Thursday, 24 November 2022

The De Profundis and the Irish Martyrs

On November 15, 1960 a decision taken by the Irish bishops at the Synod of Maynooth held four years earlier came into effect. It abolished the recitation of the De Profundis (Psalm 129) after the Mass, a liturgical practice peculiar to Ireland. A report of the decision appeared in the American Catholic paper The Catholic Standard and Times the following month: 

Irish Bishops Abolish De Profundis at Mass

DUBLIN (NC). —A custom dating from Ireland's penal times of reciting the De Profundis for the dead after Mass has been discontinued by order of the Irish Bishops.  The custom is believed to have been introduced during the 17th-century persecution of the Church by Ireland’s English rulers. Its original purpose was to pray for the souls of those who died under the harsh anti-Catholic laws of that period. Recitation after Mass of the De Profundis, the 129th psalm, was peculiar to Ireland. The Bishops decided to abolish the custom in 1956 at the Synod of Maynooth. Decrees resulting from the synod were approved by the Holy See, and went into effect on November 15. Church authorities emphasized that the omission of the De Profundis after Mass does not imply that Catholics should pray less for the dead. The intention of the Bishops was to focus the thoughts of Catholics at Mass on its central idea as a sacrifice.

The Catholic Standard and Times, Volume 66, Number 13, 16 December 1960. 

To learn more of the history of this custom I turned to the work of Father Sylvester Malone (1822–1906), a prolific contributor to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record and other nineteenth-century journals. He traced the liturgical use of the De Profundis in one of his books on Irish Church history noting that, as part of the financial arrangements with the Crown in the medieval abbey of Saint Thomas in Dublin, 'the chapter house, over and above what it was bound to, by its order, was under an obligation of saying, especially on All Souls Day, a De Profundis for the souls of the king, his ancestors, the aldermen, and of the citizens of Dublin'. He goes on to say

And here it is worth while to inquire whence the origin of the De Profundis after Mass, and so peculiar to Ireland. Various reasons are assigned for its use;  but I consider it took its rise from a desire to compensate for the loss of the divine offices for departed benefactors. Prayers in the office were not confined to Ireland. Cardinal Bona assures us that when the number of benefactors became large in every well-regulated community, instead of calling out the names of all benefactors the chanting of the De Profundis, with a suitable prayer, had been substituted. There had been an obligation of making a commemoration in the offices for a stated period or for ever. Hence, on their interruption, that most touching of the prayers for the dead was substituted.  Not, indeed, that there had been a strict obligation to do so. Besides the psalm De Profundis touchingly expressed the helpless state in which the Irish Church was placed by penal laws, and continued a protest against the false religion of the so-called Reformers. What wonder, then, that this prayer, warranted by many reasons during the days of persecution, should continue to the present day after Mass, when we find it in use in the early and middle ages even in Ireland. The Irish Church, so tenacious of ancient customs—its chorepiscopi, acolytes, exorcists, readers, its liturgies—what little reason for marvel that it retained its De Profundis called for by charity if not justice.

Another reason why the psalm in question may be looked on as a commutation for the offices is that it is affected by the same causes, and almost in the same way as the offices. The De Profundis is not said, I believe, at least generally after High Mass or solemn Mass for the dead. Well, even when religious orders were bound by vow to say the psalm De Profundis daily, they were inhibited from doing so on All Souls Day, and on the day of the death and burial. And this happened even though there had been a bequest left for the purpose of saying a De Profundis daily. Again, the nuns of the Monastery of Chagas by a decision of July, 1741, were allowed to chant the Responsory for the dead unless on the most solemn festivals, and even on these to recite it privately in choir, lest the pious disposition of testators should be frustrated. Gardelini also informs us (n. 4687) that there had been an immemorial custom in the Church of Milan, of repeating the 129th psalm (De Profundis) with a suitable prayer after the divine offices for the souls in purgatory, especially those of all benefactors. All this leaves no reasonable doubt that the De Profundis was intended in charity or justice as a compensation for the divine offices interrupted by persecution.

Rev. Sylvester Malone, Church History of Ireland in Two Volumes, Vol. II, 3rd edition, (Dublin, 1880), 219-222.

Interestingly, in an obituary for his father who died in 1997, contemporary Irish composer Patrick Cassidy recorded that his father had suggested using the De Profundis as a final chorus in a work on the Famine which he was struggling to complete. He went on to say:

My father strongly suspected that the Irish pre-Vatican II practice of the celebrant saying the De Profundis after every Low Mass may have had its origins during the Famine. Further research revealed that the practice was, in fact, more ancient. After he and my mother, Kathleen, contacted Archdeacon Cathal McCarthy, they discovered that "the most likely" and "most popular hypothesis" is that the De Profundis "was meant to be part, or really token, of various endowment Masses which, because of the outlawing of the Mass under the Penal Laws could not be said with any assurance."

 It would seem therefore that although the origins of the practice of praying the De Profundis lay in the medieval obligation to honour those benefactors who had endowed religious foundations, it later became linked with the memory of all those who had died during the Penal era, when the Mass itself was placed under restriction and death had to be faced without the comfort of a priest to minister to the dying. In hindsight it is perhaps remarkable that this practice survived in Ireland right up to the middle of the twentieth century.


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Monday, 7 November 2022

Companion in Martyrdom: Deacon Matthew Hoare, O.F.M.


On November 12, 1631, the body of Irish Franciscan Matthew Hoare was laid to rest in the friary church of the Bohemian Franciscan province at Votice. He had been martyred on November 7 along with his confrère and compatriot Father Patrick Fleming as they travelled with a small party of friars from the recently established Irish College at Prague. They were seeking to escape the besieging forces of the Elector of Saxony, but close to the village of Benešov encountered a group of hostile locals who attacked them, leaving Friars Fleming and Hoare dead. Father Fleming was one of the driving forces behind the project at the Franciscan Irish College at Louvain to research and publish the Lives of the Irish Saints. Much less well-known, however, is his companion in martyrdom, Matthew Hoare. Both men bear the surnames of prominent Old English families; Fleming was related to the Barons of Slane, County Meath and the Hoare family was an important one in County Wexford. Scholar of Irish surnames, Edward Mac Lysaght, records that the name is spelt both as Hoare and as Hoar, the latter spelling being found in particular in County Cork. Both spellings are used by different authors for our martyr and unfortunately I have not yet been able to establish when and where he was born. I presume that like Patrick Fleming, Matthew Hoare was sent away from Ireland in order to receive a Catholic education and then entered the Franciscan Order. He appears to have been a young man of some promise and was selected to be one of the small group who went under Fleming's leadership to establish an Irish Franciscan College at Prague.  Fortunately one of the survivors of the attack, Father Francis Magennis, left an account of both the early days of the new institution and of the sad fate that befell its founder and his companion.  He tells us that Matthew Hoare was a Deacon and was chosen as the preacher at the College's opening, which given the distinguished nature of the audience seems to confirm the abilities discerned by his superiors: 

It was on the 2nd of July, 1631, that the Franciscans were publicly inducted to their new establishment in Prague by Cardinal Harrach, Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia. His Eminence and all the other civil and ecclesiastical authorities of Prague being present, a discourse composed by Father Fleming was delivered with great earnestness and effect by a young Religious, in deacon's orders, named Matthew Hoar,*  who was destined in a few months to be the companion of Father Fleming in martyrdom.

*The writer adds, that Fr. Hoare was chosen on this occasion " ob eminentis ingenii judiciique acumen, felicis memoriae foecunditatem, dicendique gratiam, cum omnimoda morum honestate conjunctam, coram tot ac tantis Magnatibus fiducialiter declamandam eaque ab ipso adeo proeclare, venuste ac plane Angelice, omnium cum stupore, perorata, ut solemnitatem et auditorum devotionem mirum in modum adauxerit. "

 'Irish Historical Studies in the Seventeenth Century, III., Patrick Fleming, O.S.F.', Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. VII, February, 1871, p. 209.

