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Historical Notes…

VICARS APOSTOLIC NOMINATED AS ‘OFFICIAL SUPERIORS’- 1842

It was during the administration of the Irish Bishops, chiefly, Dr John Fennelly that the status of the Catholic Community was raised and the legitimate claims of British Catholic subjects in both military and civil service was adequately recognized by the Government. All the Irish Bishops were doctors of divinity, having a perfect knowledge of the English language, and were socially and intellectually on a level with the best British talent.


Dr Daniel O’Connor O.S. Aug., Bishop of Saldis in Mauritania, Africa, was nominated on 21-04-1834 as Vicar Apostolic of Madras. He came to Madras with Letters of introduction to the Government House, and claimed as ‘Official Superior’ of the Madras Vicariate, in opposition to the Portuguese Bishop of Mylapore. His claim was recognized by Government on the 24thJanuary, 1837 and confirmed by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in their letter dated 10-07-1839. On the first occasion when he drove to the Church of St Mary of Angels,
situated in Armenian Street, Madras, wearing a cocked hat and buckled shoes, long coat and knee breaches, the old ladies protested that he could be no Catholic bishop but an emissary of the Government to make them all Protestants. The Bull, ‘Multa Praeclare’ issued by His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI, and decreed on 24th April 1838 did not end the rivalry/disputes existing between the Bishop of Mylapore and the Vicar Apostolic of Madras. As matters became worse, he resigned as Vicar Apostolic in 1840 and left the country. On reaching Rome, he submitted the actual report to His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVI, who nominated him as an Assistant at the Papal Throne on 15-02-1842.

Dr John Fennelly, Bishop of Castoria, in Dardanis was nominated Vicar Apostolic of Madras on 21-04-1841, after the resignation of Dr Daniel O’Connor. He was consecrated on 27-06-1841 in the Chapel of Maynooth College by Most Rev Dr Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, and installed on 13-01-1842 in the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Angels, Madras. He was recognized as “Official Suerior of the Catholic Community” vide Government notification dated 26-01-1842 and was also appointed to be the channel of communication between the priests of the Roman Catholic Church and the Government and for the regulartransmission of Returns of Sacred Offices performed by the clergy. One of the outstanding features of the Episcopate of Dr John Fennelly was the tremendous influence he exercised over the European residents of the city and in particular over the Irish Catholic soldiers, who were numerous in those days. An indefatigable worker, who never spared himself but laboured continuously for his flock. He was also a great writer and an able controversialist. His influence and relationship changed the deep-seated prejudice of Englishmen towards the Catholic religion. The Catholic Church and Community was highly respected and its adherents accorded equal rights with those of the Protestant faith, especially in the matter of promotion of Catholics from the ranks in the Indian Army.

On the occasion of his visit to Rome in 1867 he was nominated as an Assistant to the Papal Throne, by His Holiness Pope Pius IX. He died at Madras on 23-01-1868 and his mortal remains were buried within the precincts of the Cathedral Church of Mary of Angels, Madras. It was his oft-expressed wish and determination that he “would bury his bones in Madras”.

Mr F A Nathan

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