Saints of the Day – Malachy O’More

Pictorial Lives of the Saints: Saint Malachi, BishopArticle

(also known as Maolmhaodhog ua Morgair)

Born in Armagh, County, Down, Ireland, in 1094; died Clairvaux in 1148; canonized in 1190 by Pope Clement IV – the first papal canonization of an Irish saint; feast day in Ireland is November 4.

God, in His great goodness and mercy, has given us the Sacraments to strengthen us all our days – from our birth and rebirth in Baptism, to restoration in Reconciliation, to sustenance in the Eucharist, and ultimately fortification for the final journey through the Anointing of the Sick.

Our dear Lord has cared for us more tenderly than an earthly mother does her child – for His love is constant. But God uses the instruments of His holy priests to bring His Presence into the world in these life-giving Sacraments. Saint Malachy was known for his devotion to the Sacraments.

Saint Bernard honored Malachy and regarded him as a special friend. Saint Charles held him up before the eyes of his priests as a model in administering the Sacraments to the dying, for like that zealous pastor of souls, he sought out the needy in the remotest villages and cottages of his diocese, giving the holy sacraments to all alike and renewing the fervor of the people in receiving them.

Malachy was born Mael Maedoc Ua Morgair. His father’s name was O’Morgair (Irish: Maol-Maodhog). He was a teacher in the schools of his native city. His father died in Limerick in 1102, when Malachy was seven. His mother, who brought up her son in the love and fear of God, was a most pious woman. Saint Bernard tells us:

“His parents, however, were great both by descent and in power, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth (2 Samuel 7:9). Moreover, his mother, more noble in mind than in blood, took pains at the very beginning of his way to show her child the ways of life: esteeming this knowledge of more value to him than the empty knowledge of the learning of this world. For both, however, he had aptitude in proportion to his age.”

He first studied at the schools where his father had taught, making great progress in virtue and learning. After the death of his parents, wishing more perfectly to learn the art of dying to himself and living wholly for God, he put himself under the discipline of Eimar (Imar O’Hagan), a holy recluse in a cell near the cathedral.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says of him: “He submitted himself to the rule of man, condemning himself while alive to the grave, that he might attain the true love of God. Not being like those who undertake to teach others what they have never learned themselves, seeking to gather and multiply scholars, without ever having been at school, becoming blind guides of the blind. His obedience as a disciple, his love of silence, his fervor in mortification and prayer, were the means and marks of his spiritual progress.”

When he had learned himself, he persuaded his master to accept others to the same discipline, so that a large community grew up around the church at Armagh. The archbishop, Ceolloch, judged him worthy to receive Holy Orders and ordained him a priest at age 25, though the canonical age at that time was 30.

Before fulfilling his preaching mission, he was instructed by the 74-year-old Saint Malchus, the bishop of Waterford and Lismore. Malachy acted as a minister in his church at the same time.

Malachy’s sister had become wayward after the death of their mother and he had sworn never to visit her while she lived in sin. At this time she died and, according to Saint Bernard, Malachy began seeing her spirit. He offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on hearing of her death. Some thirty days after having ceased to offer up the Mass for her:

“He heard in a dream by night the voice of one saying to him that his sister was standing outside in the courtyard, having tasted nothing for forty days. On awakening he soon realized the kind of food for want of which she was pining away.”

So, his prayers and Masses for her soul continued. Soon he saw her at the threshold of the church; but clad in black. Later on he saw her clad in grey; within the church, but not allowed to the altar. At last she was seen a third time, with the throng of the white- robed and in apparel that shone (McNabb).

Ireland had been converted from paganism to Christianity in the 5th century. In the three succeeding centuries the land became the principal seat of learning in the whole of Europe. The great change was brought about during the period when the Roman Empire was breaking up, when invasions of pagan nations seized upon the greater part of Europe.

Ireland was remote and guarded by the seas: she was the only country not overrun. For at least 300 years students flocked from the continent to seek instruction in the science of the saints, as well as in secular learning, so that she became known as the “Island of Saints and Scholars.” In the 9th century, however, the country was also invaded in turn by the Danes, who burned and sacked the monasteries doing irreparable damage.

The Normans followed these hordes of barbarians, ravaging on their way the maritime districts of England and Scotland. Nothing seemed to escape their depredations. The monks were put to the sword, the churches demolished, the precious libraries committed to the flames.

