According to Lenihan, the Jesuits first came to Limerick in 1560 when a member of that order, Fr Woulfe returned here, to his birthplace, as Papal Nuncio 'to the most illustrious princes and to the whole kingdom of Ireland'. The Jesuits opened a classics school, which had an oratory in Limerick after 1575. The order also had a chapel in Castle Lane, which dates from 1642. Near the junction of the Crescent and Newenham Street there is a stone from this chapel with the date 1634 inscribed on it.
Begley states that the Jesuits fled the city after the Siege of Limerick in 1691, but returned in 1728. Later the community had a house in Jail Lane in 1766. The school was forced to close in 1773 at the time of the Suppression.
Bishop Ryan invited the Jesuits to return to Limerick in 1859 to supervise the new St Munchin's College. They moved into 1 Hartstonge St and opened a school and oratory there. In 1862 the college moved to Mungret to make way for a new church at the Crescent.
For a more complete history of the Jesuit order in Limerick,
you should consult History of Limerick by Maurice Lenihan, pp.661-675.
The present church, the Sacred Heart church, is situated at the Crescent, on O'Connell Street. It was completed in 1868 and opened to the public on January 27 1869. The architect of this church was William Corbett and the church is in the parish of St Joseph's. According to Murphy, it was originally intended to dedicate the church to St Aloysius but when it was dedicated in 1869 it was called the Church of the Sacred Heart. The façade of the church is Classical/Grecian in design. It was renovated in 1900. There is a statue of the Sacred Heart above the porch. There are no aisles in the church but the nave has two rows of pews. The nave was extended in 1919.
Just inside the main door of the church there are two holy water fonts. At the back right of the church, there is a picture of Regina Societatis Iesu, whose feastday is on April 22nd. There is also a picture of Blessed Dominic Collins. Dominic was born in Youghal, Co. Cork around 1566. He returned to his native town where the English hanged him on 31 October 1602. His crime was refusing to conform to the religion of the ruling English.
On the right hand side of the church, there is a statue of St Jude and a picture of St Claude la Colombiere. There is a bust of the conversion of St Ignatius Loyola in 1521. Hans Heinzeller from Oberammergau sculpted this woodcarving. This bust was given by U.S. soldiers to Fr Philip V. Sullivan of the Maryland Province on the occasion of Fr R. Nash's retreat to American Army and Air Force Chaplains at Beuron in June 1952. On either side of the bust, there are pictures of Fr John Sullivan, who died in 1933, and Blessed Dominic Collins.
At the back left of the church, there is an altar to the Sacred Heart, on either side of which there are statues of St Margaret Mary and St Claude la Colombiere. Beside this, there is a statue of St Therese of Lisieux. There is also a shrine to St Francis Xavier.
There is a small medallion about 6 inches high of Our Lady
and the Child on the front of the gallery, facing the altar.
At the right apex of the transept and the nave, there is a statue of the Archangel Michael and a statue of St Joseph on the left apex. There is a statue of the Pieta in the left transept. Opposite this, in the right transept, there is a Calvary scene.
There is an altar to Our Lady of Lourdes in the right transept. This altar was the first of its type in Ireland. It was designed by Mr. Goldie and was a gift from Thomas E. O'Brien. Above the altar to Our Lady of Lourdes, there is a mosaic of Our Lady and three Jesuit saints. These saints are (from left to right) St Robert Bellarmime, St Alphonsus and St Aloysius Bonzagh. Beside this altar, there is a statue of St Patrick.
In the left transept, there is an altar to St Joseph. A painting
of St Joseph and the Infant Jesus forms the centerpiece of this altar. Above
the altar, there is a mosaic of St Ignatuis Loyola and his first group of
Jesuits. On the left of this altar, there is a statue of St Francis Xavier.
Also in the left transept, there is an altar to Our Lady of the Wayside. The picture of Our Lady of the Wayside is a mosaic copy of a painting in the Jesuit church, The Gesu, Rome. To the right of this painting, there is a statue of Jesus and his Mother. This statue is unusual because it depicts Jesus as a boy, rather than the more common depictions of him as a baby or as a man. The Limerick Jesuits commissioned this statue in 1950. It was sculpted by Gabrielle Hayes. There is also a statue of the Child of Prague within the altar rails of this shrine.
The ceiling of the church is panelled with floriated ornaments in Stucco work. The high altar was designed by William Corbett and is made from 22 types of precious marble. On each side of the altar there are statues of kneeling angels. The carving on the front of the high altar depicts a scene from the Last Supper. On the floor around the high altar, there are the symbols of the four writers of the Gospels. The angel represents Matthew, the lion represents Mark while Luke and John are represented by the bull and eagle respectively.
Some of the stained glass windows throughout the church show the letters 'IHS'. These letters are the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus which is IHSOUS. In Latin the letters stand for Jesus hominum salvator which translates as 'Jesus, Saviour of men'.
There are nine mosaics above the high altar. The central mosaic is of the Sacred Heart ascending in the presence of St Margaret Mary Alacoque and Blessed Claude la Colombiere. It is surrounded (from left to right) by depictions of St Francis Jerome, St Francis Borgia, St Francis Xavier, St Ignatius, St Stanislaus, St Aloysius, St John Berchmans and St Francis Regis.
To the left of the high altar there is a statue of the Immaculate
Conception and on the right, there is a statue of Christ the King. To the
right of the altar, there is a small statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
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