In his 1896 catalogue Our Martyrs, the then Postulator of the Cause, Father Denis Murphy S.J., also used the account of Father Magennis to testify to the martyrdom of Father Fleming and Deacon Hoare:

...The community consisted of six. As their house was very poor, they thought their poverty would be their best protection. But they were warned that their lives were not safe, as many of those among the enemy were infected with heresy. It was arranged that the Guardian and Matthew Hore, a deacon, F. Patrick Taaffe, and Francis Magennis, who was not yet in holy orders, should accompany the Count De Thun to some safer place. ...Early the next morning they set out. They were overtaken by two Servites, who asked them to accompany them in their carriage. F. Fleming refused, preferring to go on foot. Br. Hore, who was quite exhausted, joined them. ...

...As they were approaching the village of Benesave, in which F. Taaffe and Br. Magennis had passed the night, all of a sudden seven peasants rushed out of their house. Three of them fell on the Guardian to rob him. One of them with a blow laid him low; the others rushed to the chariot and attacked Br. Hore....

The Servites fled to the house of the Count De Thun, and told what had befallen their fellow-travellers. The Burgraf von Steinberg arrived soon after, bringing in his chariot the Guardian's dead body which he had met on the road. There were five wounds on his head, from which blood was issuing. The body was taken to the Franciscan Convent of Voticum, seven miles from Prague, and buried there with great honour...

...Soon after, a body of soldiers, commanded by Balthasar Barrady, came thither bringing the body of a Franciscan. He was soon recognized by the other monks. He had received a wound in the side; his heart had been pierced through by three bullets; his ears, too, were cut off. Our Fathers, Gerald Fitzgerald and Francis Welferston, took care to have the body buried, lest it might fall into the hands of the heretics. After some weeks, Count Suorby had Br Matthew's body transferred to Voticum, and buried in the Convent of the Franciscans, which he had founded, in the same tomb with F. Fleming, and took care to have the spot surrounded by an iron railing.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J., Our Martyrs, (Dublin, 1896), 263-264.

Two modern Czech scholars have noted the subsequent history of the martyrs' tomb:

The iron grill which Sezima, Count of Vrtba, had made for their tomb was in the course of time removed and replaced by a board with a Czech inscription, which was attached to the pulpit. After the improvement of the interior in 1758, an inscription with similar wording was painted on the wall. When the church was being painted white in 1776, it was damaged and was again renovated by order of the provincial.

Jan Pařez and Hedvika Kuchařová, The Irish Franciscans in Prague 1629-1786 (Prague, 2015), f.n. 59, p. 47.

I have tried unsuccessfully to ascertain if the tomb is still extant. 

Although, as we have seen, the case of Deacon Matthew Hoare was one of those featured by Father Murphy in Our Martyrs, his name was not among those submitted to Rome for official consideration and does not appear on the Official List of Irish Martyrs. It is customary for the cause of a martyr to come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop in whose diocese the death occurred, but I do not know if the cause of Friar Matthew was ever formally adopted or where it now stands. As with Father Fleming, I can only regret the tragic loss of his companion in martyrdom, another young man of drive and ability who was so cruelly denied the chance to serve his order and his college, thanks to the brutal death he met far from Ireland's shores.

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Monday, 31 October 2022

How an Irish Bishop Died for Faith and Fatherland

The hanging of the Dominican Bishop of Emly, Terence Albert O'Brien, O.P. on October 31, 1657, following the siege of Limerick, is one of the cases of Irish martyrdom which left a lasting impression on subsequent generations. In part I am sure this was because of the details preserved by the martyrologists of the time, most notably Bishop O'Brien's prediction that his persecutor, the Puritan General Ireton (who was Oliver Cromwell's own son-in-law), would soon be standing before God's tribunal himself. When Ireton contracted the plague ten days later it was reported that he said he had wished he had 'never set eyes on that Bishop' and attempted to distance himself from any responsibility for the execution. As a further testimony to Bishop O'Brien's status as a martyr, which would have been understood at the time, it is also recorded that fresh blood continued to drip from his severed head which did not show any signs of decomposition. All of these details feature in the article below published in an Australian newspaper in 1905. A year earlier the Archbishop of Dublin had opened the official inquiry into the Irish martyrs, something which was of interest to expatriate Irish communities. This well-written piece on Bishop O'Brien is attributed to 'J.B.' who concludes with the verdict that "He was taken and hanged, because of the great things he had done for the Faith."

How an Irish Bishop Died for Faith and Fatherland

Terence Albert O'Brien, O.P., a scion of the Royal House of Munster, and Bishop of Emly, was taken and hanged because of the great things he had done for the Faith, on All Saints Eve, A.D. 1657.
He was staying in the City of Limerick when that city was besieged by Ireton, the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell. He was offered a bribe of 40,000 gold crowns, and a pass to any place he pleased, if he would quit the city, and cease to urge the citizens to resistance, all which he refused, preferring to give help to the Catholic people up to his death.

When the city was taken on the 29th of October, the articles of capitulation exempted twenty-four persons from quarter. Dr. O'Brien was one of these, and being arrested, he was brought before Ireton, who ordered him to be tried by a court-martial. When asked did he want counsel, he calmly replied that he knew his doom and only wanted a confessor. This boon was granted, and Father Hanrahan, a member of his own Order, was suffered to pass the whole day and night of the 30th October with the Bishop in his cell.

 On the following day the finding of the Court was announced to him, as he lay stripped on a pallet; and the officer charged with this duty gave him to understand that the sentence was to be carried out on the instant. On hearing this, he got up to dress himself, but before he had time to do so, the Provost-Marshal's guard pinioned his arms, and thrust him out of the cell almost in a state of nudity. It was only natural that his fine sense of delicacy should resent this cruel insult, but finding that all remonstrances were even lost on the posse who surrounded him, he paused an instant as if to collect himself, and said in a solemn tone that "the time was not distant when Ireton should stand before God's tribunal to account for his bloody deeds."
It was a long way from the prison to the place of execution, and as the cortege proceeded, it was encountered at every step by sights the most appalling. For two days previously, Ireton's troops had been allowed to pillage and slay as they liked, and there was hardly a house that did not bear witness to their licentiousness. Windows shattered, doors wrenched from their hinges, corpses of men and women lying stark in the gutters, wares of every sort scattered and trodden under foot, showed that destructiveness had revelled to satiety. No living thing appeared along the route of that sad procession, and the universal stillness would have been unbroken were it not for the heavy tread of the doomed man's escort, and the ringing of their weapons as they clanked on the pavements.

The Bishop conducted himself with his accustomed firmness, and though distressed at being obliged to parade the deserted thoroughfares on that winter's evening in a state little short of absolute nakedness, his step was as steady and his bearing as erect as either could have been on that memorable day when he followed the trophies of Benburb to St. Mary's Cathedral.
On reaching the foot of the gibbet, he knelt and prayed till he was commanded to arise and mount the ladder. He obeyed, seized the rungs with vigorous grasp, and turned round as if anxious to ascertain whether any of the citizens had ventured abroad to witness his death scene. Having satisfied himself that a few of them were present, and within hearing, he exhorted them to continue true to the Faith of their fathers, and to hope for better days, when God would look with mercy on unhappy Ireland. To those who were weeping for him he said, "Do not shed tears on my account, but rather pray that in this last trial I may by firmness and constancy obtain heaven as my reward."

