ADDRESS BY MONSIGNOR JOSEPH MCGUINNESS, DIOCESAN ADMINISTRATOR, DIOCESE OF CLOGHER
Unveiling of Plaque in honour of Archbishop John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864) by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland,
St Macartan’s Church, Parish of Clogher, Saturday 24 June 2017
‘In the thought of Newman and in the action of Hughes we see a clear recognition of the value of intellectual formation and its centrality to the dialogue between faith and society that was current then, and is so urgently needed now. In the midst of political attacks on the faith in his time, Archbishop Hughes, like Newman, placed great emphasis on education and, like the gardener that he was, on the cultivation of the mind, which enables “full-hearted engagement with profound ideas”’. – Mgr Joseph McGuinness
The following is the text of the address given by Mgr McGuinness:
‘It will probably not surprise any of you if I speak today with some measure of proprietorial pride as we gather to honour Archbishop John Hughes. John Hughes was an illustrious son of the Diocese of Clogher and we are very proud of him and what he achieved. This is reflected in the efforts of the Clogher Historical Society in helping to bring about the erection of this plaque, and the generous support of the priests and people of the Diocese, for which we are very grateful.
‘Although John Hughes’ greatest works and fame were achieved in the United States, he never lost sight of his roots in this locality. Here he spent the first twenty years of his life, and he returned to preach in this church just before its dedication in in 1846 while he was Bishop of New York, only a few years before it was raised to the status of an Archdiocese, and he to the rank of Archbishop.
‘Like St Macartan, patron of this church and of our Diocese, John Hughes was a strong and faithful man of God. He was a strenuous defender of his flock and an advocate for the advancement of the poor and the enslaved. To some he appeared stubborn and pugnacious, but these were qualities which were put to good use in the service of his people. One American historian, Daniel Walker Howe, has described him as having ‘labored to bring a largely working-class Irish community into a meaningful relationship with Catholic Christianity’. He goes on to say that Hughes ranked high in terms of political judgement and that this was highlighted in his ‘fostering a strong Irish American identity, one centered on the Catholic faith rather than on secular radicalism’. But Hughes’ views were not narrowly sectarian – indeed he had a horror of bigotry and discrimination.
‘A famous, and typical, example of Archbishop Hughes’ approach was his planning for the building of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In the 1850s the site chosen was seen as remote and the project was dubbed by many as a folly. But John Hughes was not to be swayed and he proved the critics wrong. He also hired a Protestant, James Renwick, as the architect for the building and managed to secure funds from many Protestants for the project, despite the turbulent political and religious feuds of the time.
‘A most significant aspect of the life and work of Archbishop Hughes which I would like to say a few words about is his firm conviction about the importance of education. John Joseph Hughes acquired his early education here at a hedge school in Clogher. He always saw education as central to the development, not just of the human person, but of society as a whole and also its role in supporting the place of faith, and people of faith, in that society. Two of his contributions stand out – one in New York and the other here in Ireland.
‘Education was a significant question in political and church discourse in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1851, Fr James Donnelly, a priest of the Diocese of Clogher and future Bishop, went to America on behalf of the Irish Bishops to raise money for the proposed new Catholic University in Dublin. It was Archbishop John Hughes who gave the project his blessing and unconditional support. In August 1851, he wrote an open letter commending the university project to the charity of the New York priests and people. He supported the Clogher priest so well that Donnelly even became a priest of New York diocese for a period and also attended the first Synod of Baltimore in 1852 as Hughes’ guest!
‘That Archbishop Hughes should have been so energetic in the support of a university in Ireland should not have been in the least surprising. He knew the value of education and the part that intellectual life can play in the discourse between faith and society. And, why wouldn’t he? It was he who in 1841 had founded St John’s College in New York, a place of learning to which he brought the Jesuits and which is better known to us now as Fordham University. Today it is New York’s oldest university and one of the largest in the USA, and, as its website tells us, its spirit is one ‘of full-hearted engagement—with profound ideas, with communities around the world, with injustice, with beauty, with the entirety of the human experience’.
