Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mourning Mourne Abbey and Father O'Shea

Our diocese of Wichita, Kansas was blessed by the emigration of several Irish priests to serve in our parishes in the 1950's. As the young parochial vicar mentioned at the Noon Mass on Friday at our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, they came here straight out of seminary in Ireland after their ordination to serve in a new world, without knowing anybody here (except for each other), and dedicated their lives to us.

The oldest priest of the diocese, retired of course, died this week: Father John O'Shea, who was 93 years old when he died and had been a priest of our diocese for 67 years. He visited Ireland often while he could but was devoted to the Catholics of southeast Kansas. He came to Kansas in 1950 and retired as a pastor in 1999.

Scanning his obituary I noticed that he was born in Mourneabbey Parish, County Cork.

Mourneabbey? Mourne Abbey!

Mourne Abbey was a monastery of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John founded in the late 13th century. This website, describing some archaeological work done at the site, offers these details:

The medieval Hospitallers’ preceptory of Mourneabbey is located c. 6KM south of the town of Mallow in North Cork, in the sheltered valley of the Clyda River, a tributary of the Blackwater. Substantial remains of a large church survive, along with overgrown ruins of claustral buildings, all within a walled enclosure, portions of which survive, incorporating two towers. The preceptory appears to be an early thirteenth century foundation; with documentary sources suggesting it existed by at least 1212.

The surviving remains of the church comprise the nave (28m x 8m) and chancel (20m x 6m). Evidence noted during conservation work on the walls indicates that the chancel roof was at a higher level than that of the nave, and there may well have been a crossing tower at the junction of the two. Transept arches survive in the north and south walls of the nave but the transepts themselves have collapsed. Recent limited excavations have suggested that the south transept had an apsidal end. Other small-scale excavations carried out by the present author recovered numerous fragments of medieval decorated floor tiles within the church. A decorated grave-slab located immediately east of the chancel has been identified as a Hospitaller tombstone dating to the early 16th century.

So why is Mourne Abbey in ruins? Because of Henry VIII!

While he was not king of all of Ireland, he did have control over some territory, and where he did, he ordered the monasteries and friaries suppressed. Cambridge University Press has published a book by Father Brendan Bradshaw, a Marist priest, telling the story of this suppression:

Father Bradshaw examines the dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland as an episode of Irish ecclesiastical and political history, and of the English Reformation. He also analyses its relationship to Henry VIII's Irish policy as a whole and to the beginnings of English colonialism. He discusses in detail the state of the religious orders on the eve of suppression, the extent of opposition to the implementation of the suppression policy in all its stages, the secularisation of monastic lands and the results of dissolution for Irish society and for subsequent Irish history. Despite the sensitive issues involved, Catholic, Protestant and academic historians have shown remarkable unanimity in the interpretation of the episode of the dissolution in Ireland. A thorough knowledge of both primary and secondary sources enables Father Bradshaw to challenge many of the conventional assumptions.

Cambridge University Press shares several pages from the book online, including two maps showing Henry VIII's jurisdiction in Ireland and the incredible number of monasteries, convents, and friaries throughout Ireland.

Father John O'Shea, rest in peace!

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