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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Dom Columba Marmion Beatified by Pope John Paul II

Dom Columba Marmion, a Dublin priest who is credited with curing an American woman of cancer, is beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000.

Marmion is born April 1, 1858, in Dublin, the seventh of nine children of William Marmion and Herminie Marmion (née Cordier). He attends St. Laurence O’Toole’s, a primary school run by the Augustinian Fathers of John’s Lane. On January 11, 1869, he transfers to Belvedere College, where he receives an excellent grounding in Greek and Latin from the Jesuit Fathers. From there, he proceeded in January 1874 to Clonliffe College, where he remains until December 1879, when the new Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Edward MacCabe, selects him for further theological studies in Rome.

Marmion is in Rome at the Pontifical Irish College, studying theology at the Propaganda College, for eighteen months (December 1879 – July 1881). Although invited by the authorities at Propaganda to present himself for the doctorate degree, he turns down the offer for health reasons, on account of the necessary extra year in Rome which this would entail. On returning to Dublin he spends the first year as curate in Dundrum parish. This is followed by four years (1882–86) as professor of philosophy at Clonliffe. On October 25, 1886, he receives from the newly appointed Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. William Walsh, his dimissorial letters, granting him permission to join the Benedictine order. On November 21, 1886, he enters the newly founded Belgian Maredsous Abbey, with which, by virtue of the Benedictine vow of stability, he is to be associated for the rest of his life.

The first thirteen years of his monastic life (1886–99) are spent at Maredsous Abbey itself. After an unsuccessful start in the abbey school as a kind of housemaster to the junior boys, he finds his feet within the community through congenial work, notably the teaching of Thomistic philosophy to the junior monks. He also gradually builds up a reputation as a spiritual guide through the exercise of ministry on a small scale in the surrounding area. The next decade (1899–1909) finds him in Louvain as prior and professor of dogmatic theology at Mont César Abbey, which is founded and staffed by Maredsous. This decade provides a wide outlet for his matured spiritual doctrine through his lectures on dogmatic theology in Mont César, his retreats to priests and religious, and his private correspondence. The third and final phase of his monastic life begins when the chapter of Maredsous elects him as its third abbot in 1909.

An invitation is received from the Belgian government from December 1909 to April 1910 to undertake a Benedictine foundation in Katanga, part of the Belgian Congo. In spite of pressure from government quarters the chapter of Maredsous refuses the offer, and Marmion accepts this negative decision. In 1913 the entire community of Anglican Benedictines of Caldey Island, Wales, transfer their allegiance from Canterbury to Rome. Marmion becomes deeply involved in the spiritual and canonical process of the reception of the community into the Catholic church.

The outbreak of World War I ushers in four years of grave anxiety for Marmion. Belgium is not completely occupied, but retains sovereignty over an area extending inland about twenty miles to the Ypres Salient. This enables the young monks of Maredsous, for whom Marmion had found a temporary home in Edermine, County Wexford, to travel to and from the Western Front, where they are being called up to serve as stretcher bearers in the Belgian army. He does his utmost to maintain the unity of his community between those who had remained in Maredsous and the Edermine group.

The first of Marmion’s great spiritual books, Christ, the Life of the Soul, appears in 1916, and its phenomenal success has been described as a silent plebiscite. This is followed by Christ in His Mysteries (1919), Christ the Ideal of the Monk (1922), and Sponsa Verbi (1923). The books are able to appear in rapid succession since they are compiled from his existing conference notes.

One final piece of important monastic and ecclesiastical and even political business absorbs much of Marmion’s energies, although strictly speaking it is not of his remit. His strenuous efforts to install Belgian monks in the Abbey of the Dormition on Mount Zion in Jerusalem following the internment (November 1918) of the original German Benedictine community by the victorious British forces are of no avail, the question being finally settled by the reinstallation of the German (Beuronese) monks in 1921.

Marmion dies at Maredsous on January 30, 1923, following a brief illness which originates in a chill and is aggravated by influenza.

Marmion is beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000. This is the outcome of a popular reputation for holiness which had increased steadily since his death and the procedures for beatification prompted in 1954 by Mgr. Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. The canonical steps are: diocesan process at Namur (1957–61); examination at Rome of Marmion’s writings (1960–73); a critical biography (1987–94), written by Mark Tierney, OSB, for the Roman process on the ‘heroicity’ of Marmion’s virtues which concluded in June 1999; and finally an inexplicable cure of cancer through Marmion’s intercession, judged as miraculous by Rome on January 25, 2000.