‘Writing from New York to Bishop McNally of Clogher on the Feast of Macartan in 1852, Fr Donnelly wrote that Archbishop Hughes had given a ‘great lecture …on the Catholic chapter in the history of the United States’ and that the lectures were ‘a sound and singular feature of society here’. The same letter tells us that Hughes’ advice to the Irish fundraisers enabled them to manage to have their voices heard and their cause recognised amid all the diverse fundraising campaigns then touring the US, many from other European countries.
‘It also helped greatly that Archbishop Hughes regarded John Henry Newman as ‘the greatest man in the Church’ in his time. It was of course Cardinal Newman who was to come to Dublin in 1854 to set up the Catholic University which Archbishop Hughes had so willingly enabled through his support for the fundraising in New York. In Dublin, Newman sought to give practical expression to his ‘idea of a university’.
‘In the thought of Newman and in the action of Hughes we see a clear recognition of the value of intellectual formation and its centrality to the dialogue between faith and society that was current then, and is so urgently needed now. In the midst of political attacks on the faith in his time, Archbishop Hughes, like Newman, placed great emphasis on education and, like the gardener that he was, on the cultivation of the mind, which enables ‘full-hearted engagement with profound ideas’.
‘As then, so also now. I am happy, with a sense of pleasing symmetry, to quote the present day Archbishop of Armagh, in a recent lecture in honour of Blessed John Henry Newman as follows:
‘…if the voice of the Church is to effectively enter the public sphere, then people of faith, both as faithful witnesses to the Gospel and as faithful citizens must inhabit and contribute to…anywhere people meet to share opinions and ideas’.
‘It is what we sometimes refer to today as the challenge of ‘the evangelisation of culture’. Archbishop John Hughes, whom we honour today, answered that challenge in the context of his own time. His assertion of the rights of his flock, his patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution of the United States and his emphasis on the centrality of education as a means for empowerment and engagement of faith in a diverse society, mark him out in a singular way.
Clogher can indeed be very proud of John Joseph Hughes, not just for what he became but what he overcame; not just for what he achieved but for the legacy he left – a legacy which enabled people to hold their heads high and to use their intellect to articulate their faith and bear witness to the Gospel in the public square with dignity. Let us in his home country in our time, allow ourselves and those who come after to do the same, with ‘full-hearted engagement with profound ideas…and with the entirety of the human experience’.’
Notes to Editors:
1. Saturday 24 June 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth in Clogher, Co Tyrone of Archbishop John Hughes, the first Archbishop of New York and the man who pioneered the building of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and also the centre of education that is today Fordham University. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of his emigration from Ireland to the United States in 1817.
2. The Diocese of Clogher encompasses all of Co Monaghan, most of Fermanagh and portions of Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan. It has a Catholic population of 88,000, across 37 parishes, which are served by 66 priests. There are 85 churches in the diocese.
3. Monsignor Joseph McGuinness is the Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Clogher, pending the appointment of a new bishop. He is also the Administrator of the Parish of Tyholland.
4. The Parish of Clogher today consists of the villages of Clogher and Augher and surrounding areas in Co Tyrone. It has two churches – St Macartan’s (see note 5) and St Patrick’s which was dedicated and opened in 1979. According to the 2015 Diocesan Census the Parish of Clogher has a Catholic population of 1,218 while the non-Catholic population is 543. The Parish Priest of Clogher is Fr Noel McGahan PP.
5. St Macartan’s Church, also known as ‘the Forth chapel’, is built on the site of an older church and was dedicated on 4 June 1846 by the then Bishop of Clogher, Dr Charles McNally. It served as his cathedral church until 1866 when the episcopal seat was formally transferred to Monaghan.
6. The Ulster History Circle organised today’s event, with the support of the Diocese and Parishes of Clogher and Clogher Historical Society. The coordinator of the event is Eileen McKenna, who will speak on the life of Archbishop John Hughes. The Ulster History Circle is a small voluntary not for profit organisation that places commemorative plaques in public places in towns and villages all over the Province in commemoration of men and women who have contributed to its culture, industry and history. The Clogher Historical Society is one of the largest local historical societies in Ireland. It was founded in 1952 and caters for all aspects of political, religious, social, economic and cultural history of the diocese. Its Journal, The Clogher Record, is one of the most renowned historical journals. Its website is www.clogherhistory.ie