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George Hay

Bishop and writer, b. at Edinburgh, Aug. 24, 1729; d. at Aquhorties, Oct. 18, 1811

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Hay, GEORGE, bishop and writer, b. at Edinburgh, August 24, 1729; d. at Aquhorties, October 18, 1811. His parents were Protestant, his father having been a nonjuring Episcopalian, sentenced to banishment for his adherence to the Stuarts in 1715. Destined for a medical career, young Hay began his studies at Edinburgh University, and when barely sixteen found himself summoned, after the battle of Prestonpans, to attend the wounded soldiers on the battlefield. He afterwards followed the army of Charles Edward for some months; but before the decisive fight at Culloden illness compelled him to return to Edinburgh. He was later arrested for having participated in the rising, and taken to London, where he was kept in custody for twelve months. Here a Catholic bookseller named Neighan gave him his first insight into Catholic teaching, and on his return to Scotland he studied Gother’s well-known work, “The Papist Represented and Misrepresented”. An introduction to Father Seaton, a Jesuit missionary at Edinburgh, was followed by a prolonged course of instruction, and Hay was received into the Catholic Church, making his first communion December 21, 1749.

Debarred by the penal laws from graduating or receiving his medical diploma, he accepted an appointment as surgeon on a trading vessel bound for the Mediterranean. While in London, on his way to join his ship, he became acquainted with the illustrious Bishop Challoner. The result of their intercourse was that Hay determined to enter the priesthood; and on the arrival of his vessel at Marseilles, Hay journeyed to Rome, where he studied in the Scots’ College for nearly eight years. Among his fellow-students was the future Cardinal Erskine. In April, 1758, he was ordained priest by Cardinal Spinelli, and on his return to Scotland was appointed to assist Bishop Grant in the important district of the Enzie, in Banffshire. In 1766 Bishop Grant succeeded Bishop Smith as Lowland Vicar Apostolic, and soon afterwards procured the appointment of Hay as his coadjutor. He was consecrated on Trinity Sunday, 1769, and thenceforward for nearly forty years sustained practically the whole burden of the vicariate.

Of strong constitution and untiring energy, as well as sterling piety and zeal, he did an immense work for religion in Scotland during this period. The stress of his ministerial labors did not prevent him from doing much active literary work. He published the first English Catholic Bible printed in Scotland; but the work which secured his own reputation as a religious writer was his complete cycle of Catholic doctrine entitled “The Sincere, Devout, and Pious Christian“, published 1781-86, and still recognized as a work of standard value. Bishop Hay’s own life was a perfect example of that ordered devotion and assiduous labor which he inculcated in his writings, and his calm and equable temperament was proof against the many trials and difficulties inseparable from his position as a Catholic prelate under the penal laws. The Scottish Catholics, numbering at this time some 25,000, were, through the operation of these iniquitous statutes, in a condition little better than that of slaves or outlaws. Bishop Hay’s efforts to procure some relief for his co-religionists roused a storm of fanatical fury, and in February, 1779, the chapel and house which he had recently built in Edinburgh were burned by the mob. Very inadequate compensation for this outrage was made by the magistrates, and the outbreak of the Gordon Riots in England, in 1780, further delayed the long-hoped-for relief. In 1793, however, Bishop Hay had the satisfaction of seeing his flock released by Act of Parliament from the most oppressive of the penal laws. He had meanwhile labored not only for the Church at home, but also to improve the condition of the national colleges at Rome and Paris. His great object, in regard to the college at Rome, was to have it placed under the control of Scottish superiors. His efforts on behalf of the institute in Paris were interrupted by the French Revolution, in which it was entirely swept away. The bishop’s last public work was the foundation of a new seminary at Aquhorties, in Aberdeenshire; and here, after transferring, with the sanction of Pius VII, the entire government of the Lowland District to his coadjutor, Bishop Cameron, he died, deeply regretted, at the age of eighty-three.


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