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William Bernard Ullathorne

English Benedictine monk and bishop, b. at Pocklington, Yorkshire, May 7, 1806; d. at Oscott, Warwickshire, March 21, 1889

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Ullathorne, WILLIAM BERNARD, English Benedictine monk and bishop, b. at Pocklington, Yorkshire, May 7, 1806; d. at Oscott, Warwickshire, March 21, 1889. His father was a lineal descendant from Blessed Thomas More, but had fallen in life and was then the chief tradesman of the village. His mother, a distant connection of Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, was a convert. When he was ten years old, the whole family removed to Scarborough, where young Ullathorne made his first acquaintance with the sea. His lively imagination and adventurous spirit led him to desire to be on the ocean and to see the world; and for three and a half years his wish was gratified, during which time he made several voyages in the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea and elsewhere. It was on one of these voyages that a chance opportunity of attending Maas at Memel, a port in the Baltic, proved the turning-point of his life, for he then and there made up his mind to devote his life to the service of God. On his return to England, therefore, he entered as a novice of the well-known Benedictine community at Downside, near Bath, in February, 1823. He received the habit in March, 1824, and was professed a year later, taking the name of Bernard. Later on he spent a year as prefect at Ampleforth College, near York, and was ordained priest at Ushaw College in 1831. Soon after his return to Downside, in response to an invitation from Dr. Morris, O.S.B., Vicar Apostolic of the Mauritius, Ullathorne offered himself as a volunteer for the Australian mission, which then formed part of that vicariate. His offer was accepted, and in view of the difficulty there had always been of governing the colony from such a distance, Dr. Morris gave him full powers as his vicar-general there.

Ullathorne landed in Australia in February, 1833, and his connection with the colony lasted eight years. During the first part of that time he devoted himself to organizing the beginnings of the mission there. When he first landed there were only three priests, Father Therry and Father McEncroe at Sydney, and Father Connolly in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). At both places they were working independently and without any kind of supervision. There were internal dissensions among the Catholics, as well as difficulties with the colonial authorities, both due to the want of proper ecclesiastical government. Ullathorne, by his tact and strength of character, soon succeeded in adjusting these, both at Sydney and in Tasmania. He likewise visited the convict settlement on Norfolk Island, which he describes as “the most beautiful spot in the universe”, and his ministrations to those who were condemned to death, as well as to the others, had most consoling results. In 1835 Bishop Polding, O.S.B., arrived as Vicar Apostolic of Australia, accompanied by three priests and four ecclesiastical students. Ullathorne, being thus set free, set out soon afterwards to visit England and Ireland, to obtain further help for the mission. During his stay he was called upon to give evidence before the Parliamentary Commission on the evils of transportation, and, at the request of the Government, he wrote a tract on the subject. He was also summoned to Rome, at the instance of Cardinal Weld, to report on the state of the Australian mission.

In 1838 he once more set sail for Sydney, with several priests and nuns who had offered themselves for the work. On his landing, he found himself the center of obloquy, on account of his evidence on the convict question, for it was supposed to be detrimental to the colony, which thrived on the free labor of the convicts. Nevertheless, his views in the end prevailed, and transportation was abolished. In 1840 Ullathorne left Australia, as it turned out, for good, travelling to England in company with Bishop Polding. He had already drawn out a scheme for a regular hierarchy, rendered possible by the remarkable and rapid increase in numbers and organization, and when Dr. Polding went to Rome he obtained its substantial adoption. Dr. Polding himself became Archbishop of Sydney; but though Ullathorne was more than once pressed to accept a bishopric there, he remained staunch in his refusal, and retired to the mission of Coventry. Here he used his energy in building a handsome new church; but after a stay of three years he had once more to move, being appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Western District of England, with the title of Bishop of Hetalona. Two years later, however, he was transferred to the Central District, in which he was destined to spend the remaining forty-one years of his life. He soon acquired influence among his brother bishops, and in 1848 he went to Rome as their delegate, to negotiate the restoration of the English hierarchy—a task for which he was specially qualified, in view of the part he had taken in the similar scheme already carried out in Australia.

His negotiations were successful, and after a delay of two years, due to the Revolution in Rome, the new English hierarchy was proclaimed by Pius IX on September 29, 1850. Cardinal Wiseman became the first Archbishop of Westminster, Dr. Ullathorne being appointed Bishop of Birmingham. He ruled that diocese for thirty-seven years. On the death of Cardinal Wiseman, he was chosen by Propaganda to succeed him; but Pius IX overruled their choice and appointed Cardinal Manning, and Dr. Ullathorne remained at Birmingham. He took part in all the four provincial synods of Westminster, and in 1870 he attended the Vatican Council; but for the most part his episcopate was free from incident beyond the steady growth and administration of his diocese. When he first took up his residence in the Midlands, he found the finances in a deplorable condition: he lived to see his diocese thoroughly organized, and many new missions established, as well as new communities of men, the most famous of which was Newman’s Congregation of Oratorians at Edgbaston. Oscott was at that time a mixed college, and in 1873 Bishop Ullathorne established a regular diocesan seminary—St. Bernard’s, Olton. He also devoted himself in a special manner to the convents of his diocese, in all of which he took a personal interest. One of his chief assistants was the well-known Mother Margaret Hallahan, who founded a convent of the Dominican Order at Stone, from which there were several branch houses. In 1888 Dr. Ullathorne obtained leave from the’ Holy See to resign his diocese, being given the title of Archbishop of Cabasa. He retired to Oscott College, where he died the following year on the feast of St. Benedict, and was buried at St. Dominic’s Convent, Stone.

His chief works, written during his last years, are: “Endowments of Man” (London, 1880); “Ground-work of Christian Virtues” (1882); “Christian Patience” (1886). He also published “Reply to Judge Burton on Religion in Australia” (Sydney, 1835); “La Salette” (1854); “The Immaculate Conception” (1855); “History of Restoration of English Hierarchy” (1871); “The Dollingerites” (1874); “Answer to Gladstone’s `Vatican Decrees’ (1875); and a large number of sermons, pastorals, pamphlets, etc.


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