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


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Death of Sister Catherine McAuley, Founder of the Sisters of Mercy

Catherine Elizabeth McAuley, Irish religious sister who founds the Sisters of Mercy in 1831, dies in Dublin on November 11, 1841. The Sisters of Mercy has always been associated with teaching, especially in Ireland, where the sisters teach Catholics, and at times Protestants, at a time when education is mainly reserved for members of the established Church of Ireland.

McAuley is born on September 29, 1778, at Stormestown House in Dublin to James and Elinor (née Conway) McAuley. Her father dies in 1783 when she is five and her mother dies in 1798. She first goes to live with a maternal uncle, Owen Conway, and later joins her brother James and sister Mary at the home of William Armstrong, a Protestant relative on her mother’s side. In 1803, she becomes the household manager and companion of William and Catherine Callaghan, an elderly, childless, and wealthy Protestant couple and friends of the Armstrongs, at their estate in Coolock, a village northeast of Dublin. For 20 years she gives catechetical instruction to the household servants and the poor village children. Catherine Callaghan, who is raised in the Quaker tradition, dies in 1819. When William Callaghan dies in 1822, McAuley becomes the sole residuary legatee of their estate.

McAuley inherits a considerable fortune and chooses to use it to build a house where she and other compassionate women can take in homeless women and children to provide care and education for them. A location is selected at the junction of Lower Baggot Street and Herbert Street in Dublin, and in June 1824, the cornerstone is laid by the Rev. Dr Blake. As it is being refurbished, she studies current educational methods in preparation for her new endeavour. On the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, September 24, 1827, the new institution for destitute women, orphans, and schools for the poor is opened and McAuley, with two companions, undertake its management.

For three years, McAuley and her companions continue their work as lay women. She never intends to found a community of religious women. Her initial intention is to assemble a lay corps of Catholic social workers. In 1828 Archbishop of Dublin Daniel Murray permits the staff of the institute to assume a distinctive dress and to publicly visit the sick. The uniform adopted is a black dress and cape of the same material reaching to the belt, a white collar and a lace cap and veil – such a costume as is now worn by the postulants of the congregation. In the same year the archbishop desires McAuley to choose some name by which the little community might be known, and she chooses that of “Sisters of Mercy,” having the design of making the works of mercy the distinctive feature of the institute.

McAuley is desirous that the members should combine with the silence and prayer of the Carmelites, with the active labours of a Sister of Charity. The position of the institute is anomalous, its members are not bound by vows nor are they restrained by rules. The clergy and people of the church of the time, however, are not supportive of groups of laywomen working independently of church structures. The main concern is for the stability and continuity of the works of mercy which the women had taken on. Should any of them get married or lose interest, the poor and the orphans whom they are caring for would then be at a loss.

McAuley’s clerical mentor urges her to form a religious institute. Along with two other women, Mary Ann Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Harley, she enters the novitiate of the Presentation Sisters to formally prepare for life as women religious in September 1830. On December 12, 1831 they profess vows and return to the House of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy consider December 12, 1831 as the day of their founding as a religious community. Archbishop Murray assists McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and professes the first three members. He then appoints her Mother Superior.

Between 1831 and 1841 McAuley founds additional Convents in Tullamore, Charleville, Cork, Carlow, Galway, Limerick, Birr, Bermondsey and Birmingham and branch houses in Kingstown and Booterstown. A cholera epidemic hits Dublin in 1832, and she agrees to staff a cholera hospital on Townsend Street.

The rule of the Sisters of Mercy is formally confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI on June 6, 1841. McAuley lives only ten years as a Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Catherine.

McAuley dies of tuberculosis at the age of sixty-three on November 11, 1841 at Baggot Street. She is buried at Baggot Street Cemetery. At the time of her death, there are 100 Sisters of Mercy in ten foundations. Shortly thereafter, small groups of sisters leave Ireland to establish new foundations on the east and west coasts of the United States, in Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.

