St Paul's Basilica, Toronto

I recently had a few days in Toronto, and in my wanderings I discovered a little bit of Australian history.

Outside the basilica of St Paul [see photos of inside the basilica here], not far from the centre of Toronto, is the grave of Revd Timothy O’Mahony DD.  As I read the plaque I was intrigued to see that the tomb was of an early bishop of Australia.

Here is a picture of his grave:

Bishop Timothy O'Mahony's grave

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and the plaque beside it:

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The first bishop of Armidale

On the website of the Archdiocese of Toronto we find this information [with my emphases]:

Timothy O’Mahony was born in Cork County, Ireland on November 1, 1825. He began his clerical studies in Cork and completed them in Rome where he was ordained priest on March 24, 1849. Fr. O’Mahony served in various rural parishes in the Diocese of Cork before being appointed to St. Finbar Cathedral in Cork. He was appointed first Bishop of Armidale, Australia, and was consecrated November 30, 1869 in St. Finbar’s by Bp. William Delany of Cork.

Bishop O’Mahony resigned his See in August of 1877 and returned to Europe. In 1879 on Archbishop John J. Lynch’s ad limina visit to Rome, Bishop O’Mahony became acquainted with him. In a Papal Brief dated November 14, 1879 he was appointed Titular Bishop of Eudocia and Auxiliary to Archbishop Lynch. Upon his arrival in Toronto Bishop O’Mahony took charge of St. Paul’s Parish. Realizing that the church was inadequate for the congregation he started a weekly collection for a new building. This was completed in 1889 and dedicated on December 22 of that same year. Bishop O’Mahony also performed various episcopal duties and was of great assistance to Archbishop Lynch. In 1887 he even acted as the Administrator of the Diocese of Hamilton during the prolonged absence of Bishop James Carberry.

After a long and painful illness, Bishop O’Mahony died on September 8, 1892. He was interred in a brick vault at the south-east corner of St. Paul’s Church.

When I first saw Bishop O’Mahony’s grave in Toronto, and discovered that he had been bishop of Armidale, I suspected that there must be “some story” here.  There certainly is, and the following information can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography [my emphases]:

Timothy O’Mahony (1825-1892), Catholic bishop, was born on 17 November 1825 at Rathard, Aherla, County Cork, Ireland. He was educated for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome with his cousins James and Matthew Quinn [James Quinn was the first bishop of Brisbane - really the bishop of Queensland]. Ordained in 1849, he returned to Cork next year and became director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, involving himself in the education of the poor. He was consecrated bishop of Armidale on 30 November 1869 and attended the Vatican Council where he revealed strong papalist tendencies.

O’Mahony arrived at Sydney in 1871 and took possession of his see on 23 March. Friendly, hospitable and a bright conversationalist, he was preferred by Archbishop Roger Vaughan to the other bishops. Finding a paucity of amenities, he started to provide suitable buildings in Armidale and made a visitation of his vast diocese. Involved in colonial church politics, he signed with his fellow Irish suffragans in 1873 a post-factum objection to Vaughan as Archbishop John Bede Polding‘s co-adjutor. Next year Vaughan referred to Propaganda serious charges against O’Mahony that had become widespread among the clergy and laity in the north. His jovial habits were interpreted as intemperance and a claim against him by a young woman about the paternity of her child became public knowledge. Later this charge was withdrawn and the author of the blackmail, a priest whom O’Mahony had trusted, was named. Edward Butler said that O’Mahony’s indiscreet actions made him tremble to take the matter to court. However, ill-advised steps to control the rumours brought about the ‘Armidale scandal’.

Vaughan was told by Rome to investigate the charges and was accused of bias in his selection of witnesses by Bishop James Quinn of Brisbane. Afraid for the prestige of the Irish bishops and scenting a conspiracy against them, Quinn sent Father George Dillon to Armidale to get evidence to clear O’Mahony from the charge of being ‘a perpetual drunkard’ and mounted a violent counter-attack in Australia and the Irish College. Quinn argued that the credibility of the anti-O’Mahony witnesses could be destroyed and that a conspiracy had been formed to get the bishop to compromise himself, but Rome accepted Vaughan’s 1875 report in which he found the main charge unproven but recommended that O’Mahony resign and go to Rome.

Once such serious charges, whether true or false, had been made, O’Mahony had no choice but to resign with the burden of proving his own innocence. He submitted in 1878 and was appointed auxiliary bishop of Toronto, Canada. He died there on 8 September 1892 and was buried in a vault in St Paul’s Church where he had been pastor.

The tenth bishop of Armidale

A fairly sad story to explain how the Irish priest ended up Auxiliary Bishop in Toronto, Canada, via the Diocese of Armidale, Australia.

It was, really, a timely coincidence to visit the resting place of the first bishop of Armidale, because that See is now preparing for the episcopal ordination of its tenth bishop.  Wagga Wagga priest, Fr Michael Kennedy, will be ordained bishop in the cathedral of Armidale on 9 February 2012.  We pray for him that he’ll have a fruitful ministry in Armidale, and in light of the above, we pray especially that he’ll have a less-complicated time than his predecessor.

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