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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Michael Collins

Gordon: You are one of my favorite authors and w will discuss  some of you books later in this interview. Meanwhile  could  you share with our readers some background  on an ancestor of your father’s side, Henry Jones?

Father Michael: I am a great nephew of Henry Jones, Episcopalian Bishop of Meath in the 17th century through my paternal grandmother, Christine Jones. Obviously that was several generations ago. My grand mother’s side of the family were Catholic.  Henry gave the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, both 9th century  Gospel manuscripts to Trinity College Dublin, where he was Vice- Chancellor for a number years. I am getting ready to make a documentary about the Book of Kells and it’s remarkable history with and American documentary and film company. It will be great to visit Iona and Kells and learn more about the Jones family.

Gordon: Where did you attend seminary and what were some of your favorite courses?

Father Michael: I attended the diocesan seminary of the Holy Cross, Clonliffe, which was on the north side of the city. I have tremendously happy memories of my seven years in college. I always had a huge passion for history and thus enjoyed those lectures most. I studied Philosophy and Greek and Roman Civilization at University College, Dublin, the before embarking on a degree in theology. I made a lot of great friends in college and we still meet up regularly. 

Gordon: While you were studying in Rome, and worked  as a guide in St. Peter’s Basilica., what were some of the  most interesting questions that your were asked?

Father Michael: I was very lucky to find a summer job as a guide in St. Peter’s Basilica , June- September between 1978-84. It was an amazing experience to meet people from all over the world. There are few things as wonderful as walking along the Tiber, enjoying an ice cream on a hot summer afternoon. One day, while on duty at the Vatican, a lady asked why the Sistine Chapel was famous. I explained to her that many great artists from the Renaissance worked there, including Botticelli, Raphael and Perugino. That didn’t mean much to her. Then I told here that Michelangelo painting the ceiling and wall behind the altar. She looked at me quizzically and asked: Michael who?

Gordon: Please provide an overview on the abortion challenges in Ireland.  

Father Michael: The issue of abortion has to be tackled in every society and in a country like Ireland where Catholicism is the majority religion, the Church can contribute it’s view on the sacredness of human life. There was a referendum in 1982 which enshrined the equal right of the mother and unborn child to life in the Irish Constitution. This was inserted as the Eighth Amendment. The Irish Government has offered the people the opportunity to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow for abortion up to twelve weeks in some cases and up to nine months in other unspecified cases. The Government is not neutral and members, including the Prime Minister and Health Minister are vocally supporting the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Crucially, the politicians ask the people to entrust them with the power to legislate now, and in the future, for abortion. 

Abortion exists as a moral issue but I am wary of entrusting politicians with the power to permit and also promote liberal abortion. Limited abortion is really the thin edge of the wedge. I believe we can be proud that we have the right of life, even for the unborn, enshrined in our national Constitution

Gordon: You have taught in several universities, Please share with  our readers an overview of your teaching career and  the courses that your have taught.

Father Michael: I was fortunate to teach at the American University, John Cabot, Temple University and Duquesne University Rome campus. The courses I taught were usually called “ Shaping of the Ancient World” or Roman Art and Architecture. I also taught introductory philosophy and World Religions. They were broad courses and also good fun to teach. The young people are like sponges and so much is new to them that they enjoy everything they hear and learn. It is always a delight to spend time with them, and I learn as much from them as I teach. 

Gordon: You write regular columns for The Catholic Times., The Irish Time. and several other publications.   What are some of the recent topics that you have addressed and how do you decide on your topics?

Father Michael: I must admit the paper I enjoy writing for most is the Catholic Times. I began writing there about eight years ago. The editor, Kevin Flaherty, proposed the title “Hidden Gems” which gives me carte- blanche to write about anything that comes into my head. Most articles come from a Catholic slant. Usually I choose an item, perhaps an old papyrus, a chalice, a painting, a statue and then trace its history. It is a little like Neil Mac Gregor’s “History of the World in 1000 Objects” and I have been invited to collect a number of articles and publish them as a book. 

