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Florence Conry

Archbishop of Tuam, patriot, theologian, and founder of the Irish (Franciscan) College of St. Anthony at Louvain (1560-1629)

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Corry (or CONROY), FLORENCE, in Irish FLAITHRI O’MAOLCONAIRE (O’MULCONRY), Archbishop of Tuam, patriot, theologian, and founder of the Irish (Franciscan) College of St. Anthony at Louvain, b. in Galway, 1560; d. at Madrid, November 18, 1629. His early studies were made on the Continent, in the Netherlands, and in Spain; at Salamanca he joined the Franciscans. In 1588 he was appointed provincial of the order in Ireland and as such sailed with the Spanish Armada; we have no details as to the manner of his escape from the disaster which overtook that ill-fated expedition. At all times active in the interest of his native land he was again sent to Ireland, this time by Clement VIII, to aid with counsel and influence the Irish and their Spanish allies during the last struggle of Hugh O’Neill (Tyrone’s Rebellion) for the independence of Ireland. After the disaster of Kinsale (1601) he accompanied Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Prince of Tyrconnell) to Spain in the hope of interesting anew the Spanish Court. But the great chieftain soon died at Simancas, being assisted on his deathbed by Father Conry (Four Masters, ad an. 1602) who also accompanied the remains to their last resting place in the Franciscan church at Valladolid. Conry was also deeply interested in the welfare of the Irish College at Salamanca (q.v.). When the native Irish chieftains, the Earl of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and the Earl of Tyrconnell (Rory O’Donnell, brother of Hugh Roe), fled from Ireland in 1607, Conry proved a devoted friend in their exile and accompanied them to Rome. For the so-called “Revelations” of Christopher St. Laurence, Baron of Howth, implicating Father Conry and the principal Irish in an imaginary plot to seize Dublin Castle and raise a new rebellion just previous to the “Flight of the Earls “see Meehan (cited below), pp. 67-73. At Rome Father Conry was consecrated Archbishop of Tuam in 1609 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Urban VIII), always a warm friend of the persecuted Irish Catholics. In 1614 Conry wrote from Valladolid a vigorous remonstrance to the Catholic members of the Irish Parliament for their cowardly adhesion to the Bill of Attainder that deprived of their estates the fugitive Irish earls and their adherents and vested six whole counties of Ulster in the English Crown. Meehan says of this document that it is “stamped in its every line with the impress of a great mind” (Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, Dublin, 1886, 3d ed., pp. 262, 395).

In 1616 Archbishop Conry founded at Louvain for Irish Franciscan youth the College of St. Anthony of Padua, principally with means furnished by Princess Isabella, wife of Archduke Albert, and daughter of Philip the Second. The archbishop was himself the foremost member of this famous Irish Franciscan house of studies whence came a long line of erudite and virtuous historians and archaeologists (O’Clery, Colgan, Hugh Ward, Francis Walsh, and others: cf. V. De Buck, “L’archeologie irlandaise au couvent de Saint-Antoine de Padoue a Louvain”, Paris, 1869), and where the most active Irish printing press on the Continent was long in operation. One of the earliest works of Conry was a translation from Spanish into very pure Irish of a catechism known as “The Mirror of Christian Life“, printed at Louvain in 1626, but probably cur-rent in manuscript at an earlier date, both in Ireland and among the Irish troops in the Netherlands; this was composed, as he says himself “out of charity for the souls of the Gael”. As Archbishop of Tuam, Conry never took possession of his see, owing to the royal proclamations of 1606, 1614, 1623, commanding all bishops and priests, under the gravest penalties, to quit the kingdom. But he governed Tuam through vicars-general and continued to live principally at St. Anthony’s in Louvain, not improbably on the bounty of the King of Spain, as was the case with many Irish ecclesiastics of the time. His influence in Irish matters at the royal court was always considerable; thus, as late as 1618 we find him presenting to the Council of Spain Philip O’Sullivan Beare‘s “Relation of Ireland and the Number of Irish therein”, and in the following year his own “Statement of the Severities Practiced by England against the Irish Catholics”. Like his fellow-Franciscan, Luke Wadding, and Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh, he was ever at the disposition of his exiled countrymen. He communicated (1610) to the Council of Spain a translation of the original (Irish) statement of one Francis Maguire concerning his observations in the “State of Virginia“, between 1608 and 1610, a curious and unique document for the earliest English settlements in the New World and the life and habits of the Indian tribes (Alexander Brown, The Genesis of the United States, Boston, 1890, I, 392-99).

Archbishop Corry was a profound scholastic theologian, very learned especially in the writings of St. Augustine, all of whose works he read seven times, while those pertaining to grace he read some twenty times. In the interpretation of the more difficult passages he frequently had recourse to prayer and fasting. At Louvain he sat at the feet of Baius, and was also a friend of Jansenius (d. 1638). He had, however, by his own efforts arrived independently at conclusions concerning the teaching of St. Augustine on grace and free will quite similar to those of his teachers. Most of his writings on these subjects were published after his death. His work on the fate of unbaptized children (De statu parvulorum sine baptismo decedentium ex hac vita juxta sensum beati Augustini, Louvain, 1624, 1635; Rouen, 1643) was reprinted by the Jansenists as an appendix to the 1652 edition of the “Augustinus”. Cardinal Noris (Vindic. August, ch. iii, § 5) says that in it Conry abundantly demonstrates from the Scriptures and Augustine the sensible character of the sufferings of such unbaptized children. His “Peregrinus Jerichontinus, h. e. de nature humans feliciter institute, infeliciter lapses, miserabiliter vulnerata, misericorditer restaurata” (ed. Thady MacNamara, Paris, 1641) treats of original sin, the grace of Christ, free will, etc., the “Pilgrim of Jericho” being human nature itself, the robber Satan, the good Samaritan Our Lord. Hurter says that this edition was owing to Arnauld, and that the same ardent Jansenist is possibly the author of the (Paris, 1645) French version. Conry wrote also other works expository of the teaching and opinions of the great Doctor of Grace, e.g. “De gratin Christi” (Paris, 1646); “De flagellis justorum” (Paris, 1644); “De Augustin sensu circa b. Marine Virginis conceptionem” (Antwerp, 1619). In 1654 his body was brought back from Madrid and buried in the collegiate chapel of St. Anthony’s, near the high altar, where an epitaph by Nicholas Aylmer recorded his virtues, learning, and love of country:

Ordinis altus honor, fidei patria que honos, Pontificum merito laude perenne jubar.

Thomas Darcy Magee says of this patriotic scholar: “He is the leading figure in a class of exiled Catholic churchmen who were of great service to religion and letters and not seldom powerful allies of their country. From the founding of a college to the composition of a catechism he shrank from no labor that could, according to his convictions, benefit the people of his native land.”

STEPHEN M. DONOVAN


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