Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne, 1490-1492

[Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy; image from The Fold, August 1953]
Feast-Day October 25th

Early Years

Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy was born in 1455, probably in the territory of the MacCarthys of Glenachroim to the south of Dunmanway. It is stated that be received his early education from the Friars of Kilcrea Monastery. Their influence and teaching probably turned his thoughts towards the Priesthood. He decided on the secular mission in the Diocese of Cork. His early ecclesiastical studies were made in Kilcrea. To complete his training he journeyed to Rome, where we find records of him in 1482. He was then 27 years of age. The year 1482 was to bring him from his obscurity in Rome to a difficult and embarrassing position at home.

Appointment as Bishop of Ross

Meanwhile at home the MacCarthy clan had been winning back from the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds much of the territory that had been wrested from them. The O’Driscolls of Carbery had sided with the Fitzgeralds and were thus hated enemies of the MacCarthys. With the capture of the O’Driscoll stronghold at Ross the MacCarthys were in a favourable position to regain their former territories but there was one great obstacle – an O’Driscoll was Bishop of Ross. He would undoubtedly use all the powers at his command against them. In accordance with the practice of the times the MacCarthys decided to procure either the resignation or deposition of Hugh O’Driscoll, Bishop of Ross. A suitable candidate for the new Bishop was at hand in Rome in the person of their own Thaddeus MacCarthy. In order to obtain his consent and to conceal the fact that the real reason for his appointment was a political one, the Diocese of Ross was represented as unoccupied by a lawfully appointed Bishop since the death of Hugh O’Driscolls predecessor, Donal. Blessed Thaddeus was appointed as Bishop of Ross and consecrated at San Stefano del Cacco in Rome on May 3rd, 1482. He then returned to Ireland.

Difficulties and Deposition

We cannot be certain when Blessed Thaddeus became aware of the fact that there had been a Bishop of Ross since 1472. We do know that he remained convinced of the validity and lawfulness of his own appointment – so well had the real facts been manipulated by the leaders of his clan. Naturally, Bishop O’Driscoll appealed to Rome and Blessed Thaddeus was condemned by the Pope for his assumption of power in Ross. Thaddeus had the case re-tried. He was then reinstated, but his rival again appealed and obtained judgment against him. This struggle was extremely painful to the retiring Thaddeus, who merely wished for the good of the Church of God and the prevention of the evils consequent on the unworthy possession of an episcopal see by an unlawful cleric. One vital fact had been concealed from him – whatever was unlawful or contrary to Canon Law in the appointment or conduct of Bishop Hugh O’Driscoll had been rectified by a Papal Bull before Thaddeus’ consecration in 1482. When this fact became known at a later trial in 1490 there could be but one decision – Bishop O’Driscoll was declared the lawful Bishop of Ross.

Appointment as Bishop of Cork and Cloyne

On the very day that the case regarding Ross was decided against Thaddeus he was appointed Bishop of Cork and Cloyne and praised in the very highest terms by Pope Innocent VIII. All past misunderstandings and doubts were now cleared up after eight years of accusation. But difficulty and trouble lay ahead – the Fitzgeralds organised opposition against his taking possession of the Sees of Cork and Cloyne. Blessed Thaddeus had once again to undertake the long and arduous journey to Rome in order to lay before the Holy Father the condition of things in Cork and Cloyne. He returned armed with letters from the Pope condemning in the severest terms his opponents and calling on the faithful to give him all the help possible in the prosecution of his rights. He set out for Ireland about the end of July, 1492. His health, broken by his sufferings, could not withstand the heat and dust of an Italian summer. He reached Ivrea near the northern Italian frontier where he collapsed. He was received as a humble and unknown pilgrim in the Hospice of Saint Antonio on the evening of October 23rd, 1492. That night he died.

Extraordinary Manifestations

On the day following his death his name was on the lips of all the inhabitants of Ivrea as extraordinary hapenings had followed his death. A brilliant light surrounded his bed at the moment of his death. The messenger sent to inform the Bishop of Ivrea of the occurrence was amazed to learn that the Bishop himself had seen a vision of a man of venerable mien, vested in pontifical robes. Investigation of the documents found on the body of Blessed Thaddeus confirmed the connection between these two events already suspected – the pilgrim was a Bishop, Thaddeus Machar, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. It was decided, therefore, that these manifestations were a sign from heaven to demonstrate the sanctity of Thaddeus. His body was deposited with great solemnity under the altar of St. Eusebius and many miracles, we are told, were wrought through his intercession. His cult is still strong in Ivrea today.

Return to Cork

The story of his death and his reputation for sanctity did not reach Ireland until 350 years had elapsed. A letter from the Bishop of Ivrea in 1847 to the Archbishop of Dublin enquiring about any local traditions regarding Thaddeus was the first in- timation of it. The people of Ireland did not know about him until the proceedings for his formal beatification (undertaken by the Bishop of Ivrea and the late Bishop O’Callaghan of Cork) were brought to a successful conclusion. The decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites for his Beatification was ratified by Pope Leo XIII on the 26th of August, 1895. A special Mass and Office were sanctioned for use on his Feast-day, the 25th of October, in the Dioceses associated with his name – Cork, Cloyne and Ross. Later, amidst scenes of extraordinary enthusiasm and rejoicing, his relics were carried in solemn procession through the streets of Cork and laid in a beautiful reliquary beneath the Altar of Our Lady in the Cathedral.

Prayer to obtain the Canonisation of Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy

O God, Who upon Blessed Thaddeus, Thy Confessor and Pontiff, didst bestow the glory of having borne his adversities with an unconquered fortitude, we beseech Thee, grant us after his example grace to bear our trials with patience and resignation, and, if it be Thy Holy Will that Thy Servant should be honoured by the Church, deign to manifest by heavenly favours his power with Thee. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen. Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Grace, for the glorification of thy faithful servant, Blessed Thaddeus, and for our consolation, obtain for us the special blessing of seeing him speedily numbered among the Saints. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

– from The Fold, August 1953