The result of this long oppression showed itself in later years by a great relaxation of piety and morals. Ignorance and vice succeeded the Christian virtues and knowledge. At the beginning of the 11th century the country had in some places, especially in the north and east, sunk back to its former paganism and ignorance, through the accumulation of so many evils.

The same thing happened in other parts of Europe, where the relics of paganism lingered, in remote places, even into modern times. The great abbey of Bangor, County Down, founded by Saint Comgall in 550, lay in a desolate condition. In the days of its glory as many as 3,000 monks were assembled at its schools. It was there that Saint Columban had studied; from there many others like him had gone forth to France and Italy, to set up religious houses and propagate the faith.

The archbishop appointed Malachy his vicar, sending him to preach the word of God to the people, to overcome superstition, to correct the many abuses that had grown up over the years. Like a flame amid the forest, he swept forward to burn out once more the noxious weeds, to plant in their place the belief and practice of the faith. He made regulations in ecclesiastical discipline and restored the recitation of the canonical hours, which had been omitted since the Danish invasions.

More than all else, he gave back the Sacraments to the common people, sending good priests among them to instruct the ignorant. He visited Lismore, where the bishop had a great reputation for sanctity and learning. Having learned all he needed and completed his plans, he returned to Armagh in 1123.

His uncle, a lay-abbot of the Abbey of Bangor, County Down, resigned the abbey to Malachy in the hopes that he might return it to regular observance. Malachy, however, in a spirit of humility that cause great objection, turned its lands and most of its revenues over to someone else.

With ten members of Eimar’s community of hermits, he rebuilt the house and ruled it for a year, during which time miracles were attributed to him. At Bangor he established a seminary for priests, though the abbey never regained its former size or importance.

In all the monastic observances he was very zealous and a model to his priests. Soon after this great work, at age 30, Malachy was chosen to be bishop of the diocese of Down and Connor (Antrim). Malachy set about to lead the see’s nominal Christians to a genuine devotion, searching them out on foot in their homes and fields to bring them to church.

He was now able to fill the diocese with well-instructed priests, who revived the fervor of the people; in fact, he renewed all things in Christ. In all his actions he breathed a spirit of patience and meekness; both priests and people followed his lead as with Saint Charles in later centuries.

When the Church was gaining ground again, establishing once more her rightful position, the secular princes made trouble in Ulster. The city of Connor was sacked; Malachy was obliged to flee with his community of monks first to Lismore and then to the Iveragh in Kerry. They made a settlement in the vicinity of Cork, which explains how Malachy came to be venerated there, too.

On April 1, 1129, Saint Ceolloch, age 50, died at Ardpatrick, Limerick. In a vision Saint Malachy saw a woman of great stature and reverend mien, who on being asked, said she was the Bride of Ceolloch. Then she gave to Malachy a bishop’s staff and disappeared. A few days later Saint Malachy received from the dying Ceolloch a letter naming him archbishop of Armagh and sending him the bishop’s staff, which Saint Malachy recognized as the staff given to him in the vision.

As in England then the secular arm had great power, often forcing unworthy men into positions of the Church to hold the revenues, causing many evils, more especially the neglect of the common people. Ceolloch’s see had become hereditary over the years, and he wished to break that tradition by leaving it to Malachy. Saint Ceolloch’s relatives, however, installed his cousin Murtagh. Malachy refused to make efforts to occupy the see.

Still delaying after three years, declining the promotion because he feared further bloodshed on the part of Ceolloch’s kin, Malachy was threatened with excommunication if he refused the appointment. The Papal Legate Gillebert (Gilbert), who was also bishop of Limerick, and Malebus (Saint Malchus), bishop of Lismore, assembled a synod.

When told he must obey, Malachy submitted saying, “You drag me to death. I obey in the hopes of martyrdom, but on this condition: that if the business succeeds and God frees His heritage from those who are destroying it – all being then completed, and the Church at peace, I may be allowed to go back to my former bride and friend, poverty, and to put another in my place!”

In this way Malachy declared that he would stay only long enough to restore order, and he refused to enter the city or the cathedral, ruling from outside, because he did not wish to incite trouble by his presence. This condition was agree to and Malachy set north again for Ulster.