The persecutor, Ireton, to whom the Bishop had distinctly foretold that the vengeance of God would soon fall upon him, was struck down with the plague ten days after, and in his mad raving used to exclaim that the murder of the Bishop was the cause of his death; and turning his face to the wall, he used to mutter: "I never gave my vote for the death of the Bishop; it was the act of the Council of War. Would to God I had never set my eyes on that Bishop." Then, tortured by a guilty conscience, the wretch breathed forth his soul.
The martyr's head was fixed on a high pole on the top of the Castle. For a long time after, fresh blood dropped from it, and the skin and flesh were in no way changed.

He was a native of the city of Limerick, where his uncle, Maurice O'Brien, was Prior of the Dominican Convent. He himself later on succeeded to the same office. He went as Provincial to the General Chapter of the Order held in Rome in 1644, where, in acknowledgment of his services, he was made master of theology. He finished his studies in Spain, spending for that purpose eight years at Toledo. When the Chapter at which he was present in Rome had ended, he set out for Lisbon to visit the two convents of his Order in that city, one for Brothers, the other for Sisters. While at Lisbon, news reached him that he had been appointed Bishop of Emly by Pope Urban VIII.
From the Acts of the General Chapter of the Order of Preachers, held in 1656, we learn that in 1646 the number of Dominicans in Ireland was 600, that in 1656 the number was under 160 who were exiles from their native land, and that the others had been put to death at home, or had died a lingering death after their cruel banishment to the Barbadoes.

 Of forty-three convents which the Order possessed in 1645, not a single one remained in their hands ten years later. The fury of the persecuting heretics had either levelled them to the ground or turned them to profane uses.
Dr. O'Brien was consecrated Bishop of Emly, 1647. He found his new See in a most deplorable condition, for the country had been ravaged and . desolated by Lord Inchiquin and his brutal soldiery. As a member of the Confederation, Dr. O'Brien had zealously supported the Papal Nuncio, and approved of his excommunication of the abettors of the Ormond party. In 1650 the progress of the Cromwellian army compelled him to retire to Galway. He returned to Limerick just before its siege by Ireton in 1657.

Famine, and the treachery of Colonel Fennell combined, compelled a surrender of the city on the 29th of October. The articles of capitulation exempted twenty-four persons from quarter. Amongst those was the illustrious Bishop. "He was publicly hanged," says Clarendon, "without any formality of justice, and with all the reproaches imaginable." "He was taken and hanged," says the Bishop of Clonfert, writing from Innesbofin on the 31st August, 1651 [?], "because of the great things he had done for the Faith." Suffering in such a cause is glorious beyond measure and meritorious beyond reckoning. "Tribulation," says St. Paul, "worketh above measure exceedingly, an eternal weight of glory."   J. B.

How an Irish Bishop Died for Faith and Fatherland. (1905, January 28). Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), p. 40. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from

Thursday, 6 October 2022

Translation of the Relics of Oliver Plunkett

Earlier this year we looked at an article by Sir Shane Leslie (1885-1971) on the trial of Saint Oliver Plunkett.  Below we have another of Sir Shane's articles, this time a 1920 report on the translation of the relics of the newly-beatified Oliver Plunkett to the Benedictines' Downside Abbey. Whilst in prison Saint Oliver had entrusted his bodily remains to an English Benedictine fellow-prisoner, Dom Maurus Corker.  He took them into exile in Germany where, following the dissolution of the English Benedictine foundation at Lamspringe, the body of Saint Oliver came to rest in Downside in 1883. At that time the remains of the Irish martyr were placed in a plain stone tomb. In 1920 they were translated to a much grander purpose-built shrine. Sir Shane paints a vivid and dramatic picture of the proceedings where although everything was carried out with great dignity and solemnity, nevertheless there seems to have been an undercurrent of tension, given that the relics of Ireland's most famous martyr were in the possession of the English. Leslie, a convert to both Catholicism and Irish nationalism, describes Saint Oliver as a 'holy hostage' and regrets that his body does not lie at Armagh. Saint Oliver was martyred at Tyburn and thus his cause fell under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical authorities in London, with jurisdiction only being transferred back to Ireland early in the twentieth century when our own church authorities were organizing the causes of the native martyrs. The English could point out that the head of Saint Oliver, an important relic on display for veneration, had been returned to his homeland, where its translation to a new shrine at Drogheda formed 'the greatest Catholic event of the year in Ireland' in 1921. It is also true that Saint Oliver himself had bequeathed his remains to the English Benedictine, Dom Maurus Corker and that their survival owed much to the courage of English laywoman Elizabeth Shelton and others. Yet perhaps it was inevitable that there was some resentment on this issue given that renewed interest in the Irish martyrs and the organisation of their causes took place against the backdrop of the national revival and the campaign for independence.  Indeed, it was reported that during the beatification of Oliver Plunkett in 1920 the English Archbishop Stanley had been invited to celebrate Mass but was replaced by an Italian following objections by the Irish bishops. Sadly, exactly one hundred years after the publication of Sir Shane Leslie's article the much-reduced community at Downside announced that it would move away from its impressive home. Although the famous school at Downside is unaffected by this decision, it does make me wonder if the time might now be right for Saint Oliver's bodily relics to come home to Ireland?





It is Downside in the once Catholic west-country, yet hemmed by the memory of Giastonbury, and the Abbey Tower is flying the flag of Gregorius Magnus for the first celebration of the translation of the Relics of the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, October the sixth, 1920. Few of the faithful found their way to the remote hamlet in Somersetshire to witness what none else in England to-day except themselves have witnessed, the actual translation of the body of a Saint from the mundane grave or sarcophagus to the Altars of the Church. Probably the last translation to take place on English soil was that of St. Thomas de Cantilupe, whose head is one of the treasures of Downside Abbey. But the long spell has been broken, and a Saint, albeit an Irishman, has been solemnly translated within the Realm of England. 


Cardinals and Bishops of England were present to do the Blessed Oliver honor, and Ireland seemed only represented by the weather, which wreathed the Abbey in sheets of rain, but during the High Mass and while the body of Oliver was being carried into the open air a gleam of sudden sunlight fell like a benediction from Heaven, making the yellow flag with the blood-cross of the Benedictines glow against the grey clouds like a flame of fire. Within the Abbey all was hush and expectation around the scaffolding leading to the highly poised shrine which has been built in the northern transept. It was an Irish Abbott, however, with forty years of choir behind him, who received the cardinals at the door. In black robe and train Cardinal Gasquet sang the High Mass in the presence of Cardinal Bourne, whose bright robes seemed terribly symbolic of the blood that England has shed. As the Cardinals sat back enthroned, the black monks, to whom the Martyr bequeathed his sacred body, raised the chant, whose, perfect modulation seemed at one time reminiscent of the Irish keening and at another of the proud triumph of Holy Church. With splendid emphasis the choir sang the great hymn of Peter and Paul, while to each stanza the whole of Downside School poured forth the chorus, 

O felix Roma, quae tantorum Principum
Es purpurata pretioso sanguine, 
Non laude tua sed ipsorum meritis 
Excellis omnem mundi pulchritudinem. 


Who can ever now forget that those words were sung at the enshrining of Oliver Plunket? The Mass concluded, three Abbots in glorious apparel lifted the many-colored but acephalous body of Oliver from the Gospel side of the high altar and, preceded by the Comrnunity in their dark cowls and the Bishops of Clifton and Plymouth in purples, carried it down the choir and by the south door into the open air, preceded again by Cardinal Gasquet in cope and mitre and followed by Cardinal Bourne, as it were the chief mourner behind that radiant bier. At a distance, joining in the litanies of the Saints, came the school and the laity, and when, for a wonderful moment, the sunlight streamed upon all (the colours it seemed like a harlequin minglement of funeral and carnival, for there was no sign of mourning save in the Benedictine habits, and the cantors and bearers wore dalmatics, blue and yellow and purple. And the red pall over the relics became as bright as blood.


