Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Paul Cullen

Cardinal, Archbishop of Dublin, b. at Prospect, Co. Kildare, Ireland, April 29, 1803; d. at Dublin, October 24, 1878

Click to enlarge

Cullen, PAUL, Cardinal, Archbishop of Dublin, b. at Prospect, Co. Kildare, Ireland, April 29, 1803; d. at Dublin, October 24, 1878. His first school days were passed at the Shackleton School in the neighboring village of Ballytore. He entered Carlow College as alumnus in 1816, and proceeded, in 1820, to the College of Propaganda in Rome where his name is registered on the roll of students under date of November 29, 1820. At the close of a distinguished course of studies he was selected to hold a public disputation in the halls of Propaganda on the 11th of September, 1828, in 224 theses from all theology and ecclesiastical history. This theological tournament was privileged in many ways, for Leo XII, attended by his court, presided on the occasion, while no fewer than ten cardinals assisted at it, together with all the elite of ecclesiastical Rome. The youthful Abbate Pecci, the future Leo XIII, was present at the disputation, and referring to it at a later period declared that it made an indelible impression upon him, and that he was filled with admiration for the brilliant talent and singular modesty of the Irish student. During his course of studies, Paul Cullen had acquired a profound knowledge of the classical and Oriental languages, and it was a novel thing to see a young Irish priest immediately on his ordination appointed to the chairs of Hebrew and Sacred Scripture in the schools of Propaganda, and receiving at the same time the charge of the famed printing establishment of the Sacred Congregation.

This latter charge he resigned in 1832, when appointed rector of the Irish College in Rome, but during the short. term of his administration he published a standard edition of the Greek and Latin Lexicon of Hedericus, which still holds its place in the Italian colleges; he also edited the Acta of the Congregation of Propaganda in seven quarto volumes, and other important works.

While rector of the Irish College (1832-1850) he was admitted to the intimate friendship of Gregory XVI and Pius IX. He profited by the influence which he thus enjoyed to safeguard the interests of the Irish Church, and to unmask the intrigues of the British agents who at this period were untiring in their attempts to force their political views upon the Vatican, and to forge fetters for Catholic Ireland. During the troubled period of the Roman Revolution, Dr. Cullen, at the request of the Sacred Congregation, accepted the responsible position of rector of the College of Propaganda, retaining, however, the charge of Rector of the Irish College. Soon after his appointment the Revolutionary Triumvirate in the frenzy of their triumph issued orders that within a few hours the College of Propaganda was to be dissolved and the buildings to be appropriated for government purposes. Without a moment’s delay the rector appealed to Lewis Cass, the United States minister, for the protection of the citizens of the United States who were students of the college. Within an hour the American flag was floating over the Propaganda College. The mandate of the Triumvirs was withdrawn, and a decree was issued to the effect that the Propaganda should be maintained as an institution of world-wide fame of which Rome was justly proud. Thus through the Irish rector and the American flag the venerable college was saved from confiscation.

Dr. Cullen was promoted to the primatial See of Armagh on December 19, 1849, and was consecrated by the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda at the church of the Irish College, Rome, February 24, 1850. A wider field was assigned to his zeal and piety when he was transferred to the See of Dublin May 1, 1852. He was elevated to the cardinalate as Cardinal Priest of San Pietro in Montorio in 1867, being the first Irish bishop on whom that high dignity was ever conferred.

The first great duty which as Delegate of the Apostolic See devolved on the newly appointed Archbishop of Armagh was to convene the Synod of Thurles (1850), the first national synod held with due public solemnity in Ireland since the beginning of the Reformation period. The main purpose of the synod was to restore the vigour of ecclesiastical discipline in Ireland, and this was in the fullest measure attained. Twenty-five years later, Cardinal Cullen, once more as Apostolic Delegate, presided at the national synod held at Maynooth in 1875. This second synod added a crowning grace to the manifold blessings that had accrued to the Irish Church from the First Plenary Synod. Throughout his episcopate it was his most anxious care to check proselytism, to promote the beauty of the House of God, and to multiply institutions of enlightenment, charity, and benevolence. In all this his efforts were admirably seconded by the clergy and the various sisterhoods whose devotion to the sacred cause of religion was beyond all praise.

He was particularly intent on bringing the blessings of religious education within reach of the poorest Catholics in the land. The system of national education adopted by the Government for Ireland in 1832 was a great improvement on the proselytising systems hitherto carried on by anti-Catholic agencies receiving government aid. The working of the system, however, was for many years practically left in the hands of the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin (Dr. Whately) and his Presbyterian ally, Rev. James Carlile, both of whom were unceasing in unscrupulous efforts to make it an engine of attack on the Catholic faith of the Irish people. Dr. Cullen from the beginning of his episcopate till its closing hour never relaxed his endeavors, on the one hand to counteract those proselytising agencies and to remove all dangers to the faith of the Catholic children, and on the other to bring gradually the literature and methods of the system into harmony with the national traditions and social requirements of Ireland. His evidence on the national system of education in Ireland, given before the Earl Powis’ Royal Commission in 1869, has been pronounced by experts to be a most complete statement of the Catholic claims in the matter of primary education. The national system of today is no longer what it was in 1849, and almost all the improvements that have been made are on the lines suggested in the evidence of Cardinal Cullen.

