Archdiocese Overview

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The Archdiocese of Dublin covers an area of some 100 kilometres of the mid-eastern coast of Ireland, and extends inland over seventy kilometres. The entire county of Dublin forms a substantial part of the diocese along with most of Wicklow, considerable sections of Kildare in addition to sections of Carlow, Wexford, and Laois. Three suffragan sees are linked to the archdiocese, namely Kildare and Leighlin, Ferns, and Ossory. The evangelization of this territory from the time of Palladius and St Patrick is attested to by the remnants of numerous monasteries found in many parts of the archdiocese. Many tribes had their own monastic establishment, in some of whom a bishop was found. Such bishops were frequently, but not invariably leaders of their monastic communities. In the early Church in Ireland the monastic system, which Patrick had in part initiated, became the standard form of ecclesiastical organisation. A consequence of the Scandinavian invasions in the ninth century was the sacking, looting and burning of many monasteries. The Norse initially worshipped their own Gods, but following the conversion of one of their leaders in the tenth century numerous Danes began to embrace Christianity. In the years following the victory of Brian Boru at Clontarf in 1014, King Sitric commenced organizing the Church on a hierarchical basis in Dublin.


This first Danish bishop, Donatus, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and many of his successors also were consecrated in England. Twelfth century reforms of the Church included the summoning of the synod of Rathbreasil at which the number of sees was fixed at twenty-four, Dublin excluded. This synod recognised the diocese of Glendalough, the church founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century, as a diocese. Later, following a general synod at Kells in 1152, Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam were created archiepiscopal sees, with canonical jurisdiction over their suffragans. Gregory was named as the first Archbishop of Dublin and was assigned as suffragans the Sees of Kildare, Ossory, Leighlin, Ferns, and Glendalough.


On the death of Archbishop Gregory, Saint Laurence O'Toole, previously abbot of Glendalough, became his successor in 1162. He was consecrated in Dublin cathedral by Gelasius of Armagh in 1162. Saint Laurence initiated numerous significant reforms such as the introduction of religious orders from the Continent and the installation of a community of canons to minister in the Cathedral the Holy Trinity (later named Christ Church). The Abbey of Saint Mary was founded in Dublin at that time, initially Benedictine, then Cistercian, which for several centuries was to be an important religious centre for Dublin and the surrounding area. Saint Laurence led the six Irish bishops who attended the Third Lateran Council in Rome in 1179. Pope Alexander III appointed him a Papal Legate. Following papal sanction, he summoned a council of the Irish Church which took a firm stance against the abuses of the time. During a mission of mediation, Archbishop Laurence O’Toole died at Eu on 14 November 1180 and was later canonized by pope Honorius III in 1226.


The arrival of the Normans impacted significantly on the Church. Successive holders of the See of Dublin, in succession to Saint Laurence O’Toole, were either Norman or English, exercising a degree of civil as well as ecclesiastical authority. In 1191, under John Comyn (or Cumin), the first Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin, the city acquired a second cathedral under the patronage of Saint Patrick. In 1216, during the pontificate of Innocent III, the dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough were united. During this era, the spiritual influence and contribution of religious orders such as the Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites in the generations following the amalgamation of the two dioceses was significant. Medieval spirituality also witnessed a heightened consciousness of the importance and benefit of pilgrimages. While local pilgrimage sites such as Glendalough became popular, significant international overseas shrines such as that of Saint James, at Compostella in Spain, excited interest. The Reformation and its immediate sequel brought suffering, martyrdom, and destruction to Dublin. Those martyred included Blessed Francis Taylor, Mayor of the city and Blessed Margaret Bermingham - Mrs. Ball. Others from outside Dublin included Blessed Dermot O'Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel, Blessed Conor O'Devaney, Bishop of Down and Conor, and Blessed Patrick O'Loughran, a priest of County Tyrone, all of whom were brought to Dublin from other parts of Ireland to face martyrdom. Archbishop of Dublin Peter Talbot died in prison for his Catholic Faith. Many Catholics in this era suffered economic, professional, educational and social discrimination as a consequence of their religious beliefs. The persecution under penal legislation had a significant impact on the people of the Dublin, paradoxically often strengthening their attachment to the Catholicism. The leadership and pastoral care of successive Archbishops at the close of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries proved significant.