Preceded by crucifix and smoking censer, the Relics were brought slowly home to the Abbey for the last time, and who but the Catholic Church would honor dead and mouldy bones with what would have been the mockery of color and ceremony if she were not divinely aware that the undaunted spirit they once housed has ascended to the Father? 


Slowly the Relics were brought to their appointed place, and then a strange and beautiful piece of pageantry was seen in the Abbey of St. Gregory the Great de Downside. Upon four high pillars in the northern transept had been set a finely gilded ark reached by ladder and scaffolding, and to this four monks in albs climbed up and let down ropes to the bearers. It was more than a symbol; it was a travesty of Tyburn played in mid-air. Were these four not the ghostly executioners who once stood and moved about a certain scaffold. Were those not the ropes of the gibbet, and was not that Tyburn running upward, or only pillars of stone? But that assuredly was the veritable body of the Martyr and eminent servant of God, Oliver Plunket, which was now a second time swinging between Heaven and earth. High above the chanting monks, above the sweet-toned choir, rose the holy body, caped in crimson and sealed with the seals of the Holy Church. But that crowd was no bloodthirsty mob, only monks and children, and these seated figures were the presiding Cardinals and not the evil and infamous Justices who condemned Oliver Plunket. After two centuries the Church re-enacted the event of his death at Tyburn, and of that brutal human crime seemed to show a divine parody. Upon no sledge of pain, but in a glorious shrine he was laid, and it was no knife that descended but a golden lid which was lowered by chains from the roof, and then it was seen that the scaffolding has only to fall away to reveal the Altars of God. 


The monks descended the ladder, leaving Oliver to the centuries and once more a canonised Archbishop to the veneration of the folk. The sacrilege of Canterbury was repaired, and the Church once despoiled of the body of Thomas of Canterbury has enshrined the body of Oliver of Armagh. With sad and appropriate words Cardinal Bourne marked the occasion, deploring the tragic conditions prevailing in Ireland, and appealing to the blessed one to pray for Ireland and for England too! Then, after the intonation of the "Te Deum" the Cardinals and monks withdrew, but with what fresh force sounded the "Te Martyrum candidatus exercitus" and like a living flash from the organ, for the lonely body of a Martyr was there! In good keeping lies the Blessed Oliver Plunket. Though Irishmen would like him to have echoed the prayer of Brian Boru, 'My soul to God, and my body to Armagh!' yet he bequeathed his body to those, who have had it in their keeping and with whom it will now likely rest till the Judgment Day. Like a holy hostage Ireland's martyr remains in England and behind the golden bars of his prison shrine awaits the day when the England which gave him over to a cruel death will return to the Faith for which his life was given. 

Already the long train of pilgrims has begun, and hardly was he enshrined than kneeling figures approached his mediation and candles began to flicker into flame like silent prayers. With exceeding joy the good monks sang Vespers, and late into night their Matins. Then there was silence in the Abbey. One by one the votive candles flickered out and the Martyr was left alone in his glory. 

"HISTORIC CEREMONY AT DOWNSIDE ABBEY." Freeman's Journal 9 December 1920.



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Tuesday, 27 September 2022

An Irish Vincentian Martyr in the Seventeenth Century

September 27 is the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), founder of the Congregation of the Mission. Before starting the research for this blog I was completely unaware that Saint Vincent was informed about the persecution of Catholics in Ireland during his lifetime, much less that a member of his own congregation was numbered among the Irish martyrs. In 1903 a paper on Brother Thaddeus Lye (Thady Lie, Lee) was published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which brought this forgotten,  overlooked Vincentian martyr out of obscurity. Using contemporary sources including the letters of the Congregation's founder, Patrick Boyle, C.M., sets out an account of the sufferings of his confrère, making the point that Saint Vincent himself is the main witness to the fact of the martyrdom of Thaddeus Lye. Indeed, it is possible, even probable, that Saint Vincent had met the future martyr in person in the congregation's Paris seminary. Father Boyle suggests that the birthplace of Brother Thaddeus, given in  the sources as 'Toua' was Tuam, but it is perhaps more likely to have been Tuogh, County Limerick. Certainly his martyrdom took place against the backdrop of the Cromwellian siege of Limerick under the command of Cromwell's son-in-law General Henry Ireton in 1651. There was some confusion however, on whether Brother Thaddeus had met his end in the city or whether he had returned to his home, only to be cut to pieces in the sight of his mother:


IN a paper entitled 'Hibernia Vincentiana' the present writer gave an account of the labours of the Vincentians in Ireland during the life time of their founder. In the hour of her deepest affliction, the early Irish Vincentians had the privilege of labouring for Ireland, and of sharing her sufferings; and one of their number, Brother Thaddeus Lye, had the honour of suffering death at the hands of the enemies of the Catholic faith. [1]

The object of the present paper is to collect all that is known of the life and death of this servant of God, in the hope that as he was an associate in suffering of the Irish martyrs of the seventeenth century, he may also be their associate in the honours of which, it is hoped, the Church will at no distant date declare them worthy.


The details which have come down to us of the life and sufferings of Brother Lye (Lee), are scanty; but they are sufficient to show that he lived and died for God. The first mention of him is found in the Register of those who became members of the Congregation of the Mission, which is preserved at the Archives Nationales in Paris, and is quoted M.M. 519A and bears the following title:—

'Catalogue of the priests and clerics who have been received into the Congregation of the Mission since the commencement of its institution, and who lived therein more than two years, or who died in it before the end of the first two years, 1625-1764.' [2]

In this Register we find under the year 1643, the following entry: 'Thady Lie, aged 20 years, a native of Toua (Tuam?) in Ireland, received in Paris, 21st October, 1643, made the vows 7th October, 1645.' [3]

From this entry it is evident that Thady Lye was a cleric, though he is sometimes spoken of as a Brother, according to a usage in religious communities which gives that title even to ecclesiastics who are not in priests' orders.

Moreover, in the same register there is a separate catalogue of all the lay brothers who entered the community for the whole of the same period and the name Lye is not found amongst them. In all probability Brother Lye, like so many others of his countrymen, had come to Paris to study for the priesthood; and had there become acquainted with St. Vincent de Paul, [4] who at this time, in conjunction with Dr. Kirwan, was interesting himself in the welfare of the Irish ecclesiastics resident in the French capital. Anyhow his age, and his oblation of himself to God is evidence that ' his heart was in that which is good in the days of his youth.' [5]

Another reference which can hardly apply to anyone but Brother Lye is found in a letter of St. Vincent de Paul, dated 15th October, 1646, and addressed to the Bishop of Limerick. [6] In that letter the saint announces to the bishop the departure of a body of missioners to Ireland. He writes — 
'My Lord: at last I have the pleasure of sending eight missioners to Ireland, one of them is French, the rest are Irish... [7] and a brother who is English. The first mentioned has been charged with the government of the company, according to the advice of the late Mr.Skyddie, [8] who before his death sent me word that this was the plan to adopt. The cleric will have as his duty to direct the singing.'
From other letters of St. Vincent written at this period, we learn that one of the lay brothers who accompanied the missioners, named Solomon Patriarche, was a native of the island of Jersey, and we may assume that he is the person described as English. This good brother suffered much from the privations and perils he underwent in Ireland, and in 1649 it was found necessary to send him back to France. In a letter dated 10th September, 1649, St. Vincent mentions him, and says: —
M. Duguin (Duggan) who was in Ireland is here for the last few days. He left, at St. Meen, Brother Patriarche who, though much better, is not quite recovered from his mental infirmity, on account of which M. Brin sent them to us. I am told this good brother, such as he is, is a source of great edification to the company, so cordial is he, and so obliging, active, and devoted to God [9].
The cleric, therefore, must have been Brother Lye, who was not in priests' orders, probably because in 1646 he was still under age, and probably also because he had not a patrimonial title, and the community had not yet obtained the privilege of ordaining its subjects titulo Mensae Communis. But whatever be the explanation, the fact that it was his duty to direct the singing is not without interest in these days of musical reform; for it seems to indicate that congregational singing was not unknown in Ireland in the seventeenth century.