From the first days of his episcopate Archbishop Cullen had set his heart on the erection of a Catholic university for Ireland. The project was hailed with enthusiasm by the Irish race at home and abroad, and the beginnings of the institution in Dublin gave promise of success. Countless difficulties, however, arose over which the Archbishop had no control, and hence the Catholic University of Ireland was attended withonly partial success (see Ireland). Throughout his whole episcopate he continued to extend his patronage to it. He used often to repeat: “No one can question the justice of Ireland‘s claim to a Catholic University”. Even when its fortunes were at the lowest ebb, he would say: “We must keep the flag flying”, being assured of final triumph. Another project most dear to him was a diocesan seminary for Dublin. The great ecclesiastical College of Holy Cross which he erected at Clonliffe in the immediate suburbs of the city will long remain a conspicuous monument to his munificence and a crown of immortal glory to the holy prelate who raised it.

In political matters Cardinal Cullen was quite heed-less of popularity, and he made it a rule to support every measure from whatever political party it came that he considered conducive to the interests of Ireland. He condemned the Young Irelanders as sowers of dissension, and a source of ruin to the Irish cause. He highly esteemed the literary merit of many of the writers for “The Nation”, but he felt so convinced that some of those connected with that newspaper were in the secret pay of the British Government that he would have no communication with them, and he regarded them as the worst enemies of Ireland. For the same reasons he relentlessly opposed the Fenian movement. It was his constant endeavor to bring together all the friends of Ireland so as to form a united phalanx in order to redress by constitutional means the wrongs of centuries and thus lift up Ireland from her oppressed and prostrate condition. His policy was attended with success. The Protestant Church in Ireland was disestablished, the condition of the poor in the workhouses was ameliorated, the Industrial Schools‘ Act was passed, the laws affecting land tenure were amended, and in many other matters victory after victory crowned the constitutional campaign of Ireland‘s friends.

One of the accusations most frequently repeated to stir up popular prejudice against the cardinal was to the effect that he was a frequent visitor at the vice-regal castle in search of favors for himself or friends. As a matter of fact the only such visit he paid was toward the close of 1867. The Fenian leader, General Thomas F. Burke, had been sentenced to death and every effort to obtain a reprieve had been made in vain. He had fought with distinction in the Civil War of the United States, and the British Government was determined to deter other skilled military leaders from enlisting their services in aid of the Irish cause. The orders for execution from London were peremptory. The scaffold was already erected and the next morning General Burke was to be hanged. Through information received from the Archbishop of New York and other American friends the cardinal was convinced of the upright character of the accused who had been betrayed by false reports to engage in the Fenian enterprise, impelled by the sole motive of love of his native land. At noon on the vigil of the day fixed for the execution, the cardinal accompanied by his private secretary and Monsignor Forde, his vicar-general, set out for the viceregal castle on the forlorn errand to obtain a reprieve for the brave man. The interview with the viceroy lasted for more than an hour. The cardinal on personal grounds justified his right to be heard in the case, since none had in public or private more strenuously opposed Fenianism than himself. He insisted that the execution of such a brave man would only add fuel to the flame, while the exercise of clemency would serve to open men’s eyes to the recklessness of the whole Fenian enterprise. The viceroy listened to the cardinal’s reasoning with due respect, but at the same time was quite inexorable. He telegraphed, however, the whole matter to headquarters in London. Late at night the response came. The reprieve was granted and the life of the brave man was spared. This was the first and last visit of Cardinal Cullen to the viceregal castle to petition for personal favors.

He paid frequent visits to Rome. He took part in the solemn celebrations connected with the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1854, and with the centenary of the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul in 1867. On these and similar occasions he took up his residence at the Irish College. From the opening of the Vatican Council, Cardinal Cullen took an active part in its deliberations. His first discourse in defense of the prerogatives of the Holy See, mainly on historical grounds, in reply to the Bishop of Rottenburg, was regarded as one of the ablest discourses delivered in the council. At its close the hall resounded with applause, and during the afternoon about eighty bishops called at the Irish College to present their congratulations. Pius IX in token of appreciation of the singular ability of the discourse forwarded to the cardinal a gift of a very fine Carrara marble rilievo representing St. Paul addressing the Areopagus. This work of art now adorns a side chapel in the church attached to the diocesan seminary of Dublin. Towards the close of the sessions of the council at the express wish of the Central Commission, conveyed in person through its secretary, Archbishop Franchi, Cardinal Cullen proposed the precise and accurate formula for the definition of Papal Infallibility. It was a matter of great delicacy, as promoters of the definition were split up into various sections, some anxious to assign a wider range to the pope’s decisions, while others would set forth in a somewhat indefinite way the papal prerogative. All accepted the form of definition proposed by Cardinal Cullen, and thus it became the privilege of the Irish Church to have formulated for all time the solemn definition of this great article of Faith.

The condition of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in 1878, in contrast with what it was in 1850, affords abundant proof of the fruitfulness of Cardinal Cullen’s zeal and of the beneficent results achieved during his episcopate. Those twenty-eight years marked a continuous period of triumphant progress in all matters connected with religion, discipline, education and charity. The eloquent Dominican Father Thomas Nicholas Burke (q.v.) wrote in 1878- “The guiding spirit animating, encouraging and directing the wonderful work of the Irish Catholic Church for the last twenty-eight years was Paul, Cardinal Cullen, and history will record the events of his administration as, perhaps, the most wonderful and glorious epoch in the whole ecclesiastical history of Ireland. The result of his labors was the wonderful revival of Catholic devotion and piety which in our day has restored so much of our ancient glory of sanctity to the land once called the `Island of Saints’.” No other Church in Christendom during the same period achieved grander religious results or yielded in richer abundance the choicest fruit of genuine Catholic piety. His remains rest beneath the apse of the Church attached to the diocesan seminary at Clonliffe.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!