The Archbishop at the close of the eighteenth century was a Dubliner, John Thomas Troy. A Dominican, previously Rector of St Clement’s Church in Rome, he was transferred in December 1786 from the diocese of Ossory to Dublin. During his thirty-seven years as archbishop he oversaw the gradual relaxation of the penal legislation which led to the expansion of a Catholic Middle Class. This led initially to the construction of small, simply built Mass houses and later chapels and Churches. The end of the eighteenth and the entire nineteenth century was a time of renewal, reconstruction and catholic revival. Several significant new Irish religious orders with particular charisms in the field of education, social and health care were established in the diocese. Archbishop Troy supervised the foundation of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth during his episcopacy and also laid the foundation stone of the pro Cathedral in Marlborough Street. When he died in 1823 he was buried in the vaults of the new metropolitan church not yet quite ready for use.


The construction of the pro Cathedral was completed by his successor Archbishop Daniel Murray. He was a native of Wicklow, who was appointed Coadjutor bishop of Dublin in 1809. Archbishop Murray had been educated in Salamanca and was known as a pious, eloquent, and cultured cleric. Amongst the emerging new female religious congregations in Dublin diocese, numbered the Irish Sisters of Charity founded by Mary Aikenhead and the Mercy sisters founded by Catherine McAuley during this era. Archbishop Murray also played a significant role in the foundation of the Loreto Sisters, the Irish branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other Irish religious orders such as the Christian Brothers founded by Blessed Edmund Rice from Waterford opened educational establishments in the Dublin diocese during his episcopacy. Despite being a moderate in political terms, Archbishop Murray supported the campaign for Catholic Emancipation of Daniel O Connell. He also supported the non-denominational system of national education introduced in 1831 and accepted the Queens Colleges on their establishment in the following decade. Archbishop Murray oversaw the establishment of a significant temperance movement under Father Mathew. He died in 1852 and was buried in the Marlborough Street vaults.


Archbishop Murray was succeeded by Dr. Paul Cullen, then Archbishop of Armagh. Born in Prospect near Ballitore, Co.Kildare, he was educated at Shackleton Quaker School, Ballitore, Carlow College and Propaganda Fide University, Rome. Ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1829, he became rector of the Irish College, Rome, in 1832, and acted as agent for members of the Irish hierarchy. He became rector of Propaganda Fide University in 1848 and was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh in 1850, serving as Archbishop and Apostolic Delegate. He summoned and presided over the Synod of Thurles in 1850. He was transferred to Dublin as Archbishop in 1852. Archbishop Cullen promoted the use of constitutional means to promote an improvement in living conditions in Ireland while banning active political involvement by clerics. He also promoted the foundation, in 1854, of the Catholic University, under the rectorship of John Henry Newman. He oversaw the structural and pastoral redevelopment of the archdiocese of Dublin and founded Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, the diocesan seminary, in 1859. He centralised clerical structures and promoted Ultramontanism. He also actively condemned Fenianism and republican revolutionary nationalism. Appointed cardinal in 1866, he was influential in the drafting of the dogma on papal infallibility at Vatican Council I (1870) and in the appointment of numerous bishops both in Ireland and abroad. In 1875, presided over the National Synod of Maynooth. He died on 1878 and was interred in the crypt of the college chapel at Clonliffe.