The third reference we find to Brother Lye is found in a letter of St. Vincent, dated 22nd March, 1652, and addressed to Mr. Lambert, superior of a house of the Congregation in Warsaw. Having treated of matters personal to M. Lambert the saint continues: —
I add to this the news we have had of our confrères in Ireland, whom we supposed to be amongst those whom the English put to death at the capture of Limerick. But, thanks be to God, he has rescued them from their hands. This is certain as regards M. Barry, who has arrived at Nantes, and whom we are expecting here, and we have reason to hope the same is true of M. Brin, though we are not certain of it. They left Limerick together, along with five or six score priests and religious, all in disguise, and mingled with the soldiers of the city who quitted it on the day the enemy were to enter. Our men spent the night in preparing for death, because there was no quarter for ecclesiastics; but God did not permit them to be recognised as such. On leaving the city they separated not without great sorrow, going one in one direction and one in another. They thought it best to act in this way, so that if one perished the other at least might escape. M. Brin took the road to his native place with their good friend the Vicar-General of Cannes [sic]. [10] M. Barry went towards certain mountains which he names, where he met a charitable lady who received and lodged him for two months; at the end of which a vessel for France chanced to present itself, and he embarked without having had any news of M. Brin since they separated. He thinks, however, that it will be no easy matter for him to cross over to France, both because the English hold the sea, and because they occupy the district of which he is a native; hence he has much need of our prayers.

P.S. — Poor Brother Lye being in his native place fell into the hands of the enemy, who dashed out his brains, and cut off his feet and hands before the eyes of his mother. [11]
The foregoing letter is based no doubt on information forwarded by Father Barry, who had just arrived from Ireland. It does not mention the date nor the precise place where Brother Lye suffered. [12] But from the Register above mentioned we know that his native place was Toua (Tuam ?). It seems probable that he escaped from Limerick when the siege was raised, and took refuge with his parents. There he fell into the hands of the Cromwellians, no doubt before the end of 1651 and like the Machabees of old he was put to death before his mother's eyes. There could be no other motive for treating him with such barbarity but the fact that he was an ecclesiastic. The cruelty with which he was treated bears a certain resemblance to that which was exercised on the saintly Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy Queely, [13] whose body was hacked to pieces by the soldiers. Both suffered in different years, but for the same cause, and in the same manner. Both, we may remark, were students in Paris. Let us hope that both will find a place on the list of the Irish martyrs who laboured and suffered so gloriously for the faith in the seventeenth century.

The fact of the martydrom of Thady Lye comes down to us, then, on the authority of St. Vincent de Paul; and if we do not possess more ample details concerning him, it is probably to be attributed to the humility of St. Vincent. When the mission to Ireland had come to a close the superior of it desired to publish an account of the labours of the missioners and the fruits produced by them; but St. Vincent dissuaded him: 'It is enough,' he said, 'that God knows all that has been done, the humility of our Lord requires of the little company to remain hidden in God with Jesus Christ in honour of His hidden life. The blood of martyrs shall not be forgotten before God; and sooner or later it shall be the seed of new Christians.' [14] But though the humility of St. Vincent shrank from publishing to the world an account of the labours of his children in Ireland, and of the fruits produced by them, the martyrdom of Brother Lye was not forgotten. In the middle of the eighteenth century Father Peter Collet, so widely known for his theological works, published a life of St. Vincent de Paul. He employed great diligence in the preparation of that work.

He consulted not merely the life of the saint by Abelly, Bishop of Rodez, but he also examined all the documents on which Abelly's life was based; the letters of St. Vincent to the number of at least seven thousand, the letters written to the saint, the manuscript lives of the early companions of St. Vincent, and other documents, many of which have since been lost. [15] We may therefore regard Collet as not merely the echo of the testimony of St. Vincent, but also to some extent as an independent witness, since he must have had before him the documents regarding the mission to Ireland on which St. Vincent's own testimony is based. Speaking of the sufferings of the missioners on the occasion of the fall of Limerick, Collet writes as follows : —
Of the three missioners who had remained in Ireland only two returned to Paris, after having passed at Limerick through all the terrors of pestilence and war. The third finished his course there; the others disguised themselves and escaped as they could. One of them retired to his own country with the Grand-Vicar of Cashel. The other found in the mountains a pious woman who concealed him for two months. A brother who waited on them was less fortunate, or rather more so. The heretics having discovered his retreat massacred him under the eyes of his mother. They broke his head, after having cut off his feet and hands, an inhuman and barbarous punishment which served to show the priests what they might expect should they be caught. [16]
The testimony of St. Vincent and of Collet has been handed on by more recent historians. The Abbé Maynard in his life of St. Vincent, published in 1860, relates the martydom of Brother Lye in almost the same words as Collet. Later still, a little work of piety entitled the Petit Pré Spirituel de la Congregation de la Mission was compiled in 1880 by the late Father Chinchon, C.M. In it he recounts the sufferings and death of Brother Lye in almost the same terms as the writers just mentioned. He falls however into the error of regarding him as lay brother (frére coadjuteur), whereas it is clear from the catalogue of the members of the community that he was an ecclesiastic.

There exists, then, a constant and well authenticated tradition that Brother Thady Lye suffered death at the hands of heretics in odium fidei. The details which we possess concerning his life and death are meagre. But they are fuller than what we possess concerning many whom the Church honours as martyrs.

Of the four saints honoured under the title Quatuor Coronaii even the names were long unknown; of the martyr who embraced St. Felix on the way to the place of execution, and who suffered with him, the name has never been known, and the Church calls him Adauctus because he was added to St. Felix in his triumphant profession of the faith.

Nothing is known of St. Philomena but her name, which was inscribed on her sepulchre. The phial of blood, the emblem of martyrdom, discovered in her tomb is the only record of her life. The testimony of a canonized saint repeated by grave authors, and handed down to the present day, can hardly be of less weight in favour of one who may justly be regarded as having suffered for the faith.


Thus far we have endeavoured to collect authentic evidence regarding the life and death of Brother Lye. Let us now endeavour to see what light is thrown upon his career by the circumstances in which he was placed. St. Gregory Nazianzen, [17] in his sermon on the great St. Basil, says of him that such was his gravity, that ' he was a priest even before he was ordained a priest.' In like manner it may be said of Brother Lye that he was a martyr before he suffered martyrdom. He accompanied the missioners to Ireland and shared their privations and dangers. What those privations and dangers were may be gathered from various letters of St. Vincent de Paul. Writing to M. Portail on 14th February, 1647, he says: —
We have no news from Ireland, except old news, which reached us two days ago, and was dated September and November. M. Duchesne is suffering from a flux of blood since a month previous to his last letter, and our Brother Levacher, since his arrival in Ireland. The others, thanks be to God, are in good health. The miseries of the country arc great in every way; and the enemy surround the place where our men reside, so that when they go on missions they are in danger. I recommend them to your prayers.
In another letter dated 10th May, 1647, he again speaks of Ireland.
We have also [he writes] news from our gentlemen in Ireland. They tell me that the war and the poverty of the country are great obstacles in their way. Nevertheless, at a mission which they gave the concourse of people was so great that though there were five or six confessors, they were not enough to hear the confessions. For people from the neighbouring localities hastened to hear the Word of God; and some from a distance of nearly ten leagues waited four or five days to get to confession! I recommend them to the prayers of all the company.
In course of time the dangers became yet greater. St. Vincent recalled five of his missioners to France. Three priests remained and with them Brother Lye. At this time the army of Ireton was laying waste the country around Limerick, and the people fled for safety to the city.