Total worldwide membership consists of about 5,500 Sisters of Mercy, 5,000 Associates, and close to half a million partners in ministry. The Mercy International Centre in Dublin is the international “home” of Mercy worldwide and the mercyworld.org website is the virtual home.

In 1978, the cause for the beatification of the Servant of God Catherine McAuley is opened by Pope Paul VI. In 1990, upon recognition of her heroic virtues, Pope John Paul II declares her Venerable.


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Birth of John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam

John MacHale, Irish Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam and Irish nationalist, is born in Tubbernavine, near Lahardane, County Mayo on March 6, 1791.

MacHale’s parents are Patrick and Mary Mulkieran MacHale. He is so feeble at birth that he is baptised at home by Father Andrew Conroy. By the time he is five years of age, he begins attending a hedge school. Three important events happen during his childhood: the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the landing at Killala of French troops, whom the boy, hidden in a stacked sheaf of flax, watches marching through a mountain pass to Castlebar, and a few months later the brutal hanging of Father Conroy on a false charge of high treason.

Being destined for the priesthood, at the age of thirteen, the he is sent to a school at Castlebar to learn Latin, Greek, and English grammar. In his sixteenth year the Bishop of Killala gives him a busarship at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. At the age of 24, he is ordained a priest by Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin. In 1825, Pope Leo XII appoints him titular bishop of Maronia, and coadjutor bishop to Dr. Thomas Waldron, Bishop of Killala.

With his friend and ally, Daniel O’Connell, MacHale takes a prominent part in the important question of Catholic emancipation, impeaching in unmeasured terms the severities of the former penal code, which had branded Catholics with the stamp of inferiority. During 1826 his zeal is omnipresent. He calls on the Government to remember how the Act of Union in 1800 was carried by William Pitt the Younger on the distinct assurance and implied promise that Catholic emancipation, which had been denied by the Irish Parliament, should be granted by the Parliament of the Empire.

Oliver Kelly, Archbishop of Tuam, dies in 1834, and the clergy selects MacHale as one of three candidates, to the annoyance of the Government who despatches agents to induce Pope Gregory XVI not to nominate him to the vacant see. Disregarding their request, the pope appoints MacHale Archbishop of Tuam. He is the first prelate since the Reformation who has received his entire education in Ireland. The corrupt practices of general parliamentary elections and the Tithe War cause frequent rioting and bloodshed, and are the subjects of denunciation by the new archbishop, until the passing of a Tithes bill in 1838. He also leads the opposition to the Protestant Second Reformation, which is being pursued by evangelical clergy in the Church of Ireland, including the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Thomas Plunket.

The repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, advocated by O’Connell, enlists MacHale’s ardent sympathy and he assists the Liberator in many ways, and remits subscriptions from his priests for this purpose. In his zeal for the cause of the Catholic religion and of Ireland, so long down-trodden, but not in the 1830s, he frequently incurs from his opponents the charge of intemperate language, something not altogether undeserved. In his anxiety to reform abuses and to secure the welfare of Ireland, by an uncompromising and impetuous zeal, he makes many bitter and unrelenting enemies, particularly British ministers and their supporters.

The Great Famine of 1846–47 affects his diocese more than any. In the first year he announces in a sermon that the famine is a divine punishment on his flock for their sins. Then by 1846 he warns the Government as to the state of Ireland, reproaches them for their dilatoriness, and holds up the uselessness of relief works. From England as well as other parts of the world, cargoes of food are sent to the starving Irish. Bread and soup are distributed from the archbishop’s kitchen. Donations sent to him are acknowledged, accounted for, and disbursed by his clergy among the victims.

The death of O’Connell in 1847 is a setback to MacHale as are the subsequent disagreements within the Repeal Association. He strongly advises against the violence of Young Ireland. Over the next 30 years he becomes involved in political matters, particularly those involving the church. Toward the end of his life he becomes less active in politics.