Cardinal Cullen was succeeded by Edward McCabe who had trained in Maynooth. Having served as a curate in Clontarf he subsequently became Administrator at the Pro-Cathedral. Although appointed Bishop of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape in 1854 he never took up this appointment, preferring to remain in Ireland. Two years later he became Parish Priest of St. Nicholas Without and was appointed to the united parish of Dun Laoghaire, Monkstown and Glasthule from 1865-79. Nominated as Vicar-General in 1864, he was appointed Titular Bishop of Gadara on 26 June 1877. He was ordained Bishop on 25 July of the same year and translated as Archbishop of Dublin on 4 April 1879. Three years later, on 12 March 1882, he was named a Cardinal – the second Irishman to be so honoured. Doctrinally rigorous, he continued Cullen’s Ultramontanism. Like his predecessor, Cardinal McCabe had a distrust of popular movements and was publicly hostile to the popular land agitation movement. In pastorals and public speeches he opposed agitation and supported the side of government and law, with the result that Nationalist newspapers attacked him as a "Castle" bishop. Cardinal McCabe was a member of the Senate of the Royal University of Ireland and served on the Mansion House Committee in 1881. Plagued by ill health during the latter part of his administration he died at his home in Eblana Avenue, Dun Laoghaire, on 11 February 1885. Cardinal McCabe is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


William Joseph Walsh served as the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from July 1885 until his death in 1921. Educated at Maynooth he went on to assume the office of Professor of Dogmatic and Moral Theology at the college. He served as Vice President of the college from 1878 and was made President in 1880. Following the death of Cardinal McCabe in 1885 William Walsh was appointed Archbishop of Dublin. For the next quarter of a century Archbishop Walsh, a committed nationalist, was a dominant personality in the Irish Catholic Church, being deeply involved in both pastoral and public affairs. During his time as Archbishop he continued the programme of expansion of pastoral infrastructure in the archdiocese. He oversaw the building of numerous churches and schools and increased the number of parishes from 64 to 76. He was an eminent scholar and leading intellectual in the Irish Catholic Church. He devoted most of his time to his interests in public affairs, especially education. His greatest achievements were in this area where he championed the cause of Catholic interests. He had particular successes in the areas of teacher training, intermediate education and university education, culminating with his appointment as first Chancellor of the National University of Ireland. He also served on bodies such as the Senate of the Royal University of Ireland (1883-4) and the Commission of National Education (1885-1901). Archbishop Walsh witnessed many significant developments in the area of modern Irish nationalism. He was an ardent advocate of Home Rule and agrarian reform. He supported the controversial ‘Plan of Campaign’. During the ‘Time Commission’ of 1889-90, he provided crucial assistance to Charles Stewart Parnell in exposing Richard Pigott as a forger. When the Parnell divorce crisis broke, while he initially resisted pressure from both nationalist politicians and clergy to take a stance against Parnell, he subsequently played a leading role in the clerical attack on Parnell’s leadership. In later life William Walsh became increasingly radical and disenchanted with the Irish Parliamentary Party. In 1917 he signaled his growing political support for Sinn Fein, later opposing the Government of Ireland Act (1920). Unlike his two immediate predecessors he was never created a Cardinal. He died on 9 April 1921 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


The next archbishop of Dublin was Edward J. Byrne. He was educated at Belvedere College, Holy Cross College, Clonliffe and the Irish College, Rome, where he was ordained on 8 June 1895. Having served in a variety of parishes in the diocese, he was appointed Vice Rector of the Irish College in Rome from 1901- 04 and returned as a Curate to the Pro-Cathedral where he remained until 1920. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin in 1920 and later succeeded Archbishop William Walsh as Archbishop of Dublin in August 1921. Edward Byrne became Archbishop at a critical time in Irish political history. During his early years as Archbishop, he attempted to promote peace and reconciliation in his diocese with little success. He focused his energies on the spiritual, social and pastoral development of the diocese. Numerous schools as well as churches were built during his tenure as Archbishop. Two major highlights of his episcopacy were the commemorative celebrations of the Centenary of Catholic Emancipation in 1929 and the Eucharistic Congress of 1932. He was appointed assistant at the Pontifical Throne and named a Knight Grand Cross of Magistral Grace of the Order of Malta. He served as Archbishop, suffering ill health through much of his episcopate. He died on 9 February 1940. He is buried in the vaults at the Pro-Cathedral.


