCD during a time of deep economic recession. This year the Newman Fellowship Programme is celebrating its 30th anniversary and to date has supported almost 200 Fellows. The programme is wholly funded by philanthropy and I am personally very pleased that many of our former Newman Fellows, including the President of Maynooth, Professor Philip Nolan, are here this evening.  As a purely educational grant, each Fellow has the freedom to pursue their areas of research in both the humanities and sciences. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Newman Fellowship donors who have so generously supported this extraordinary programme.

Perhaps his most transformative action for the University was the specific purchase of land around Belfield and the construction of student residences on campus.  Roebuck Castle, purchased in 1986, became a halls of residence; the first student village, Belgrove, was opened in 1990 and the second student village, Merville, opened in 1992.  From then on UCD sought to create a vibrant campus environment where the community studies, works and lives.  

Thirty years on we are in the process of increasing the on-campus residence numbers from 3,000 to 6,000.  The first phase of this expansion, which includes 1,000 new residences as well as a village hub with shops, cafes and social facilities for our students is under construction and I hope Paddy that you will do us the honour of opening this hub next September.

When Paddy completed his term as President of UCD in 1994 he left to take up the position of Principal of the European University Institute of Florence where he spent – as he put it – “eight most interesting years”. But he has always kept in touch with his university and remains Professor Emeritus of Philosophy of Religion.  

Outside of Ireland, he has been honoured in Portugal, Italy, the United States and his beloved France.  

He shares his intellect by continuing to publish in philosophy.  His most recent book, Approaching God: Between Phenomenology and Theology, published in 2013, demonstrates the depth and clarity of Paddy’s thinking as he compares three rival versions of theological inquiry: Phenomenology, Metaphysics and Theology.

And he shares his wit, through his more recent passion, fiction. His comic novel, Quality Time at Saint Chinian, published in 2017, is set in an imaginary French provincial university.  The book follows the adventures of the members of a Quality Appraisal Committee sent by the Minister for Universities and Research, as they explore the various schools of the university, where they are confronted by students, faculty and staff, keen to demonstrate just how hard-working they are and just what an extraordinary university St Chinian is.  All very tongue in cheek, of course, but Paddy does manage to address some serious issues currently being faced by universities around the world.

This evening, we are here to honour Paddy through a festschrift written by philosophers and intellects whose orbits intersected with his.  Ciphers of Transcendence is a remarkable book – and Maurice will speak further about it.  The contributors – like Paddy – are powerful intellects who have a capacity to communicate their thoughts and share their philosophical views with a wider audience.   Contained in the book is one very special contribution – a hand-written poem by Seamus Heaney ‘Remembering Bothar Bui’, written for Paddy’s beloved wife, Frankie, in 1990.  And I am delighted Máire Heaney is with us this evening.  You are warmly welcomed Máire.

The book has come about through the remarkable efforts of Professor Fran O’Rourke.  Fran, known I am sure to everyone in this House, is a man of energy and drive who always has a scheme up his sleeve.  Fran is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at UCD who, after a distinguished career of 36 years, continues to contribute to the University.  Last year Fran received a second PhD for his work on James Joyce, Aristotle and Aquinas.  His interest in Joyce extends to music and along with classical guitarist, John Feeley, Fran has recorded Joyce-related songs and performed not just in Ireland but also in China and the USA.  I would like to personally congratulate and thank Fran for this fine festschrift.

I would also like to thank Conor Graham, Director of Irish Academic Press for producing such a fine publication.  I have no doubt that this beautiful book will be a sought-after edition by not only philosophers but a wider array of readers who will enjoy the stimulation of the essays.

And finally – before handing back to Fran, 

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Paddy’s family.  Thank you indeed for sharing your treasure – Paddy – with us all.

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