The originality of Marmion’s spiritual doctrine lay in his truly central emphasis on the doctrine of our adoption as the children of God in baptism. Many of his predecessors had also emphasised this doctrine, but few had made it the focus from which everything radiated and to which everything returned. The second characteristic of Marmion’s teaching, a much more personal trait, is the conviction of authenticity communicated by his writings, of the greatness of our sharing in the sonship of the Word. This makes a deep and lasting impression on the reader, and gives an infinitely sacred meaning to the title ‘children of God’ and thereby to the whole of life. The third characteristic of Marmion’s teaching is the simplicity with which the deepest theological truths are presented – truths which preachers often feel their people cannot ‘take,’ and hence are left unsaid. Marmion presents these truths directly from St. John and St. Paul, and not merely in familiar extracts but in the whole sweep of their texts.

(From: “Marmion, Dom Columba” by Placid Murray, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Execution of Oliver Plunkett, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Oilibhéar Pluincéid), Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland who is the last victim of the Popish Plot, is executed in Tyburn, London, England, on July 1, 1681. He is beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, thus becoming the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625 (earlier biographers give his date of birth as November 1, 1629, but 1625 has been the consensus since the 1930s) in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. A grandson of James Plunket, 8th Baron Killeen (c. 1542-1595), he is related by birth to a number of landed families, such as the recently ennobled Earls of Roscommon, as well as the long-established Earls of Fingall, Lords Louth, and Lords Dunsany. Until his sixteenth year, his education is entrusted to his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, and brother of Luke Plunket, 1st Earl of Fingall, who later becomes successively Bishop of Ardagh and of Meath.

As an aspirant to the priesthood, Plunkett sets out for Rome in 1647, under the care of Father Pierfrancesco Scarampi of the Roman Oratory. At this time the Irish Confederate Wars are raging in Ireland. These are essentially conflicts between native Irish Catholics, English and Irish Anglicans and Nonconformists. Scarampi is the Papal envoy to the Catholic movement known as the Confederation of Ireland. Many of Plunkett’s relatives are involved in this organisation.

Plunkett is admitted to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and proves to be an able pupil. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath the public practice of Catholicism is banned and Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitions to remain in Rome and, in 1657, becomes a professor of theology. Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II‘s reign, he successfully pleads the cause of the Irish Catholic Church, and also serves as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on July 9, 1669 he is appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and is consecrated on November 30 at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent, Eugeen-Albert, count d’Allamont. He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the Stuart Restoration of 1660 had begun on a basis of toleration. The pallium is granted him in the Consistory of July 28, 1670.

After arriving back in Ireland, Plunkett tackles drunkenness among the clergy, writing, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint.” The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attend the college, no fewer than 40 of whom are Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry is a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48,000 Catholics over a four-year period. The government in Dublin, especially under the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde (the Protestant son of Catholic parents), extend a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. He goes into hiding, travelling only in disguise, and refuses a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he is largely left in peace since the Dublin government, except when put under pressure from the English government in London, prefer to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678 the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Catholic action. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot is arrested, and Plunkett again goes into hiding. Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, he refuses to leave his flock. He is arrested in Dublin on December 6, 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gives absolution to the dying Talbot. He is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this is unproven, some in government circles are worried about the possibility that a repetition of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 is being planned and, in any case, this is a convenient excuse for proceeding against Plunkett.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and is condemned to death. Numerous pleas for mercy are made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thinks it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett.

Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Catholic martyr to die in England. His body is initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, in the courtyard of St. Giles in the Fields church. The remains are exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head is brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh, and eventually to Drogheda where since June 29, 1921 it has rested in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Most of the body is brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his canonization in 1975 his casket is opened and some parts of his body given to the St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda.


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Birth of Christopher Augustine Reynolds, Archbishop of Adelaide

Christopher Augustine Reynolds, the first Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, South Australia, is born in Dublin on August 11, 1834.

Reynolds is the son of Patrick Reynolds and his wife Elizabeth, née Bourke. Educated by the Carmelites at Clondalkin, Dublin, he later comes under the influence of the Benedictines when he volunteers for the Northern Territory mission of Bishop Rosendo Salvado Rotea, and is sent to Subiaco near Rome to train for the priesthood. He leaves after three years and goes to the Swan River Colony with Bishop Joseph Serra to continue his training at New Norcia, arriving at Fremantle in May 1855. Probably because of poor health, he leaves the Benedictines and in January 1857 goes to South Australia. He completes his training under the Jesuits at Sevenhill and is ordained in April 1860 by Bishop Patrick Geoghegan. He is parish priest at Wallaroo (where he builds the church at Kadina), Morphett Vale and Gawler. When Bishop Laurence Sheil dies in March 1872, he is appointed administrator of the diocese of Adelaide. On November 2, 1873 in Adelaide he is consecrated bishop by Archbishop John Bede Polding.

