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Obituary of Bishop Cornelius Lucey (1902-1982)

Website of Diocese of Cork and Ross

Bishop Cornelius Lucey 1902-1982
Born: July 15, 1902, in Ballincollig, Near Cork City;
Education: St. Finbarr's, Farranferris, Maynooth (BD and BCL);

Ordained: Priest June 19, 1927, for Cork; post grad. Studies at Innsbruck taking Ph.D. 1927-1929, MA at UCD 1930;
Appointments: staff of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, chair of Philosophy and Political Theory 1929-1950; became a recognised authority in Ireland and Britain on social questions and lectured in USA; was one of the founders of the Christus Rex Society (1941) of priests for the study of social issues and was joint editor of its journal Christus Rex; was a regular contributor to Irish Ecclesiastical Record and served on a government commission on population and emigration; apptd. Tit. Bp. of Sila and Coadjutor Bp. of Cork with right of succession, Nov. 1950;

Ordained Bishop. Jan. 14, 1951, at Maynooth; succeeded to See Aug. 24, 1952 on Bp. Cohalan's death at the age of 96; named Apostolic Adm. Of Ross, Feb. 20, 1954 and Bp. April 19, 1958.
Motto: Assumpta Est Maria.

Retired Aug. 23, 1980, volunteered to work in Kenya where he spent his retirement;
Died Sept. 24, 1982, Cork;
Buried in precincts St. Mary's Cathedral, Cork.

The diocese of Cork which Bishop Lucey inherited was growing in population, and particularly around Cork City. It is the third largest diocese in Ireland (after Dublin and Down and Connor). The rapid growth of Cork City imposed heavy demands on the diocese. An extensive building programme of churches and schools was undertaken in the city's expanding suburbs. In the city suburbs, a "Rosary" of churches was built in the first five years of his episcopate.

There had been frequent requests from priests and people of Ross diocese for its restoration as an independent unit and Bishop Lucey retained an open mind on this. He indicated in 1976 that the question was really one of population - Ross having 20,000 Catholics was the smallest diocese in Ireland (Achonry was the next smallest with 37,000). Ross had gone out of existence several times in the past as a separate diocese and had been restored again. It was not inconceivable, he maintained, that the population would rise again - through a big oil find off the Cork coast, for example - and he indicated that such a change would be favourable to yet another restoration of Ross as a separate diocese with its own Bishop.

In the late 1970s, the two dioceses had 52 parishes, 185 diocesan priests, 130 regular priests, 50 senior seminarians, 925 Sisters and 301 schools and colleges.

In response to the call of Pope John XXIII for assistance to the Church in Latin America, the Diocese of Cork and Ross opened a new mission in the shanty-town suburb of Trujillo, on the coast of Peru on St. Patrick's Day, 1965.

In 1965, the area had a population of 50,000 but growing at the rate of about 10,000 a year, reaching about 160,000 before 1980. In all but the strictly legal sense, it became part of the Diocese of Cork and Ross and administered from Cork. The parishes were served by Cork and Ross priests. In addition, Irish Mercy and Bon Secours Sisters established communities on the mission. (The diocese decided in 2003 to end this commitment of personnel in March 2004.)

Bishop Lucey got the reputation of being one of Ireland's most outspoken churchmen and refused to be disturbed by controversy. He once said: "I am not surprised or upset when people are against me. Sometimes, things are got all wrong and it is not right that people should be misled."

He refused to define his views as conservative or liberal. "I don't care what labels are put on me, I say what I think."

He spoke out on many aspects of the faith and always took a strong line in defence of Catholic orthodoxy. He maintained that Catholics have no right to disagree with the Church on matters of faith and morals but they have such a right on other matters.

Bishop Lucey's Confirmation ceremonies frequently provided a platform for his statements. Apart from matters of faith and morals, the themes he took up in his public statements were varied: the constitution of the state, the defence of the small farmer, alcoholism, emigration, depopulation of rural areas and many others. He always had an interest in social questions and was a co-founder and one-time President of Christus Rex, the Catholic and social study group.

