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


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Birth of Father Leonard Eugene Boyle

leonard-eugene-boyleLeonard Eugene Boyle, Irish and Canadian scholar in medieval studies and palaeography, is born in Ballintra, County Donegal on November 13, 1923. He is the first Irish and North American Prefect of the Vatican Library in Rome from 1984 to 1997.

Boyle spends some years in Tralee, County Kerry, following the July 1940 death of his older brother John, who is a member of Garda Síochána and drowns while on holiday in Ballybunion, County Kerry. He is educated in the Irish language and enters the Dominican Order in 1943. He is ordained a priest in 1949 having received his doctorate in Oxford.

Boyle frequently visits Tralee, where a number of his family still reside, and is involved in many projects in the town. His immense knowledge and expertise in historical and archaeological issues is freely given in order to enhance the town. Of particular concern is his hope that the site of the original Dominican Priory at the centre of the town be conserved for future archaeological excavation.

After moving to Toronto, Boyle teaches at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto from 1961 to 1984. He also serves as Professor of Latin Palaeography and History of Medieval Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome from 1956 to 1961.

In 1984 Boyle is appointed Prefect of the Vatican Library by Pope John Paul II. This appointment takes him by surprise but appears to be a recognition of his immense scholarship, expertise in antiquity and renowned interest in learning as a whole. In an effort to modernise the Vatican Library, he sets about the digitisation of the library’s many thousands of manuscripts that date from hundreds of years BC, which leads to their greater availability to scholars around the world. He also extends the opening hours of the library and employs women for the first time as part of the library’s staff. In 1987, he is made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he is ousted as Prefect after his dealings with some American fund-raising associates result in lawsuits involving the Vatican.

Known for his wit and independence of mind and spirit, Boyle is once asked of his interest in being a Cardinal given the fact that all of his predecessors have gone on to be Cardinals. His reply is in the negative saying “nothing but the papacy” would do him.

Father Boyle dies on October 25, 1999. He is buried in his beloved Basilica di San Clemente, in 2000, a year after his death, following official desire to give him the honour of interment in the vaults of San Clemente — one of Rome’s holiest and most historical shrines.

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Birth of Thomas Burke, Irish Dominican Preacher

thomas-nicholas-burke-statueThomas Nicholas Burke, Irish Dominican preacher, is born in Galway, County Galway on September 8, 1830.

Burke’s parents, though in moderate circumstances, gave him a good education. He studies at first under the care of the Patrician Brothers, and is afterwards sent to a private school. An attack of typhoid fever when he is fourteen years old and the famine year of 1847 have a sobering effect. Toward the end of that year he asks to be received into the Order of Preachers, and is sent to Perugia in Italy to make his novitiate. On December 29, he is clothed there in the habit of St. Dominic and receives the name of Thomas.

Shortly afterward Burke is sent to Rome to begin his studies at the College of St. Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he is a student of philosophy and theology. He passes thence to the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. His superiors send him, while yet a student, as novice-master to Woodchester, the novitiate of the resuscitated English Province. He is ordained into the priesthood on March 26, 1853. On August 3, 1854, he defends publicly the theses in universâ theologiâ. He is made lector at the College of St. Thomas in 1854.

Early in the following year Burke is recalled to Ireland to found the novitiate of the Irish Province at Tallaght, near Dublin. In 1859 he preaches his first notable sermon on “Church Music.” It immediately lifts him into fame.

Elected Prior of Tallaght in 1863, Burke goes to Rome the following year as Rector of the Dominican Convent of San Clemente and attracts great attention by his preaching. He returns to Ireland in 1867 and delivers his oration on Daniel O’Connell at Glasnevin before fifty thousand people.

Bishop Leahy takes him as his theologian to the First Vatican Council in 1870, and the following year he is sent as Visitor to the Dominican convents in America. He is besieged with invitations to preach and lecture. The seats are filled hours before he appears and his audiences overflow the churches and halls in which he lectures. In New York City he delivers the discourses in refutation of the English historian James Anthony Froude.

In an eighteen month period Burke gives four hundred lectures, exclusive of sermons, with the proceeds amounting to nearly $400,000. His mission is a triumph, but the triumph is dearly won. When he arrives in Ireland on March 7, 1873, he is spent and broken.

During the next decade Burke preaches in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He begins the erection of the church in Tallaght in 1883, and the following May preaches a series of sermons in the new Dominican church, London. In June he returns to Tallaght in a dying condition and preaches his last sermon in the Jesuit church, Dublin, in aid of the starving children of Donegal. A few days afterwards, on July 2, 1882, he dies. He is buried in the church of Tallaght, now a memorial to him.

(Pictured: Statue of Thomas Nicholas Burke by John Francis Kavanagh by Nimmo’s Pier in Galway)