Reynolds has a large diocese and in 1872-80 travels over 52,000 miles in South Australia. The opening up of new agricultural districts, an increase in Irish migrants and diocesan debts had produced a grave shortage of clergy. But his most urgent problem is conflicts between and within the clergy and laity over education, especially the role to be played by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart. He supports the Sisters, reopens schools closed by Archbishop Sheil and, though opposed by the Bishop of the Diocese of Bathurst Matthew Quinn, helps the Superior, Mother Mary MacKillop, secure Rome’s approval for autonomy for her Sisterhood.

Reynolds is not a good administrator and his strenuous efforts to extend Catholic education after the Education Act of 1875 incurs alarming debts. In 1880-81 he visits Rome. On his return, increasingly concerned with finances, disturbed at the prospect of losing St. Joseph nuns and, to some extent misled by jealousy and intrigue, he dramatically reverses his policy towards the Sisterhood and on November 14, 1883 relieves Mother Mary of her duties as Mother Superior. Though the Plenary Council of the Bishops of Australasia, held in Sydney in 1885, support him, in 1888 Pope Leo XIII decrees a central government for the Sisterhood, to be located in Sydney. The council requests that Adelaide be raised to an archiepiscopal and metropolitan see and on September 11, 1887 Reynolds is invested archbishop by Cardinal Francis Moran.

Reynolds’s health is never robust and after a two-year illness he dies on June 12, 1893 in Adelaide, where he is buried. Although he is austere and hard-working, he leaves his successor church debts of over £56,000. A particularly fine preacher, he is widely respected for his missionary zeal and for an ecumenical spirit unusual for his time.

(From: Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://www.adb.anu.edu.au, Ian J. Bickerton)


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Death of Mother Mary Martin

Mother Mary of the Incarnation Martin, foundress of the Catholic religious institute of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, dies in Drogheda, County Louth, on January 27, 1975.

Martin is born Marie Helena Martin in Glenageary, County Dublin, on April 24, 1892, the second of twelve children of Thomas Martin and Mary Moore. In 1904, while attending classes for her First Communion, she contracts rheumatic fever, which is to affect her heart permanently. Tragedy hits the family on St. Patrick’s Day 1907, as her father is killed in what is presumed to be an accidental shooting. Later her mother sends her to schools in Scotland, England and Germany, all of which she leaves as quickly as possible.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Martin joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a division of the Red Cross. In October 1915, she is assigned to work in Malta. After learning that her brother had been killed in the campaign of Gallipoli, she returns to Ireland in April 1916. She is called to serve again a month later at Neufchâtel-Hardelot, France, in a field hospital near the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. This assignment lasts until December of that year, followed by a brief stint in Leeds, England. After the war, she is called upon help in nursing victims of the Spanish flu, which had begun to devastate populations around the world.

In 1917 a new curate comes to the parish which Martin attends, the Reverend Thomas Roynane, to whom she turns for guidance. Roynane inspires her with an interest in pursuing missionary work. She goes to England in January 1919 for further medical training. Her mother’s severe illness the following year interrupts her training, however, as she has to return home to care for her.

In April 1920, Roynane arranges for Martin to meet the new bishop, and she volunteers her services as a lay missionary to work in his jurisdiction in southern Nigeria. Agnes Ryan, a local schoolteacher now in her fourth year of medical training, advises her that she wishes to join her in the African mission.

In April 1921, Martin and Ryan leave Ireland for Nigeria. They set sail for Africa from Liverpool on May 25 and arrive in the port of Calabar on June 14. They arrive prepared to provide medical care, only to learn that they are expected to run a school which had been staffed by French Religious Sisters until two years prior. To give the parents and children of the school a sense of continuity, the two women are addressed as “Sisters” by the priests and treated as if they are already members of an established religious institute.

By October, Ryan contracts malaria and develops a heart condition, which require her return to Ireland. Forced to fill in as Acting Headmistress, Martin meets with the bishop in his headquarters at Onitsha and is advised that caution is needed in providing medical care to the people of her mission, so as not to provoke objections by other missionaries in the region. Upon her return to Calabar, she makes a 30-day retreat.

In April 1922 the bishop travels there and holds two weeks of consultations with Martin, Roynane and another missioner, during which the Rule and Constitutions of a new congregation are hammered out, with the understanding that Martin will be the foundress. Martin does not see the bishop again for two years. During this time she learns that the bishop is working to establish the new congregation in Ireland, a direction she feels will focus the congregation on teaching rather than the medical care. An Irish Sister of Charity, Sister Magdalen Walker, is released from her congregation to help in this new work and arrives in Calabar in October 1923.

