ISE was founded in 1970 by Fr Michael Hurley SJ. Fr Hurley challenged many of the prevailing theological and political assumptions of that time on the islandof Ireland, overcoming considerable odds to see that ISE was established as a centre for dialogue, scholarship, and service to the wider community. You can read a detailed history of ISE in Fr Hurley’s edited book, The Irish School of Ecumenics, 1970-2007 (Dublin: Columba Press, 2008). Ronald Wells’ book Hope and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2010) devotes an entire chapter to ISE and highlights its significant contributions to peacemaking and reconciliation.
Fr Hurley’s vision was of a place where people from all backgrounds could together explore the challenges and possibilities of Christian unity. Students on the first year of ISE’s ecumenical education programme took courses in methodology, history, comparative Christianity, sociology, ecumenical theology, pastoral problems and inter-church relations.
But ‘ecumenics’ is about more than Christian unity. ISE defines ecumenics as a multi-disciplinary field of study concerned with dialogue, peace and reconciliation. It has three strands: intra-Christian (inter-denominational), inter-religious, and international peace and reconciliation.
Writing in the Foreword to The Irish School of Ecumenics, David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity atCambridgeUniversity, describes it this way (p.18):
‘The most obviously distinctive thing about ISE is its concept of ‘ecumenics’ that combines the inter-church, the inter-faith and the tasks of reconciliation and peacemaking in the whole of society. … Since the term in origin refers to the whole inhabited world, there is no philological reason to limit it to Christians, and I would be with those who want to stick by it and explain its scope whenever possible. Ecumenics in the ISE sense goes well with ecology as two matching core concerns for our century.’
The Motto of the IrishSchoolof Ecumenics (ISE) is Floreat ut Pereat, ‘May it flourish in order to perish’ (Tagadh Bláth Chun go dTagadh Feo). The motto goes hand-in-hand with the logo of ISE, an ear of wheat.
The motto was devised around the time of the founding of ISE by Mr. Gerard Slevin, who was then Chief Herald atDublinCastle. ISE founder Fr Michael Hurley writes:
‘…our motto reminded him of the dying and rising involved not only in the glorification of Jesus but also in natural growth and in the sacrament of the eucharist. He remembered the Johannine verse which says: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (Jn 12:24). And the wheat reminded him of the bread which in the eucharist becomes for us the sacramental body of Christ; he saw each in its own mysterious way illustrating the miracle of change, of dying to rise, and gave us an ear of wheat as our logo.’ (The Irish School of Ecumenics, 1970-2007, p. 8-9)