seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Augustine Healy, Bishop of Portland, Maine

james-augustine-healyJames Augustine Healy, American Roman Catholic priest and the second bishop of Portland, Maine, is born on April 6, 1830 in Macon, Georgia to a multiracial slave mother and Irish immigrant father. He is the first bishop in the United States of any known African descent. When he is ordained in 1854, his multiracial ancestry is not widely known outside his mentors in the Catholic Church.

Healy is the eldest of ten siblings of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant planter from County Roscommon, and his common law wife Eliza Smith (sometimes recorded as Clark), a multiracial enslaved African American. He achieves many “firsts” in United States history. He is credited with greatly expanding the Catholic church in Maine at a time of increased Irish immigration. He also serves Abenaki people and many parishioners of French Canadian descent who were traditionally Catholic. He speaks both English and French.

Beginning in 1837, like many other wealthy planters with mixed-race children, Michael Healy starts sending his sons to school in the North. James, along with brothers Hugh and Patrick, goes to Quaker schools in Flushing, New York, and Burlington, New Jersey. Later they each attend the newly opened College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduates as valedictorian of the college’s first graduating class in 1849.

Following graduation, Healy wishes to enter the priesthood. He cannot study at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland, as it is a slave state. With the help of John Bernard Fitzpatrick, he enters a Sulpician seminary in Montreal. In 1852, he transfers to study at Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris, working toward a doctorate and a career as a seminary professor. After a change of heart, he decides to become a pastor. On June 10, 1854, he is ordained at Notre-Dame de Paris as a priest to serve in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest although at the time he identifies as and is accepted as white Irish Catholic.

When Healy returns to the United States, he becomes an assistant pastor in Boston. He serves the Archbishop, who helps establish his standing in the church. In 1866 he becomes the pastor of St. James Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Boston. In 1874 when the Boston legislature is considering taxation of churches, he defends Catholic institutions as vital organizations that help the state both socially and financially. He also condemns certain laws that are generally enforced only on Catholic institutions. He founds several Catholic charitable institutions to care for the many poor Irish immigrants who had arrived during the Great Famine years.

Healy’s success in the public sphere leads to his appointment by Pope Pius IX to the position of second bishop of Portland, Maine. He is consecrated as Bishop of Portland on June 2, 1875, becoming the first African American to be consecrated a Catholic bishop. For 25 years he governs his large diocese, supervising also the founding of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, when it is split from Portland in 1885. During his time in Maine, which is a period of extensive immigration from Catholic countries, he oversees the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents, and 18 schools. During that period, he also serves his Abenaki and French Canadian parishioners.

Healy is the only member of the American Catholic hierarchy to excommunicate men who joined the Knights of Labor, a national union, which reaches its peak of power in 1886.

Two months before his death on August 5, 1900, Healy is called as assistant to the Papal throne by Pope Leo XIII, a position in the Catholic hierarchy just below that of cardinal.


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The Ordination of Sinéad O’Connor

sinead-oconnorSinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter also known as Magda Davitt, is ordained as a priest in Lourdes on April 22, 1999 by Bishop Michael Cox of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, an Independent Catholic group not in communion with the Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church considers ordination of women to be invalid and asserts that a person attempting the sacrament of ordination upon a woman incurs excommunication. The bishop had contacted her to offer ordination following her appearance on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, during which she tells the presenter, Gay Byrne, that had she not been a singer, she would have wished to have been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she indicates that she wishes to be called Mother Bernadette Mary.

In a July 2007 interview with Christianity Today, O’Connor states that she considers herself a Christian and that she believes in core Christian concepts about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. She says, “I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we’re all going home… I don’t think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally.” In an October 2002 interview, she credits her Christian faith in giving her the strength to live through, and then overcome the effects of, her child abuse.

On March 26, 2010, O’Connor appears on CNN‘s Anderson Cooper 360° to speak out about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. Two days later she has an opinion piece published in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post in which she writes about the scandal and her time in a Magdalene asylum as a teenager. Writing for the Sunday Independent she labels the Vatican as “a nest of devils” and calls for the establishment of an “alternative church,” opining that “Christ is being murdered by liars” in the Vatican. Shortly after the election of Pope Francis she describes the office of the Pope as an “anti-Christian office.”

Asked whether from her point of view, it is therefore irrelevant who is elected to be Pope, O’Connor replies, “Genuinely I don’t mean disrespect to Catholic people because I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them, I don’t think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a Holy Spirit who can’t intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don’t need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that’s OK, we’re not bad people, but let’s wake up… God was there before religion; it’s there [today] despite religion; it’ll be there when religion is gone.”