At the request of the bishop a mission was given in the city, and about twenty thousand people approached the sacraments. Soon after a plague broke out and carried off about eight thousand persons. [18]
It was marvellous [writes Abelly] to see, not merely with what patience, but also with what peace and tranquillity of mind those poor people endured the pestilence. They declared that they died happy, because they were relieved of the burden of their sins, from which they had been delivered by the sacrament of Penance. Others said they did not regret to die, since God had sent the holy fathers (so they called the priests of the Mission) to cleanse their souls. Others again, in their sickness, asked nothing else but to have a share in the prayers of their confessors, to whom they declared they owed their salvation.
Another and a greater trial soon followed; Ireton laid siege to the city. For five months and fifteen days the city was beleagured. The enemy assaulted without, famine and pestilence raged within. Such at length was the dearth of provisions that, as we learn from a letter of St. Vincent, the head of a horse was sold for a crown. [19] Brother Lye was a spectator and a sharer of all these sufferings. As yet the hour of his martyrdom had not arrived.

But what St. Cyprian says of St. Cornelius, is true also of Brother Lye: 'Quantum ad devotionem ejus pertinet et timorem, passus est, quidquid pati potuit.' [20] In preparation of heart, and the expectation of the sufferings with which he was threatened he suffered a species of martyrdom. May we not say of him, as St. Cyprian also says of St. Cornelius, even before he had suffered martyrdom : —
Nonne hic, fratres charissimi, summo virtutis et fidei testimonio praedicandus est, nonne inter gloriosos confessores et martyres deputandus est, qui tantum temporis sedit expectans corporis sui carnifices et tyranni ferocientes ultores; qui Cornelium adversus edicta feralia resistentem, et minas et cruciatus et tormenta, fidei vigore calcantem, vel gladio invaderent, vel quolibet inaudito genere poenarum viscera ejus et membra laniarent?

Does not he merit the highest eulogium for virtue and faith, does not he merit to be ranked with the confessors and martyrs of renown, who so long held out awaiting the executioners and ministers of the fierce tyrant, who were prepared to slay him with the sword, to crucify him, to burn, or mangle with unheard of torments, the vitals and the members of one who by the strength of his faith despised commands, threats, agonies and torments?
But Brother Lye was not alone in this noble disposition of mind in the midst of dangers. He had glorious examples of fortitude before his eyes. The Bishop of Limerick was within the walls sharing the dangers and sustaining the courage of his flock. When the city capitulated he, too, was doomed to death, but clothed in the disguise of a soldier's servant, bareheaded, his face besmeared and a pack upon his shoulders he made his escape and found refuge in Belgium. [21] Terence Albert O'Brien, the saintly Bishop of Emly, was there encouraging the inhabitants to hold out against the besiegers. He was specially excepted from quarter. Father Denis Hanrechan, O.P., himself present in Limerick at the time, tells with what courage and resignation the Bishop met his death on the eve of All Saints, 1651, and how his lifeless body, as it hung for three hours on the gibbet, was treated with barbarity by the soldiers, who made it swing to and fro, and beat it with their muskets, and then how the head of the Bishop was cut off and fixed on the bridge connecting the city with the suburbs. He tells, too, how Ireton, the chief author of so much cruelty, was stricken with the plague, and how in his sickness he frequently cried out that the Bishop was sentenced to death not by him, but by the Council. "I could have saved him," he repeated, "but this did not please my friends. Would that I had never seen that Papist Bishop." Racked by the reproaches of his conscience Ireton expired on 26th November, 1651. [22] But besides the Bishop of Emly there were others whose courage and whose fate serve to throw clearer light on the surroundings in which Brother Lye was placed. Just as Hanrechan, whose narrative is summarized by Lynch, is a contemporary witness of the sufferings of Bishop Terence Albert O'Brien, so Abelly, in his life of St. Vincent de Paul, is a contemporary witness of the virtues and sufferings of Sir Thomas Strich and his companions, who were put to death on the same occasion. The life of St. Vincent by Abelly, deficient though it is in literary finish and in chronological arrangement, is a work of great value for the documents it contains. [23] It was published in 1664, and is referred to by Lynch in his manuscript lives of the Bishops of Ireland.

When Abelly wrote, the missioners who had been in Ireland were still alive, and we may feel certain that in the account he gives of the events in Ireland, though the hand which writes is French, the voice which speaks is Irish. Abelly writes as follows of the fall of Limerick: —
That poor city was besieged and at length taken by the heretics. They cruelly put to death several of the inhabitants on account of the Catholic faith which they professed. This they did in particular to four of the principal inhabitants of the city, who testified on this occasion by their invincible zeal in defence of the Catholic religion, how much they had profited by the instructions and exhortations of the mission, and by the spiritual retreat they afterwards made in the house of the missionaries. This was the case in particular of Sir Thomas Strich, who at the close of his retreat, was elected mayor of the city. In that office he publicly declared his opposition to the enemies of the Church; and on receiving the keys of the city, he at once, by the advice of his confessor, placed them in the hands of a statue of the Blessed Virgin, begging of her to take the city under her protection. On this occasion he made the corporation of the city walk before him to the church, where that pious action was performed with due ceremony, and at its close the new mayor delivered a most Christian discourse, encouraging the whole assembly to inviolable fidelity to God, to the Church, and to the King; and he offered to sacrifice his own life for so just a cause. This offer was accepted by God, for when the city was taken soon after by the enemy, God gave him the grace to suffer martyrdom with three others of the principal citizens; who, having been the companions of his spiritual retreat, were also his companions in martyrdom. The four came forward to suffer, not only with constancy but also with joy; and in token of it, they dressed in their best clothes, and before their execution they delivered addresses which drew tears from all present, even from the heretics. They declared before heaven and earth that they died for professing and defending the Catholic religion; and their example greatly strengthened the rest of the Catholics to preserve their faith and to suffer all manner of tortures rather than fail in the allegiance they owed to God.
Such were the men whose example Brother Lye had before his eyes. He was the sharer of their perils, probably their attendant in their retreat, and like them he suffered death for the same cause as they.

The eloquent St. Gregory Nazianzen, in an admirable sermon, thus sums up the praise of the Machabees: ' The whole of Judea admired their constancy and rejoiced as though their crown were its own. For this contest was the greatest of any which that city had ever had to endure. Its object was whether the law should be overturned or glorified. Their contest was a crisis for the whole Hebrew race.' [24] So, too, was it in the case of Brother Lye, and the martyrs of Limerick. They were no less glorious than the Machabees. The undaunted Bishop of Emly, firm as Eleazer of old; Brother Lye, the youthful son, martyred under the eyes of his noble-hearted mother; Sir Thomas Strich and others of the laity, true and constant as the clergy, all combatted in the same cause. The faith of the whole Irish race was at stake, the whole Irish race admired their constancy and rejoiced at their victory.

It belongs to the divinely established authority of the Church to pronounce upon the merits of these heroic men. Should that supreme authority decree to them the honours of the altar, the whole Irish race will look on their honour as its own, and with gratitude to God will 'praise the men of renown ' to whose heroic constancy the preservation of the faith in Ireland is due.

Patrick Boyle, C.M.

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 4th series, Vol XVI, (1904), 307-319.


