The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 27, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

If you think it's tough to be a bishop today, look at St. Malachy

This Irish saint wanted to be a hermit but ended up an archbishop instead

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Our era is a tough time to be a bishop. Many people want the bishop to do their bidding - even though some of these same people often seem to have little use for bishops.

But as hard as a bishop's job is today, it was worse in at least some areas in the 12th century when St. Malachy served as the archbishop of Armagh, now in the Republic of Northern Ireland.

St. Malachy, a teacher's son, was born at Armagh in 1095. After his parents death, he became a hermit and was ordained at age 25 by St. Celsus. He continued his studies under Bp. St. Malchus of Lismore and was named abbot of the former Bangor Abbey. When he was 30, Malachy became Bishop of Connor, which he administered from Bangor Abbey.

When a Norse invasion drove him and his monks to Lismore, they started a monastery at Iveragh, Kerry. In 1129, the dying St. Celsus appointed Malachy to succeed him as Archbishop of Armagh (the primatial see and the one tradition says St. Patrick occupied). But Celsus' family had other ideas and named a cousin, Murtagh, to succeed Celsus to continue the family line as archbishop.

Malachy refused to become the archbishop for three years until ordered to do so by Rome. But he didn't enter Armagh until 1134 when Murtagh died after naming Celsus' brother, Niall, as his successor.

Armed conflict broke out between followers of Malachy and Niall. Malachy managed to secure the cathedral, but Niall fled with the Book of Armagh and St. Patrick's crozier. Eventually, Malachy recovered these two relics and became the uncontested archbishop.

That done, he resigned in 1137 and returned to Connor, which he divided into the Dioceses of Connor and Down. As Bishop of Down, he started a monastery on the ruins of Bangor.

Two years later, on a pilgrimage to Rome, he met St. Bernard of Clairvaux and asked to become a Trappist as his abbey. Instead, Pope Innocent II named Malachy his ambassador to Ireland.

Malachy returned to Ireland in 1142 and founded Mellifont Abbey with four of his companions who had joined the Trappists. In 1148, he again set off for Rome. He again stopped at Clairvaux to visit St. Bernard and died there on Nov. 2.

St. Bernard proclaimed Malachy a saint at his funeral Mass. Pope Innocent III agreed in 1190, making Malachy the first Irish saint named by a pope. We celebrate Malachy's feast day on Nov. 3.

Malachy is remembered as one of the greatest Irish saints, responsible for unifying the Irish clergy, restoring church discipline, replacing Celtic practices with canon law reforms of Pope Gregory VII, reviving religious practice and restoring morality. He also was known for his humility, determination and ability to perform miracles.

Today, many people know of Malachy because of a list attributed to him that predicted the identities of popes from Celestine II "to the end of the world." Most scholars believe the list to be a late 16th century forgery.

Sources: Dictionary of Saints and Voices of the Saints.

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