Another reason I enjoy writing “Hidden Gems” for the Catholic Times is that I have the opportunity to travel to interesting places. I usually limit myself to Europe but I have been fortunate enough to visit the United States of American on several occasions where I have many friends.

Gordon: Please provide an overview of your interview on 60 Minutes 

Father Michael: I was invited to take part in a segment of 60 Minutes talking about the Vatican LIbrary. It was a great opportunity to share something about the history of this incredible collections, which houses manuscripts going back to at least the 4th century. It was founded in 1475 and the 60 Minutes segment celebrated the end of a period of restoration. There are over a million books in the Library, not counting the thousands of vellum manuscripts and incunabula, the precursor of the printed book. I have been lucky enough to visit the Library on several occasions. I once had the opportunity of seeing Archives of the Sistine Chapel and saw a copy of Allegri’s celebrated Miserere which was composed for the Sistine Choir by Giorgio Allegri in the 16th century

Gordon: Your book Pope Francis: A Photographic Portrait of the People's Pope is my favorite photography book. What inspired you to develop this book?

Father Michael: Actually the idea came from a friend of mine, Rodolfo Felici. His family had been papal photographers since the second half of the 19th century  and had photographed eleven popes in 150 years. The idea was to make a photo documentary of the first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate. So we showed the moment of the surprise abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, the conclave that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the installation and then, month by month, life at the Vatican. It was a fascinating project because we wanted to capture the historic dimension surrounding the election of the first Pope from the Americas. I gave Pope Francis a copy of the book and he wrote complimenting us and noting “it is true that a picture captures a thousand words.” So, the idea was Rodolfo’s and I persuaded Dorling Kindersley, DK, to publish the book. Sadly, after five generations the Felici studio closed, although no explanation every came from the Holy See as to why they had dispensed with the services of the Felici Studio after one and a half centuries, right through five generations of papal photographers.

Gordon: I have given several copies of copies of The Vatican: Secrets and Treasure  of the Holy City as gifs to  friends over the past several years. How did you develop such a powerful backgroundin art?

Father Michael: When I was in school, I was at the back of the class and I spent a lot of time drawing. I am not sure if the teachers saw me or paid much attention. I became very interested in art and my first thought was to become an art restorer when I left school. I have always been fascinated by the lives of the artists also. Travelling around Europe has given me a terrific opportunity of seeing masterpieces in churches and museums. My favourite period is the Renaissance and my favourite medium is fresco, or oil on canvas. Despite that, my favourite artist is probably Caravaggio. 

Gordon: Please share with our readers some information on your upcoming tour  of the UK and US

Father Michael: I have been lucky to visit several literary festivals in England. I spoke at the Coughton Court, where the famous Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot was hatched and I spoke also the Althorp Literary Festival, where Princess Diana lived and is now buried. Last fall I spoke at the Blenheim Literary Festival at Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born.  The talk was on Remarkable Books, a selection of famous book published by Dorkling Kindersley  in October 2017. In March this year, 2018, I return to the Oxford Literary Festival to speak on Journey, an Illustrated History of Travel, which was also published by Dorling Kindersley in October 2017. 

I have just finished a short biography of Pope Paul VI for Liturgical Press, which will be published in April 2018. It will be the first book in English on Giovanni Batista Montini, who was Paul VI and who will be canonized by Pope Francis October 2018 at the Vatican.

I am at present making plans to visit the USA this year, but as yet, I have no firm dates. But I love the States and am very much looking forward to visiting. 

I recently had a meeting with publishers who are considering my idea “Sacred Books Which Changed the World.” If it goes ahead it should be out in Fall 2019. I am also exploring another idea and hope to update that shortly.

Gordon: In closing, here is a list of all of the books that you have written and to which you have contributed.

Father Michael:

Thank you for the invitation to talk with you. Here is a link to my webpage


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