Hand, John (1807–46), catholic priest and founder of All Hallows College, Dublin, was born 23 August 1807 at Bolies, Oldcastle, Co. Meath, eldest of six children of Luke Hand, farmer, and Margaret Hand (née Fox). He attended school at Oldcastle and then, intending to study for the priesthood, at Navan seminary (1826–30), living with his aunt in Kells, several miles away, as his family could not afford the boarding fees. Because he had not boarded at the school he was deemed ineligible for admission to the national seminary at Maynooth. He returned to his parents, now living at Stonefield, near Oldcastle, though he soon went to Mullingar as an apprentice to a teacher. The bishop of Meath managed to get Hand into Maynooth, though he had to work as an accounts assistant for the college and his admission directly into the theology class was resented by other students. He was ordained deacon for the diocese of Meath in June 1835 but left to join the group of young priests then attached to the diocese of Dublin who were later to become the Irish Vincentians. Hand taught at their school at Usher's Quay and was ordained priest on 21 December 1835 at Castleknock College. He was appointed to work at St Peter's church, Phibsborough, in 1838 and taught in the school there as well as working in the church.
On 18 September 1838 John Hand attended a meeting in Dublin to establish in Ireland the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, which funded foreign missions. It led to his interest in founding ‘a catholic college for the foreign missions’ in Dublin. He gained the support of Daniel Murray (qv), archbishop of Dublin, but when the Irish bishops came to consider his proposals at a meeting on 5 February 1841 they rejected them on the grounds of a lack of financial viability. Most indeed were worried by what they saw as Hand's over-enthusiasm and considered that his ‘reason was disturbed’. Hand never again approached the bishops collectively for help.
With Murray's support Hand left for the Continent in order to obtain papal approval for his project, to secure finances for it, and to decide on how it should be organised. He failed to raise money, but in Rome on 8 February 1842 Cardinal Fransoni, prefect of Propaganda, approved Hand's plan. In Paris Hand visited a variety of religious missionary societies, being most impressed by the Sulpicians, a community of diocesan priests. Returning to Dublin on 4 June 1842 Hand encountered opposition from the Association for the Propagation of the Faith there because the Holy See had commissioned him personally, and not the Association, to found the college. He retained the support of Murray, however, and in September 1842 obtained a lease on Drumcondra House, north of the city, from Dublin corporation. On 18 October 1842 he opened All Hallows College with two other priests. Within a year there were several dozen students. By 1845 seven priests were on the staff of the college.
Hand believed that ‘a missionary college in Dublin would contribute enormously to the advancement of the church in the British empire’. Priests ordained at All Hallows would serve in dioceses round the world and not be members of a transnational religious order. After his time All Hallows graduates tended to follow post-famine Irish emigrants, but this was not Hand's original plan. Among the areas to which All Hallows priests were sent during Hand's lifetime were India, the West Indies, and Mauritius, as well as the USA, Canada, Britain, and Australia.
Finances for the new college were always precarious. Hand himself went from door to door in Dublin seeking donations. After a money-raising trip to Meath in March 1846 he became ill, dying of consumption on 20 May 1846. Shortly before his death he had recommended that All Hallows College become affiliated with the Sulpicians. Nothing came of this but the college flourished, nonetheless, being entrusted to the Irish Vincentians in 1892, after a dispute among its diocesan directors.