MacHale attends the First Vatican Council in 1869. He believes that the favourable moment has not arrived for an immediate definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. Better to leave it a matter of faith, not written down, and consequently he speaks and votes in the council against its promulgation. Once the dogma had been defined, he declares the dogma of infallibility “to be true Catholic doctrine, which he believed as he believed the Apostles’ Creed“. In 1877, to the disappointment of the archbishop who desires that his nephew should be his co-adjutor, Dr. John McEvilly, Bishop of Galway, is elected by the clergy of the archdiocese, and is commanded by Pope Leo XIII after some delay, to assume his post. He had opposed this election as far as possible, but submits to the papal order.

Every Sunday MacHale preaches a sermon in Irish at the cathedral, and during his diocesan visitations he always addresses the people in their native tongue, which is still largely used in his diocese. On journeys he usually converses in Irish with his attendant chaplain, and has to use it to address people of Tuam or the beggars who greet him whenever he goes out. He preaches his last Irish sermon after his Sunday Mass, April 1881. He dies in Tuam seven months later, on November 7, 1881.

A marble statue perpetuates his memory on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tuam. MacHale Park in Castlebar, County Mayo and Archbishop McHale College in Tuam are named after him. In his birthplace the Parish of Addergoole, the local GAA Club, Lahardane MacHales, is named in his honour. The Dunmore GAA team, Dunmore MacHales, is also named after him.


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Birth of John Hughes, 1st Archbishop of New York

john-joseph-hughesJohn Joseph Hughesprelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, is born in the hamlet of Annaloghan, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland on June 24, 1797.

Hughes is the third of seven children of Patrick and Margaret (née McKenna) Hughes. He and his family suffer religious persecution in their native land. He is sent with his elder brothers to a day school in the nearby village of Augher, and afterwards attends a grammar school in Aughnacloy. The family emigrates to the United States in 1816 and settles in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Hughes joins them there the following year.

After several unsuccessful applications to Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he is eventually hired as a gardener at the college. During this time he befriends Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, who is impressed by Hughes and persuades the Rector to reconsider his admission. Hughes is subsequently admitted as a regular student of Mount St. Mary’s in September 1820.

On October 15, 1826, Hughes is ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Henry Conwell at St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia. His first assignment is as a curate at St. Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia, where he assists its pastor by celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, preaching sermons, and other duties in the parish.

Hughes is chosen by Pope Gregory XVI as the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of New York on August 7, 1837. He is consecrated bishop at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on January 7, 1838 with the title of the titular see of Basilinopolis, by the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, his former Rector.

Hughes campaigns actively on behalf of Irish immigrants and attempts to secure state support for parochial schools. Although this attempt fails, he founds an independent Catholic school system which becomes an integral part of the Catholic Church’s structure at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), which mandates that all parishes have a school and that all Catholic children be sent to those schools. In 1841, Hughes founds St. John’s College in New York City which is now Fordham University.

Hughes is appointed Apostolic Administrator of the diocese due to Bishop Dubois’ failing health. As coadjutor, he automatically succeeds Dubois upon the bishop’s death on December 20, 1842, taking over a diocese which covers the entire state of New York and northern New Jersey. He is a staunch opponent of Abolitionism and the Free Soil movement, whose proponents often express anti-Catholic attitudes. Hughes also founds the Ultramontane newspaper New York Freeman to express his ideas.

Hughes becomes an archbishop on July 19, 1850, when the diocese is elevated to the status of archdiocese by Pope Pius IX. As archbishop, he becomes the metropolitan for the Catholic bishops serving all the dioceses established in the entire Northeastern United States. To the dismay of many in New York’s Protestant upper-class, Hughes foresees the uptown expansion of the city and begins construction of the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street, laying its cornerstone on August 15, 1858. At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, Hughes serves as semiofficial envoy to the Vatican and to France in late 1861 and early 1862. Lincoln also seeks Hughes’ advice on the appointment of hospital chaplains.

Hughes serves as archbishop until his death. He is originally buried in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, but his remains are exhumed in 1882 and re-interred in the crypt under the altar of the new cathedral he had begun.