Saint of the Day – 25 October – Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy (c 1455–1492) the “White Martyr of Munster” – Bishop – born Tadhg Mac Cárthaigh in c 1455 in County Cork, Ireland and died on 25 October 1492 in a pilgrim’s hostel at Ivrea, Italy of natural causes. He was a bishop who never ruled his see, even though he was appointed to two of them – Bishop of Ross, Ireland in 1482 and Bishop of Cork and Cloyne in 1490. Patronages – exiles, the homeless, those suffering calumny, rejection and persecution, pilgrims.
Bishop Thaddeus McCarthy, the young Irish prelate whose immemorial cult was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, was born in the middle of the fifteenth century. He studied theology first under his uncle, one Canon Thady McCarthy and then in Paris and in Rome. At the age of 27 he was named bishop of Ross by Pope Sixtus IV and consecrated in Rome. Returning to Ireland, he discovered that his see was already in the possession of one Hugh O’Driscoll, also appointed to it by the same Pope Sixtus IV. It would seem that news had reached Rome of the death of Hugh O’Driscoll, either by simple misinformation or by political intrigue. Bishop O’Driscoll assumed that Thaddeus was an imposter and in 1488 obtained his excommunication by Pope Innocent VIII. Thaddeus appealed the excommunication, a Roman commission judged in his favour and in 1490 he was named Bishop of Cork and Cloyne.
A Wandering Bishop
Bishop Thaddeus attempted to take possession of his new see but was prevented from entering his cathedral by supporters of Gerald Fitzgerald who, with the support of local chieftains, had usurped his jurisdiction over the diocese of Cork and Cloyne. Armed men took possession of the cathedral preventing Thaddeus from entering. Everywhere he turned, he suffered the pain of rejection. For two years, he travelled from town to village armed with the papal documents announcing his rightful appointment and absolution from any criminal charge. This persecution as such was the outcome of political pressure. By now, he was alone, having strenuously opposed any form of retaliation by his own McCarthy clan. They, in response, abandoned him. Now, without family support, status and security but with unwavering faith and trust in God, he once again set off for Rome to plead his case to the Pope.
The Pontiff gave him a new document dated 18 July 1492 and ordered the powerful Gerald Earl of Kildare to protect Thaddeus, to support him and to restore him to his rightful place as Bishop of Cork and Cloyne.
Fearing that an attempt would be made on his life, Thaddeus disguised himself as a humble pilgrim and set out on foot from Rome. On the evening of 24 October 1492, an exhausted Thaddeus arrived at a hostel for pilgrims in Ivrea, Italy. He was wearing the hooded habit of a pilgrim with its distinctive sign of the oyster shell. The innkeeper received the poor pilgrim warmly and provided him with a room for the night. At dawn, a strange and wonderful light was seen shining from the room. Upon entering it, the innkeeper found the lifeless body of 37 year old Thaddeus McCarthy, radiant with a heavenly beauty.
The local bishop was apprised of the phenomenon, he had, in fact, dreamed that very night of an unknown bishop ascending into the glory of heaven. He recognised Thaddeus as the bishop of his dream. Further investigation revealed that Thaddeus’ wallet contained the papal documents recognising him as bishop of Cork and Cloyne, and an episcopal ring. Clothed in episcopal robes, Thaddeus’ body attracted crowds of the local faithful to the cathedral where he lay in state. He was buried in the cathedral of Ivrea, where his tomb became a place of extraordinary graces and miracles.
A Pontiff Between Ireland and Italy
In 1742, 350 years later, when the tomb of Thaddeus McCarthy was opened, his body was found to be incorrupt. Devotion to the Irish bishop developed and in 1847 the clergy and faithful of Ivrea donated a large amount of money for victims of the Great Hunger in Ireland. The contact between Ireland and Ivrea resulted in a movement for the beatification of Bishop Thaddeus. In 1896, Pope Leo XIII confirmed his immemorial cult. Major relics of the Blessed were sent from Ivrea to the church at Cork, Ross and Cloyne. Below are the relic of Thaddeus’s leg bone and a prayer for his Canonisation, both part of the shrine on the North Cathedral, Cork.
Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy is known as The White Martyr of Munster because the mental and physical sufferings that he endured with heroic patience. He is a patron of people in every sort of affliction, especially of those suffering rejection, homelessness, calumny and exile. Here is the liturgical collect for his feast:
O God, who didst adorn Blessed Thaddeus, Thy Confessor and Thy Bishop
with invincible fortitude in bearing adversity, grant, we beseech Thee, that following his example as we make our pilgrim way upon earth, we may prevail mightily over the things that come against us.
One will recognise in the Collect, the allusion to Romans 8:35–39:
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy never accomplished what he was consecrated to accomplish. in this life but now he has two Diocese after all. He is beloved in Ivrea and in Cobh! He never governed his diocese, ordained new priests, or even confirmed anybody, as best we can tell. But he fulfilled his purpose – he gave his life for God, earning the title “White Martyr of Munster.” Below, the magnificent shrine and relics in the beautiful Cathedral in Ivrea, Italy, where Thaddeus lies and at the bottom, the equally magnificent side-chapel dedicated to his memory in St Colmán’s Cathedral, Cobh, Ireland. And, all over Ireland Shrines and side-chapels are dedicated to the Blessed and beloved Thaddeus.
On 25 October his feast day, let’s ask his intercession for those who are discouraged by lack of results, that they would seek not to be successful but to be faithful. Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy, pray for us!
6 thoughts on “Saint of the Day – 25 October – Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy (c 1455–1492) the “White Martyr of Munster””
I must be tired my typing is worse than usual. Forgive me. my mind is stuch on one thought it seems, You and what a lot of “what ifs” You and my increasing love for the Passion o Christ is awesome I can not put it in words and maybe one day we can share this side by side. HH
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Thank you for making known this wonderful story of a white and authentic martyr (and an Irish unknown bishop … at least for me).
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Thank you Fr Jacques – I fell in love with him, But my heart ached for him too.
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