In 1134, Murtagh died, naming a layman Nigellus (Niall), Ceolloch’s brother, as successor. The secular authorities refused to recognize the authority of the new archbishop. Both sides were supported by troops, and armed conflict broke out between the followers of the two, but Malachy finally obtained possession of his cathedral.

To give weight to his own authority Nigellus seized two precious relics from the cathedral, the Crozier of Saint Patrick, called the “staff of Jesus,” made of gold studded with precious stones, and the Book of the Gospels, which had been handed down from the time of Ireland’s patron saint. These men persecuted Saint Malachy, putting obstacles in his way at every turn.

Twelve of Nigellus’s supporters were killed by lightning when they tried to surprise their adversaries during a thunderstorm. Two years after Malachy returned to Armagh his opponents invited him to a conference, and though the saint was warned of their evil designs, he went with a few companions to meet his rivals.

His mildness and courage disarmed his enemies; they who intended to threaten now rose up to do him honor. Peace was concluded between them; Nigellus was deposed, the relics restored, and the saint took possession of the see and its benefices. They happy event occurred in 1133, when Malachy was 38 – five years after the death of the former incumbent.

Having rescued Armagh from oppression, restored discipline, and peace, Malachy insisted on resigning according to the covenant made, appointing a worthy prelate in his place. Though Down and Connor had been united in one diocese, they were again divided in 1137, the saint taking possession of his original see (in 1441 the two diocese were reunited).

As bishop of Down he established the community Ibracense, a congregation of Augustinian canons, with whom he lived. This community acted to spread the custom of following a regular way of life.

Now that more peaceful times blessed the country, our saint decided to make a journey to Rome; he wished to receive confirmation of the many works he had commenced, as well as to receive the pallium for the archbishop of Armagh and for another see to be created (Cashel), but had not received confirmation from Rome.

The next year the saint set out for Rome, passing through England visiting York, then a great center of learning, where he met Saint Waltheof of Kirkham, who gave him a horse. Then he crossed to France where he broke his journey at Clairvaux to visit Saint Bernard. The two saints became great friends. (Saint Bernard wrote Malachy’s biography.)

Saint Malachy was so taken with all that he saw, with the wonderful spirit of piety and discipline of the monks, their large number, their order and peace, that he wished to remain there for good but the pope would not consent. Pope Innocent II received him with great honor; he confirmed all his work in Ireland, appointed him legate and promised to send the pallium to Armagh if they were applied for with all formality.

On his return journey, Malachy again visited Clairvaux, leaving some of his companions there to learn the way of life and the rule of the Cistercians. He would have them return later to establish the order in their own country. The order was afterward established at Mellifont (Millifont), County Louth, becoming the parent of many other houses.

Malachy took the shortest route to the north by way of Scotland, where he miraculously restored to health Henry, the son of King David (son of Saint Margaret). Malachy told the prince, “Be of good courage; you will not die this time,” and sprinkled him with holy water. The following day the dangerously ill boy was well.

Arriving in Ireland again, he was welcomed by the people and priests as their father returned. As the newly-appointed legate, he discharged his office by holding synods and enforcing further regulations for abolishing abuses. Malachy continued to work many miracles on the sick and afflicted.

He added further to the abbey of Bangor, building a stone church similar to what he had seen on the continent. He repaired the cathedral at Down, which was famous for the joint tomb of Saints Patrick, Columkille, and Brigid.

The pope died before the pallia were sent. Two other popes were elected and died that year. Saint Malachy convened the bishops in a synod in 1148 and received from them a commission to make a fresh application to the Apostolic See to obtain pallia for the two metropolitans. Malachy set off to see Pope Eugenius III, who was in France. Slowed by the political strategies of King Stephen in England, by the time he reached France, the pope had returned to Rome.

On his second journey to Rome, he passed through Clairvaux a third time in 1148. As he approached the Alps in October, the weather was hot and sultry; he fell ill with a fever. He was given medical attention by the monks, who with Saint Bernard, loved him as a dear friend. As his fever grew worse, he told them that their pains were in vain because he would not recover. He demanded that he be taken downstairs to the church so that he might receive the last sacraments. He died in Saint Bernard’s arms on November 2 at the age of 54.

