Sunday 24 April 2022

Father Donatus O'Mollony: 'ready by God's help to endure all torments and death itself.'

On April 24, 1601, Irish priest Donatus O'Mollony (Donough O'Maloney, Daniel O'Maloney), vicar of the western Diocese of Killaloe, died in prison in Dublin. He had been tortured immediately before his death in an attempt to force him to acknowledge Queen Elizabeth's claims to spiritual as well as temporal authority.  This he refused to do, saying 'a woman, who may not speak in the church, I cannot acknowledge as its head.'  Father O'Mollony was not the only Irish martyr to take this stand, four decades earlier Thomas Leverous, Bishop of Kildare, also declared that a woman could not exercise authority over the church on the grounds that it was contrary to scripture and that Christ had not extended this privilege even to his own mother. Unlike Bishop Leverous, however, who was deprived of his see but allowed to retire to Limerick and take up a new career as a teacher, Father O'Mollony was to pay with his life. Leverous made his stand in the beginning years of Elizabeth's reign when the policy of coercion was not so rigorously applied in Dublin, Father O'Mollony made his in the final years when coercion was enforced. The account of his martyrdom below has been taken from Myles O'Reilly's 1869 collection Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. The original source is the work of the Irish martyrologist Anthony Bruodin O.F.M. (1625-1680), who, as he tells us, was related to Father Donatus through his mother, Margaret O'Mollony. The O'Mollony (O'Maloney) sept were one of the most important in Thomond and had provided chieftains and leading churchmen from their ranks for centuries. The last native-born chieftain, Dermot O'Mollony, was forced to flee as a teenager to Flanders in the wake of the Second Desmond Rebellion, his kinsman Malachy O'Mallony, Bishop of Killaloe, mentioned in Bruodin's account, was imprisoned in London in the early 1570s but escaped and returned to Ireland. A later Bishop of Killaloe, John O'Molony would die in the Cromwellian siege of Limerick in 1651.  So this was a family who were very much at the centre of events in this turbulent era. Bruodin's pride in the courage shown by his kinsman in resisting torture, which he says impressed even his tormentors, shines through his account of the martyrdom of Donatus O'Mollony:


"Was of a noble family, a theologian and priest, and vicar of the diocese of Killaloe. He was a truly apostolic pastor, and when the wild boars ravaged the vineyard of the Lord in the diocese of Killaloe, (of which Malachy O'Mollony was bishop,) he feared not to risk his life for his flock. He was taken in the district of Ormond, where he was visiting the parish priest, and, with his hands tied behind his back like a robber, was dragged to Dublin in the midst of the soldiers. The reader may imagine what he suffered in this long journey. (I have heard much of it from my mother, Margaret O'Mollony, a near relative of the martyr, and from other friends in my country, but for the sake of brevity I omit much.) Hardly was Donatus shut up in the Tower of Dublin, when the iron boots, the rack, the iron gauntlets and the other instruments with which the executioners tortured the confessors of Christ were paraded before his eyes, and he was asked by the chief-judge whether he would subscribe to the queen's laws and decrees in matters of religion. Mollony, filled with the spirit of God, answered courageously he was ready to obey the queen's commands in all things not contrary to the laws of Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and his vicar on earth. The judge, like Pilate, answered: 'The queen in her kingdom is the only vicar of Christ and head of the church; therefore you must either take the oath of supremacy or die.' Mollony answered, 'Either Paul, the doctor of the Gentiles, and Christ himself in his gospels, err, or the queen is not the vicar of Christ!' 'Then you will not acknowledge the supreme authority, after Christ, of the queen in spirituals?' 'By no means! said Mollony;  'a woman, who may not speak in the church, I cannot acknowledge as its head; nay, for the truth of the opposite I am ready, by Gods help, to endure all torments, and death itself! ' Very good,' said the judge; 'we shall see to-morrow if your deeds correspond with your words.'

"Next day, about nine o'clock, the executioners, by order of the judge, so squeezed Donatus's feet in iron boots, and his hands in like gauntlets, that blood came from all his ten fingers.

"But the torture failed to move him, and during it Donatus more than once returned thanks to God that by his grace he was able to bear the torture for his Son's name. He was then for two hours extended on the rack, so that he was stretched out a span in length. During the cruel torture Donatus continually either prayed or exhorted the Catholics who were near to constancy in the faith, which is the only road to salvation, and for which he was ready to shed his blood. The executioners were moved to tears by the patience and constancy of the sufferer, and, by order of the judge, carried him, half-dead, back to prison, where a few hours afterward he slept piously in the Lord, on the 24th April, anno 1601." — Bruodin, lib. iii. cap. XX.

M. O'Reilly, Memorials of those who Suffered for the Catholic Faith in Ireland in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, (New York 1869), 174-5.

As 'Daniel Maloney', Father Donatus O'Mollony is number 22 on the Official List of Irish Martyrs (1918) whose names were submitted to Rome for consideration. No further progress has been made with his cause.

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