Blessed Dominic Collins
These difficult days provide a good (and necessary) opportunity for us Irish to turn to our Saints and Blesseds, and today offers us a moment to renew our acquaintance and relationship with the Blessed Irish Martyrs.
A little point before I go on: as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, it is important for us to develop a relationship - a personal relationship with the Saints and Blesseds. While in the eyes of the world they may appear to be dead, or just remote figures from the past, we who live in the communion of the Church see them as living members of that communion, though now in heaven they are still united with us, concerned for us, loving us and praying for us. Just recently I was criticised by someone for including the Litany of the Saints in a devotional ceremony: it was considered irrelevant and of no use to bring young people into the Church. The Saints are relevant because they are the ones who show us that the Gospel can be lived, and in their lives offer us encouragement. And as I have found in my ministry the young, including teenagers who have the reputation of being disinterested in all things religious, actually love to hear about the Saints. Why? Because the Saints are real.
Today in Ireland we celebrate the memory of twenty-three Irish people who gave their lives for Christ - not for Irish nationalism, not for ideology, but for their Catholic faith. The group includes the seventeen Irish martyrs beatified by Blessed John Paul II in 1992, and six others beatified with English martyrs in 1929 and 1987. The group represents a large constituency of Irish people, although there is only one woman (that is not sexist on the part of the Church, it's just that the most of those martyred for the Catholic faith in Ireland were men, women tended not to be killed, though they did suffer hardship for their faith).
So first, among the group are bishops who were trying to carry out a secret ministry in Ireland. Blessed Dermot Hurley was Archbishop of Cashel, he was tortured and finally hanged, drawn and quartered in St Stephen's Green in Dublin (then called Hoggen's Green). Blessed Conor O'Devany was Bishop of Down and Conor, he suffered the same fate. Then some secular priests: Blessed Patrick O'Loughran, chaplain to The O'Neill, and Blessed Maurice O'Kenraghty, chaplain to the Earl of Desmond: these two were captured and put to death when discovered to be Catholic priests.
A number of religious are also among the martyrs. Two Dominicans, the Bishop of Limerick, Blessed Terence Albert O'Brien OP, and Blessed Peter Higgins, the Prior of the Dominican Community in Naas, Co. Kildare. Of course there must be Franciscans: the Order has a long and venerable association with our country. Their martyred friars are Blessed John Kearney, Blessed Patrick O'Healy and Blessed Conn O'Rourke. The Blessed William Tirry, martyred in Cork, represents the Augustinians, and one would also expect a Jesuit in there - Blessed Brother Dominic Collins.
And of course the laity. The great Blessed Margaret Ball, a woman of our own diocese - Ireland's foremost protector of priests - a truly extraordinary Christian. Her grandson-in-law, former Mayor of Dublin, Blessed Francis Taylor- both died in the dungeons of Dublin castle. Then some unusual representatives: a baker from Wexford, Blessed Matthew Lambert, and with him three sailors who chose to live and die for their Catholic faith: Blessed Robert Meyler, Blessed Edward Cheevers and Blessed Patrick Cavanagh. Sailors usually have a bad reputation, but these three holy men lived lives worthy enough to attract the attention of the persecutors and they made the supreme sacrifice for the Lord.
We also include six Irish martyrs who were beatified among the English. Blessed John Roche, born in Ireland, but emigrated to England and lived in London. He was a servant and helped St Margaret Ward in her mission of assisting priests on the run. In 1588 he was executed for helping St Margaret spring a priest from the Tower of London. Two more Irish emigrant servants, Blessed John Carey and Blessed Patrick Salmon - they too were condemned for their faith and for helping priests. Blessed John Cornelius was an English priest of Irish parents, who was captured with Blesseds John and Patrick, and he was executed with them in Dorchester.
We then have Franciscan Blessed Charles Meehan. Blessed Charles was Irish, apparently a relation of St Oliver Plunkett. Having completed theological studied in Germany, was making his way back to Ireland to serve on the mission but was shipwrecked on the Welsh coast. As he was trying to find a passage to Ireland, he was captured, discovered to be a priest, and put to death. And last, but not least, Blessed Ralph Corby, a Jesuit priest. Born in Ireland, his family moved to England where he grew up. He studied for the priesthood on the continent, joined the Jesuits. Working on the mission in England, he was discovered offering Mass, arrested, tried and condemned to death. Like all other priests condemned, he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
On their feast day, may our Holy Martyrs pray for Ireland in these difficult times. May we faithful find courage and confidence through their example, and let us commend our prayers, needs, and the cause of life in Ireland, to their intercession. And let us hope they will soon be canonised. All we need is a miracle! So now, get praying.