His successor was John Charles McQuaid, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, from Cootehill, Co. Cavan. His academic qualifications included a Masters Degree from the National University of Ireland and a Doctorate in Theology from the Gregorian University, Rome. In 1925 John Charles McQuaid assumed an appointment to the staff at Blackrock College. There he held a variety of appointments including that of Dean of Studies from 1925- 31 and President of the College from 1931- 39. He served as Archbishop of Dublin from 1940- 71, resigning on 29 December of that year. The episcopacy of John Charles McQuaid witnessed the expansion and growth of the Catholic population of Dublin. The number of clergy, both secular and religious rose dramatically. During his tenure as Archbishop some 60 new parishes were created, over 80 new churches and 250 primary schools and 100 secondary schools built. Archbishop McQuaid made significant contributions as a church administrator and reformer; as a pioneer of Catholic social services, as theologian and pastor, as builder of schools and hospitals, and as leader of the archdiocese at a time of unprecedented social change. He established the Catholic Social Service Conference and the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau. He aimed to provide pastoral personnel and resources to Irish Emigrants in Britain. Archbishop McQuaid was a powerful and conservative figure who wielded much influence in all aspects of Irish society. His opinion and support were sought in many areas including the wording of the Irish Constitution, the Mother and Child Scheme, censorship, youth affairs, lay organisations, and hospitals. Archbishop McQuaid also took an active interest in industrial relations and helped resolve numerous industrial and educational disputes most notably a Teacher’s Strike in 1946. Vatican II brought about major changes in the structures of the Church. While implementing prescribed changes in the wake of Vatican II Archbishop McQuaid was hesitant to implement optional reforms especially in relation to liturgical change, greater lay participation and ecumenism. Archbishop McQuaid made a significant mark on the church and culture of his era. Questions and criticisms are currently leveled against aspects of his social and educational management style. He died on 7 April 1973 and is buried in the vaults at the Pro-Cathedral.


Dermot J. Ryan was the Archbishop of Dublin from 1972 until 1984. Archbishop Ryan was Professor of Oriental Languages at University College Dublin before his appointment by Pope Paul VI as Archbishop of Dublin in late 1971. He was ordained Archbishop by Pope Paul VI in February 1972. An active member of the Priest’s Council at the time of his appointment he was popularly viewed as a liberal and a reformer in the Church. Archbishop Ryan consolidated much of the expansion of the Archdiocese and restructured the financial ordering of the diocese. He was notably interested in and encouraged Liturgical reform. He encouraged greater participation by the laity in the life of the diocese. He also oversaw a fuller implementation of the reforms of Vatican II especially with respect to the further education of the clergy. Archbishop Ryan took a prominent stand on social issues such as poverty, family life and pro-life questions. He supported an Amendment to the Irish Constitution in 1983 which aimed at securing greater rights to the life of the unborn. As Archbishop he leased to the people of Dublin a public park in Merrion square on a site previously designated by Archbishop Byrne for a proposed cathedral. The park was named Archbishop Ryan Park in his honour. A highpoint of his episcopacy was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979. While archbishop he was appointed Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from 8 April 1984 until his sudden death in Rome at the age of 60.


Archbishops Ryan’s successor from 15 November 1984 to 8 April 1987 was Bishop Kevin McNamara. Born in Newmarket-on-Fergus and later a prominent member of the staff of St Patrick’s College Maynooth Kevin McNamara was appointed Bishop of Kerry in succession to Bishop Eamon Casey. In 1984 he transferred to the archdiocese of Dublin after Archbishop Dermot Ryan’s appointment to the Roman Curia. His period in office in Dublin was short-lived. Pastorally active he dedicated considerable time to parish visitation. He was an outspoken advocate and staunch defender of Catholic doctrine and morality. Archbishop McNamara died in April 1987.


Archbishop McNamara was succeeded as archbishop in 1988 by Professor Desmond Connell who later was to be named a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Connell resigned as Archbishop in 2004


Fr. Ciarán O’Carroll


Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation

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