Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy‘s story of the North Cathedral in Cork is a kafkaesque tale of bungling and disappointment. Appointed bishop of Ross while working in Rome, Thaddeus arrived back in Ireland to find another bishop already in possession of his diocese. Matters were about to get a lot worse before they get better.
Patrick Duffy tells his story.
Appointment and consecration
Thaddeus MacCarthy was born in West Cork around 1455. He studied abroad, probably in Paris. After his ordination he went to Rome and was possibly working in the papal Curia when in 1482 at the age of 27 Pope Sixtus IV appointed him bishop of Ross. With a dispensation from the age impediment, he was consecrated by Archbishop Stephen of Antivari and two other bishops in the Church of Santo Stefano del Cacco, Rome.
His see already occupied
Thaddeus travelled to Ireland only to find to his surprise that Ross already had a bishop, Hugh O’Driscoll, appointed nine years earlier by the same Pope and consecrated by the Archbishop of Cashel. O’Driscoll took the position that Thaddeus’s claim was a political manoeuvre by the MacCarthy family against his own O’Driscoll family. There had been a long-standing feud between the two families.
In 1483 Bishop O’Driscoll went to Rome to denounce Thaddeus and Pope Sixtus IV accepted the legitimacy of O’Driscoll’s appointment nine years earlier. He ordered MacCarthy to withdraw. Thaddeus was dissatisfied with the documentation when it arrived and continued to uphold his claim.
The following year Pope Sixtus IV died and his successor Pope Innocent VIII upheld O’Driscoll’s claim, declaring that Thaddeus was not the bishop of Ross. Thaddeus now requested an independent enquiry to establish the facts. When this was complete, Innocent VIII declared O’Driscoll as legitimate bishop of Ross by prior appointment.
Bishop of Cork and Cloyne
However, some time later (1490) Innocent VIII appointed Thaddeus bishop of Cork & Cloyne, which had been united in 1429 and where the incumbent, Bishop William Roche, had voluntarily resigned in his favour. But when Thaddeus went to claim his diocese, he found the cathedral at Cork occupied by another claimant, Gerald Fitzgerald. Thaddeus set out to Rome again to have the issue finally sorted out. In a motu proprio dated 18th July 1492, Pope Innocent VIII clearly recognised him as the legitimate bishop of Cork & Cloyne.
Return journey and death
He set out on the return journey to Ireland on foot, travelling incognito along the pilgrims’ route. While passing through Ivrea not far from Turin, he passed the night in a pilgrims’ hospice. In the morning a brilliant light was seen shining from his room and, on investigation, it was found that Thaddeus had died during the night and the light, like flickering flames of a fire, shone from his body and the pallet where he lay.
Opening his travel bag, they discovered his episcopal insignia and the papal documents. News spread, crowds gathered, and several sick persons were miraculously cured. The bishop of Ivrea directed his body to be brought to the Cathedral where it lay in state for several days and was laid to rest in the cathedral of Ivrea under the altar of St Eusebius, where it still bears the inscription: Cava S. Eusebii et sepulcrum B. Taddei Ep. Hib.
Devotion to Thaddeus McCarthy grew in Ivrea. Over the years many miracles were attributed to his intercession. When his tomb was opened in 1742, three hundred years after his death, his body was found to be completely preserved. Pope Leo XIII beatified him on 14th September 1896.
The white martyr of Munster”
Because of the patience with which he bore all the humiliations he suffered, Thaddeus is often referred to as “the white martyr of Munster”.
There are relics in shrines dedicated to him in both St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, and in the North Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in Cork.