Though he often cut a stern figure outside his diocese, he was regarded with genuine affection by the ordinary people of Cork, and the people of Cork were closest to his own heart. He led a very busy life, administering his large diocese from his home close to the diocesan seminary in Farranferris. What spare time he allowed himself was spent in reading, gardening, his favourite hobby - beekeeping - and attending hurling matches.

Bishop Lucey retired on August 23, 1980, and shortly afterwards volunteered to work in Kenya. In the June-July 81 issue of Africa, he wrote on "Why I left Cork for Turkana" and very humbly said:

"Behind my decision to come here as a missionary was the desire to make reparation for my sins while I still had the time. Not that I have been all that bad a sinner at any time in my life, I think. But that I haven't been as good as I could be or even as I should be - far, far from it. And that despite the fact that success and promotion came so easily my way in school, in Maynooth, in the priesthood. Each time at Mass, I too have to confess, "that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do". From him to whom much is given much is expected. What could be fairer? So if we fail to use our talents, or the position we hold and ever so much the more, if we use them wrongly - then we have much to answer for. What better way of escaping punishment in the next life than by punishing ourselves in this life, and doing so expressly to have that much less against us on the Day of Judgement. To do penance - that for me was another reason for not relaxing comfortably at home but opting instead for the Turkana Desert."

Father James Good wrote in the Christmas 1981 issue of Daystar in Africa, published by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa on "Bishop Lucey in the Turkana Desert".

Canon Denis O'Connor, then PP of Farranree, Co. Cork, and former Administrator of St. Mary's Cathedral, Cork, provided a full and interesting new picture of Bishop Lucey in Intercom. Among other things he says:

"Typical of Bishop Lucey's logical approach, he took a long penetrating look at the needs of the diocese and the times in which he found himself. He saw the need for new churches and schools for the growing and spreading population of Cork city. With truly great faith and courage, he launched his rosary of churches and schools in a city of economic doldrums. Nor did he concentrate on the city to the detriment of more remote country areas. In fact, the very first church opened and blessed by Dr. Lucey was at Dromore in West Cork in May 1955. To assist parishioners faced with the cost of these buildings (eighteen new churches in all) he launched his Church Building Fund, which assisted by way of grants and low interest loans.

"His Confirmation tours were occasions for expressing himself on all sorts of moral and social problems, but relevant to the lives of his people.

"Not everybody cheered the points he made, but for all they were compulsive reading, deep truths, simply put in impeccable English. All his sermons and public addresses were written out by himself beforehand and every one contained something fresh and worthwhile; on occasion this meant as many as four in one day. He was criticised of course, sometimes unjustly. He accepted this and made no attempt to retaliate or justify what he had said, let who will accept it. Nor did he worry. 'I do my best, and leave the rest to God'. He founded St. Anne's Adoption Society in 1954, giving practical expression to his deep commitment to the idea of adoption and his concern for the unmarried mother. He personally chaired every meeting of the Society from its foundation right up to resignation in 1980. He saw the work of the Credit Union in the U.S.A. and inspired the foundation of the first unit of its kind in the South of Ireland at Ballyphehane.

He undertook responsibility for the administration of the Diocese of Ross in 1954.

In his travels abroad, Dr. Lucey met and was much admired by Cardinal (Richard) Cushing of Boston. The Cardinal was a generous benefactor of the Church of the Resurrection in this (Cork) city. Archbishop Cushing had founded St. James' Missionary Society to cater for the needs of the South American Mission in particular. Dr. Lucey had offered to help and asked for volunteers from Cork. Father Michael Murphy (later Bishop of Cork and Ross), Father Michael Crowley, and the late Father Paddy Leader were the first to go and left for Lima in July 1961.

Bishop Lucey was a man of quite extraordinary sensitivity to life. Yet his seminary training, and his life later as professor and bishop made him appear cold and detached, and very inhibited in expressing appreciation or affection. He reserved for his death-bed the free expression of his feelings with these lasts; "I love God; I love the priests; I love the people".

Nothing in his life became him more than his leaving it. His final parting with relatives and friends was lonely. It has to be when friendship is real. He was extraordinary alert, and charted step by step the final lowering of the curtain of his life. He accepted fully the will of God, thanked him for his life, humbly asked pardon for his faults, and had no doubts about the reality of life hereafter."