The body of the saint was buried in the Lady Chapel at Clairvaux. Saint Bernard exchanged Saint Malachy’s tunic for one of his own. Thereafter he wore this tunic of his dead friend whenever he chanted Mass on great feasts. At Malachy’s Requiem, Saint Bernard used the post-Communion prayer for a Confessor Bishop, rather than for the dead – thus, one saint canonized another.

Many miracles were worked at the tomb in addition to the ones attributed to him as he walked the earth. Saint Bernard records some after saying, “his first and greatest miracle was himself. His inward beauty, strength, and purity are proved by his life; there was nothing in his behavior that could offend anyone.”

Nevertheless, many are the recorded miracles wrought by Malachy. In Ivrea in the Piedmont, Italy, Malachy cured his host’s child on his return from Rome. He exorcised two women in Coleraine, and another at Lismore. In Ulster a sick man was immediately cured by lying on the saint’s bed. A sick baby was healed instantly in Leinster. In Saul, County Down, a woman whose madness was so great that she was tearing her limbs with her teeth was cured when he laid hands on her. At Antrim a dying man recovered the use of his tongue and his speech on receiving the holy Viaticum. A paralyzed boy was cured in Cashel and another near Munster. At Cork he raised from a sick bed one whom he named bishop of the city; in another unnamed place a notorious scold was cured when she made her first confession to Malachy. On an island where the fishermen had suffered for a lack of fish, he knelt by the shore and prayed – the fish returned.

He succeeded in replacing the Celtic liturgy with the Roman and is famous as a pioneer of Gregorian reform. His was the first papal canonization of an Irish saint.

When the first Cistercian pope, Blessed Eugenius III, asked his old abbot Saint Bernard for guidance as the pontiff, the holy doctor answered that he should study the life and follow the example of Saint Malachy:

“From the first day of his conversion to the last of his life he lived without personal possessions. “He had neither manservants nor maidservants; nor villages nor hamlets; nor, in fact, any revenues, ecclesiastical or secular, even when he was bishop.

“There was nothing whatever assigned for his episcopal upkeep for he had not a house of his own. But he was always going about all the parishes, preaching the Gospel and living by the Gospel. . . . When he went out to preach he was accompanied by others on foot; bishop and legate that he was he too went on foot. That is the apostolic rule; and it is the more to be admired in Malachy because it is too rare in others. . . .

“They lord it over the clergy – he made himself the servant of all.

“They either do not preach the Gospel and yet eat; or preach the Gospel in order to eat – Malachy imitating Paul, eats that he may preach the Gospel.

“They suppose that arrogance and gain are godliness – Malachy claims for himself by right only toil and a burden.

“They count themselves happy if they enlarge their borders – Malachy glories in enlarging charity.

“They gather into barns and fill the wine-jars that they may load their tables – Malachy foregathers men into deserts and solitudes that he may fill heaven.

“They though they receive tithes and first-fruits and oblations besides customs and tribute by the gift of Caesar and countless other revenues, nevertheless take counsel as to what they may eat and drink – Malachy having nothing enriches many out of the store- houses of faith.

“Of their desire and anxiety there is no end – Malachy, desiring nothing, knows not how to be solicitous for tomorrow.

“They exact from the poor that they may give to the rich – Malachy implores the rich to provide for the poor.

“They empty the purses of their subjects – he for their sins loads altars with vows and peace offerings.

“They build lofty palaces, raise towers and ramparts to the skies – Malachy, not having whereon to lay his head, does the work of an evangelist.

“They ride on horses with a throng of men who eat bread for nought, and that is not theirs – Malachy girt around by a throng of holy brethren goes on foot bearing the bread of angels.

“They do not even know their congregation – he instructs them.

“They honor powerful men and tyrants – he punishes them.

“O apostolic man! whom so many and such striking signs of apostleship adorn. What wonder that he has wrought such wonder, being so great a wonder himself.” – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

What is known as the “Prophecy of Saint Malachy” consists of enigmatical oracles, taken from Scriptures, each of which is supposed to contain some reference to the pope from Celestine to the end of the world. The prophecy’s symbolic terms are very accurate until 1590, but extremely vague thereafter, leading to the conclusion that it is a 16th forgery (Attwater, Delaney, Lawlor, Murray, White).

He is portrayed in art presenting an apple to a king, thus restoring his sight; or instructing a king in a cell (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 August 2020. Web. 26 November 2020. <>