The following January Martin is directed by the bishop to return to Ireland to make a canonical novitiate. In March she starts her time of postulancy, prior to admission to the novitiate year. After 18 months, however, upon completion of the novitiate year she leaves the community, as the training provided by the Dominican Sisters has not been oriented toward medical care.

In this formal step of forming the new congregation, Martin encounters the prohibition in the new Code of Canon Law of 1917 of the Catholic Church against members of religious orders practicing medicine. Facing this barrier, she still feels a call to consecrated life and considers following the example of the recently canonized Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1927 she applies to the community of that Order in Dublin, but her application is declined, solely on the decision of the prioress who feels that Martin is called to a different path in life. She then goes through a new period of confusion until she is requested to consider again serving the missions. She then forms a small group of women to provide the domestic service for the preparatory school run by the Benedictine monks Glenstal Abbey.

In 1933, following a long period of illness, Martin approaches the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Paschal Robinson. He is supportive of her goals and encourages her continually over the next years. Finally, in February 1936, the Holy See lifts prohibition against Religious Sisters serving as doctors or midwives. She then seeks a diocese which will accept a new congregation, without success. In October of that same year, Antonio Riberi is named Apostolic Delegate in Africa, based in Kenya. He gives his support to having the congregation established in Calabar.

While still negotiating to purchase a house in Ireland as a local base, complicated by the fact that they are not yet a formal congregation, the small community sails for Nigeria at the end of 1936. Upon their arrival Martin suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized at Port Harcourt. It is there that she professes religious vows on April 4, 1937. With that the Medical Missionaries of Mary become established.

Martin’s health is always a source of concern but she lives until 1975. Today the Medical Missionaries of Mary number some 400 women from 16 different nations, who serve in 14 different countries around the world.


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St. Columba Arrives on the Isle of Iona

iona-abbey-isle-of-iona

St. Columba, an Irish monk, and twelve followers arrive on the tiny isle of Iona, barely three miles long by one mile wide, on May 12, 563, establishing a monastic community and building his first Celtic church. Iona has an influence out of all proportion to its size on the establishment of Christianity in Scotland, England and throughout mainland Europe.

Once settled, Columba sets about converting most of pagan Scotland and northern England to the Christian faith. Iona’s fame as a missionary centre and outstanding place of learning eventually spreads throughout Europe, turning it into a place of pilgrimage for several centuries to come. Iona becomes a sacred isle where kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway are buried.

Columba is born of royal blood in 521 AD in Ireland, or Scotia as it is then called. He is the grandson of the Irish King Niall. He leaves Ireland for Scotland not as a missionary but as an act of self-imposed penance for a bloody mess he had caused at home. He had upset the king of Ireland by refusing to hand over a copy of the Gospel he had illegally copied, leading to a pitched battle in which Columba’s warrior family prevailed. Full of remorse for his actions and the deaths he had ultimately caused, he flees, ultimately settling on Iona as it is the first place he finds from which he is unable to see his native Ireland. One of the features on the island is even called “The Hill with its back to Ireland.”

Columba, however, is not the shy retiring type and sets about building Iona’s original abbey from clay and wood. In this endeavour he displays some strange idiosyncrasies, including banishing women and cows from the island. The abbey builders have to leave their wives and daughters on the nearby Eilean nam Ban (Woman’s Island). Stranger still, he also banishes frogs and snakes from Iona, although how he accomplishes this feat is not well documented.

The strangest claim of all however is that Columba is prevented from completing the building of the original chapel until a living person has been buried in the foundations. His friend Oran volunteers for the job and is duly buried. It is said that Columba later requests that Oran’s face be uncovered so he can bid a final farewell to his friend. Oran’s face is uncovered and he is found to be still alive but utters such blasphemous descriptions of Heaven and Hell that Columba orders that he be covered up immediately.

Over the centuries the monks of Iona produce countless elaborate carvings, manuscripts and Celtic crosses. Perhaps their greatest work is the exquisite Book of Kells, which dates from 800 AD, currently on display in Trinity College, Dublin. Shortly after this, in 806 AD, come the first of the Viking raids and many of the monks are slaughtered and their work destroyed.

The Celtic Church, lacking central control and organisation, diminishes in size and stature over the years to be replaced by the much larger and stronger Roman Church. Even Iona is not exempt from these changes and in 1203 a nunnery for the Order of the Black Nuns is established and the present-day Benedictine abbey, Iona Abbey, is built. The abbey is a victim of the Reformation and lay in ruins until 1899 when restoration is started.

No part of Columba’s original buildings have survived, however on the left hand side of the abbey entrance can be seen a small roofed chamber which is claimed to mark the site of the Columba’s tomb.

(From: “St. Columba and the Isle of Iona” by Ben Johnson, historic-uk.com, pictured is the Iona Abbey and Nunnery)