[1] I.E.Record, October, 1903

[2] Catalogue des Prestres et clercs qui ont ésté reçeus en la Congregation de la Mission depuis le commencement de son institution, et y ont veçu plus de deux ans, ou bien y sont morts devant la fin des deux premières années 1625 -1764.' Arch. Nationales M.M. 519 A. The continuation of the Catalogue from 1764 to 1790 is quoted M.M. 519 B .

[3] ' Thadée Lie, age de 20 ans, natif de Toua en Hibernie; reçu a Paris le 21 Octobre, 1643, a fait les voeux le 7 Octobre, 1643’. The name is written Lie in the Register. In the printed text of Collet and of St.Vincent's letters we find Lye.

[4] Hib. Vincentiana, I. E. Record, p. 300, October, 1903.

[5] Eccles. xi. 9.

[6] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul, vol. i., p. 578.

[7] A portion of the original letter has been torn away.

[8] John Skyddie, a native of Cork, received in Paris, 9th October, 1638; ordained priest 1640.

[9] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul. vol. ii., p. 179

[10] Cashel

[11] 'Le pauvre frère Lye, étant en son pays, est tombe en mains des ennemis, qui lui ont écrasé la tête et coupé les pieds et les mains en la presence de sa mère'.

[12] Lettres de St. Vincent de Paul, vol. ii., pp. 400,401.

[13] Dr. Malachy Queely, to whom reference is made above, and whose name is also on the list of Irish martyrs, made his studies in Paris. Whether during his studies in Philosophy he resided in the Irish College in that city, supported then by the Baron de L'Escalopier, is not clear: but that he was a friend and patron of the College is manifest from a letter addressed on its behalf to the University of Paris, dated 1624, and signed by Dr. Queely and four other Irish Prelates. In 1617, as appears from the MS Register of the German Nation in the University, Queely was Professor of Philosophy in the College of fioncour and Proctor of the German Nation, the latter office be also held in 1620 and in 1622. From the History of the College of Navarre, one of the colleges of the Paris University, by the celebrated Launoi, we learn that Malachy Queely made his theological studies in that famous college. In a list of the students of the College Launoi gives his name as a theologian in 1618, and again as master in Theology in 1622.

The life of Dr. Queely is well known in Ireland; but there is a sketch of his career given by Launoi in the work just mentioned, which is hardly accessible in Ireland, and which may be of interest at the present time, the more so as it is probably the earliest printed record of his career. We translate from the original Latin : —

' Malachy Queely, an Irishman, of respectable and noble family, desiring to obtain the degree of Master of Theology, procured, by a royal licence similar to that granted to Nicholas Maillard, admission to the theological college of Navarre. When he had obtained the object of his desire in 1622, he returned to bis native country, and the following year he was consecrated Archbishop of Tuam, and Metropolitan of the Province of Connaught. His personal merit, his reputation for learning and the nobiity of his family, which was held in high esteem by the Catholics, obtained for him that honour. It is incredible with what care and diligence he practised all the virtues which St. Paul requires in a bishop. Amongst them were pre-eminent his charity and hospitality, so that every one admired the variety of ways in which he practised those two virtues. He visited his diocese attentively and diligently; nor did he ordain anyone a priest until he had made a strict inquiry as to his life, morals, and learning. He could not endure idle priests; and it was his wish that every priest should have an ecclesiastical office. At the period when the Cromwellian party prevailed, the Confederate Catholics desired that he should govern the Province, and he governed it in subjection to the King, mindful of the words of Christ: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars." In the year 1644, as he was going through his diocese, he fell into the hands of a party of Scotch Cromwellians, by whom he was slain in the month of November. The Catholics honour him as a martyr, and flock from all quarters to venerate his tomb. They receive solace and aid, and pay honour to his relics.'

Such is Launoi's account of this great Irish bishop. As it was published in 1667 it is contemporary evidence, and all the more valuable as coming from the pen of one, who, from the severity with which he criticised the legends of saints, was called the denicheur des saints.

Joannis Launoii, Constantiensis, Parisiensis Theologi, Regit Navarrae.

Gymasii Historia. Paris, MDCLXVII. Ch. 89, pp. 1053-54.

[14] Abelly, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul, Book ii., chap. i. f sec. 8.

[15] Collet, Preface to the Life of St. Vincent .

[16] Collet, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul, 1st Edition, 1748, vol. ii, p. 471 (English Edition, Dublin, 1846. p. 311).

[17] St. Greg. Nazian., Sermon on St. Basil.

[18] Abelly, Vie de St. Vincent de Paul.

[19]Letter dated 23rd March, 1652, mentioned by Collet, but now lost.

[20] St. Cyprian, Epistola ad Antonianum de Cornelio, ac Novatiano.

[21] Lynch MS., ' De Praesulibus Hiberniae, Mazarin copy, p. 714

[22] Lynch MS., p. 680

[23] La Vie du Venerable serviteur de Dieu, Vincent de Paul, par Messire Louis Abelly, Eveque de Rodez. Paris, 1664, Book ii., chap, i., sec. 8.

[24] St. Gregory Nazianzen, Homily on the Machabees.

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Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Rome's Tribute to Ireland

On July 27, 1951, an official decree was issued ordering the resumption of the cause for canonisation of Blessed Oliver Plunkett. It is an interesting statement as it begins with a recognition of Ireland as the historic insula sanctorum and pays tribute to the role played by Ireland's early missionary saints in bringing Christianity to other countries of Europe. There is an acknowledgment too of the price paid by Irish Catholics for their fidelity to the faith and a closing summary of the case of Blessed Oliver himself. He was, of course, declared a saint in 1975 by Pope Paul VI and remains the only Irish martyr to have been canonized, although seventeen Irish martyrs were beatified in 1992 and the causes of a further forty-two are currently being prepared for re-submission:
Blessed Oliver Plunkett's Cause

A REMARKABLE official tribute to Ireland as the Isle of Saints is given in a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. It orders the resumption of the cause for canonisation of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, who died a martyr's death in Tyburn, England, in 1681. Following is a translation:

The praises and the glorious merits of the Irish people are more fittingly chanted by angelic voice than by human tongue. Once they became Christians, the Irish people never deflected from their Catholic faith; they even spread that faith throughout all Europe during the Middle Ages, and after the Anglican schism they spread it throughout the rest of the world, while winning the glory of martyrdom in their homeland.

Irish Saints

St. Columba, the father of Irish and Scottish monasticism, founded almost 100 monasteries from his parent foundation on the island called Iona. Many of those monks, famed for their sanctity, travelled through the distant regions preaching the Gospel to pagans and founding monasteries which were seminaries of Christian perfection.

Ireland can also claim as her own Saint Columbanus, who founded monasteries at Luxeuil and especially at Bobbio; St. Gall of Switzerland; Sts. Killian and Colman, Apostles of the Franks; Sts. Cathaldus and Frigidian, who were Bishops in Italy, and many others in various parts of Europe. Deservedly, therefore, was Ireland known to Christian peoples as "the Island of Saints."

Modern Martyrs

In more modern times the same people heroically underwent the most terrible sufferings in order to preserve and defend their Catholic faith against the Anglican schism and against the Protestant heresy. Ireland had to witness very many of her sons being condemned to most cruel deaths, or being punished by exile, or being obliged, in order to escape persecution, to flee to foreign lands. By design of Divine Providence, this contributed in no small way to the propagation of the Catholic faith.

Blessed Oliver Plunkett

Among those condemned to death, Blessed Oliver Plunkett (1629-1681) occupies a foremost place because of the dignity of his office. Of Irish birth and outstanding in piety and learning, he was professor of theology in the College of Propaganda Fide in Rome, and later, as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, he was exemplary in the discharge of his episcopal duties. Because of his Catholic faith, he was cast into prison and transported to London, where, on July 1, 1681, he bravely faced a most cruel death. He was hanged, his bowels torn out, and his body quartered. He thus won the martyr's crown, which was confirmed on May 23, 1920, when Pope Benedict XV solemnly beatified him.

Since it now appears that certain (supernatural) signs have taken place, and since—through the diligent zeal of the active postulator of the cause, the Rt. Rev. Mgr. McDaid, Canon of the Patriarchal Vatican Basilica— many postulatory letters have been collected requesting Our Holy Father Pope Pius XII to resume the cause, the undersigned Cardinal Pro-Prefect and Ponens of the cause, at the ordinary meeting of the Sacred Congregation of Rites held on the 24th of this month, asked the question: "Whether the commission should be appointed for the resumption of the cause of Blessed Oliver Plunkett for his canonisation," and delivered a report thereon. The Cardinals present unanimously gave an affirmative answer in writing: "The commission should be appointed if our Most Holy Father approves." On the report of the Cardinal Pro-Prefect, His Holiness deigned on this date to sign the rescript appointing the commission for the resumption of the cause of Blessed Oliver Plunkett.

Given at Rome, July 27, 1951. (Signed)

Clemens Cardinal Micara, Bishop of Velletri, Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites; Alphonsus Carinci, Archbishop of Seleucia, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.

ROME'S TRIBUTE TO IRELAND  Southern Cross (1951, October 19).
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Sunday, 17 July 2022

'A Most Meritorious Missioner' : Father Robert Netterville, S.J.

We look today at the case of Father Robert Netterville, a Jesuit martyr, believed for many years to have died on June 15, 1649 as part of the Cromwellian massacre at Drogheda but whom more recent research has suggested actually died five years earlier on July 17, 1644. He was from the Meath branch of an Old English family who had contributed much to civil and religious life in Ireland, as diocesan historian Dean Anthony Cogan noted:

The noble family of Netterville, seated at Dowth Castle, was distinguished for its attachment to the Catholic faith, and for the many eminent ecclesiastics who, in times of greatest peril, devoted their lives to the salvation of the people. In 1217 Dr. Luke Netterville, son of Sir Luke of Dowth, was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh; in 1224 he founded the Magdalen Convent of Drogheda for the Dominican Fathers, and in 1227 he died, and was buried in the monastery which he had erected.
In subsequent years the Nettervilles of Dowth branched into several independent houses viz., of Corballies in County Dublin, of Castletown-Kilpatrick, Crucerath, and Knockcumber, in county Meath; of Miltown in County Tipperary (afterwards transplanted to County Galway), each of which rivalled the parent house in devotion and attachment to religion. When Cromwell and his myrmidons were slaughtering the inhabitants of Drogheda, in 1649, the Rev. Robert Netterville, a Jesuit Father, was then old, infirm, and confined to his bed. The "Relatio rerum" of the Jesuits thus describes his sufferings: "He was forced away by the soldiers and dragged along the ground, being violently knocked against each obstacle that presented itself on the way; then they beat him with clubs, and when many of his bones were broken, they cast him on the highway. On the fourth day, having fought a good fight, he departed this life to receive, as we hope, the martyr's crown."

Nicholas Netterville of Dowth was advanced to the peerage of Ireland on the 3rd of April, 1622, with the title of Viscount Netterville of Dowth. He left issue, eight sons and five daughters, two of whom viz., Christopher and Nicholas became Jesuits...
Rev. A. Cogan, The Diocese of Meath - Ancient and Modern, Vol.II, (Dublin, 1867),  footnote p.305.

Both Fathers Christopher and Nicholas Netterville are also interesting characters, but let us return to their martyred uncle Father Robert and the account of his death given by Denis Murphy S.J. in his 1896 catalogue, Our Martyrs. Father Murphy used the 1675 work Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem of Mathias Tanner, S.J., (1630-1692) as his source:

1649. Robert Netterville, S.J.

(from Tanner's Soc. Jesu, &c., p.137.)

In the year 1649 all the Catholics were banished from Dublin by order of the parliament, and a proclamation was issued at the same time imposing the penalty of death on any of them who should be found to have passed even one night within the walls of the city or in the suburbs. And to prove that they were not more merciful to the pastors, capital punishment and the confiscation of property were the penalty imposed on anyone who would allow a Jesuit or any priest to stay even an hour in his house. The same took place in Cork, which city the heretics had got possession of by a stratagem. After many of the inhabitants had been slaughtered, a proclamation was issued ordering all to leave the city or abandon their religion when the third cannon shot was fired. Before the signal was given, a sad sight, yet worthy of the first age of the Church, might be witnessed. For young and old, even the sick, ladies too of high birth, all went out of their own accord into the open country, in the morning rich and prosperous, in the evening exposed to hardships such as they had never endured before, to pass the rest of their lives in caves and woods, or to beg their bread. The inhabitants of the city of Drogheda and the Fathers of the residence of the Society of Jesus there endured like calamities or even greater, for owing to the bloodthirsty ferocity of the heretics, the bodies of the Catholics were lying about in every street, in the houses, and in the fields; the blood of young and old alike, of women as well as men, was flowing in streams through the streets.

By some means or other the English learned that F. Robert Netterville was a priest and a Jesuit. Wherefore, on the 15th of June, they burst into the house, and  regardless of his advanced age and of his venerable appearance, they seized him by the feet and dragged him out of the bed in which he lay, beat him with sticks, and when they had broken some of his bones, left him half-dead on the highway. Four days after that he gave up his soul to Christ, rejoicing greatly that he suffered such torments for Christ's sake. 

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J., Our Martyrs, (Dublin, 1896), 310-311.

 Father Murphy's contemporary, the scholarly Father Edmund Hogan S.J. (1831-1917), also included our martyr in a chronological catalogue of Irish Jesuits where he hailed him as 'a most meritorious missioner':

Netterville, Robert (M), born in Meath in 1582; entered the Society in Italy in 1604; was professed of the four vows; and died at Drogheda, June 19, 1649. He was Minister in Naples; came to Ireland from Sicily in 1615; was in Kildare in 1621; beaten to death near Drogheda by the heretical soldiers; was a most meritorious missioner.

 Rev E. Hogan, S.J., Chronological Catalogue of the Irish Members of the Society of Jesus from the year 1550 to 1814, appended to Rev H. Foley, S.J., Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, Volume VII, part II, (London, 1883), 16.

Although the earlier Jesuit writers placed the execution of Father Robert Netterville within the context of the Cromwellian massacre at Drogheda in 1649, the research of Jesuit archivist Father Francis Finegan (1909-2011), suggests that this was an error. The website of the Irish Jesuit Archives contains his reconstruction of the entire career of Father Netterville starting with his birth on October 23, 1583 in County Meath. He entered the Order in Rome on the same day in 1604 and was ordained at Naples six years later. He spent the years between 1615 and 1623 back in Ireland, where he ministered in the counties of Kildare and Meath before leading a party of seminarians to the Irish Colleges in Spain. There, however, he seems to have had a disagreement with the Archbishop of Cashel/Dublin and as a result found himself recalled to Dublin in 1625, where he stayed until 1641 when he left to escape the Puritan control of the city. He remained in the north Leinster area afterwards. Father Finegan argues that Robert Netterville was taken captive and killed by the Scots Covenanter army under General Robert Munroe (d.1680), who had made raids as far as North Westmeath in June and July 1644. His research suggested that the correct date of Father Netterville's death was July 17, 1644 and that some of the Jesuit writers had given the year 1649 in order to coincide with the massacre of Drogheda, possibly also mistaking him for another Irish Jesuit, Robert Bathe, who died in Kilkenny in 1649.

Father Robert Netterville is number 222 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) of those whose names were submitted to Rome for official consideration. No further progress has been made to date  with his cause.

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