Patrician Year (1961): Bl. John XXIII’s Letter to the Irish Hierarchy

To Our Beloved Son
John Cardinal D’Alton
Archbishop of Armagh
And to Our Venerable Brothers
The Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland

Beloved Son and Venerable Brothers, Health and Apostolic Benediction.

Holy Church, founded by Christ Jesus to free mankind from death, shines throughout the world by her sanctity, is nourished by grace, lives by truth and, in the words of Saint Irenaeus, “as the sun, God’s creature, is one and the same in the whole world, so the light, which the preaching of truth is, shines forth in every place and enlightens all men” (Adv. Haer. 1, 10, 2; MG f. 552). This preaching of truth, Beloved Son and Venerable Brothers, is a special glory of your country — for through the centuries its distinguishing mark has always been: “peregrinari pro Christo”. Irish priests and religious, as is well known, from the coming of the Gospel message to their land, spurred on by the splendid example of Saint Patrick, your illustrious Father and Apostle, went forth and made their way through many European lands to bring them the flame of faith and an unconquerable zeal in winning souls for Christ.

The genius of your nation has won for the Church in Ireland imperishable renown and admiration among the many peoples who owe their Christian origin and development to the burning love of Irish Apostles and to their active priestly ministry. These Catholic people in themselves are a manifest and an eloquent testimony to Catholic Ireland’s missionary character; they show it forth to the whole world and add splendour to its titles to glory.

Were We to trace the source of this great tradition which you have inherited, it would assuredly be found to be in the realisation of the duties which flow from being members of Christ’s Mystical Body. Let therefore the expression of gratitude of the Catholic world and especially of this Apostolic See be a most fitting tribute of praise to you.

We well know the dedication and devotion with which to this very day Orders and Religious Societies in Ireland vie with one another in exemplary Christian charity in going forth to meet the needs in a great variety of countries and so much so that from everywhere your priests are called to go and exercise there their sacred ministry.

So varied and such great apostolic undertakings give Us special solace and joy in Our daily care of all the Churches. With this realisation to comfort Us, We wish by this Letter to confide to you the distress and anxiety We feel when We survey the exceptionally grave and difficult circumstances of the priestly ministry in Latin America and to request your care and help to meet them.

You are familiar with the many and various causes which, notwithstanding the wide diffusion of the Catholic faith and its deep roots in the countries of that continent, have left the framework of ecclesiastical life unequal to the demands of the apostolate today. You are aware in particular of the great shortage of priests to minister to the faithful.

All these facts are common knowledge. But there is there the further consideration of an increasing population due to a high birth-rate and a rising rate of immigration. The problems resulting from this rapid growth in population and the social changes taking place day by day are obvious. They must be met without delay lest any means of helping such vast numbers of the faithful be lost.

In these anxieties and difficulties We are greatly comforted by a consoling thought which, like the dawn, can be the herald of better times. We like to think, in fact, of the source of energy and growth which the Universal Church will assuredly come to enjoy from the development of the resources abounding in that Catholic land and giving a sure promise of rich harvest.

These reasons explain the constant and exceptional care which We devote to the religious needs of Latin America, as did Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Pius XII. As proof of this solicitude We may mention the appointment of the Latin American Episcopal Committee and the establishment in Rome of a Commission having as its chief object the promotion, the fostering and the regulation of measures aiming at the speedy solution of this problem.

The repeated exhortations of the Holy See in Letters and Discourses have met with a filial, loyal and zealous response not only from the Religious Orders and Societies but also from the hierarchies of countries in a position to render assistance, such as Spain, Belgium, Canada and the United States of America.

In this connection We like to think of the zealous Society of Saint Columban which, established with the encouragement and active co-operation of the Irish Bishops, blossomed forth, like a fragrant flower, from the National Seminary of Maynooth and its devoted charity. For it extends its spiritual solicitude also to various Latin American countries such as Argentina, Peru and Chile. There its members lend their aid to local bishops and priests, to the great benefit of souls.

We so highly esteem and praise the work of this Society that it is Our earnest desire that its activities may continue to increase and be enriched by the accession of new strength. This may be achieved by increasing the numbers of students joining the society and by Irish diocesan priests volunteering to work in those countries for a fixed period of time or for life, under its direction.

We think, therefore, that it would be of great benefit if necessary powers and faculties be given to this Society to recruit, to send to Latin America and help in every way those priests who have duly secured permission both from their own bishop and from the bishop of the diocese to which they are going.

Wherefore, Venerable Brothers of the Irish Hierarchy, who have always excelled in the furtherance of sacred causes and who assuredly are concerned with the grave need about which We have written to you, We confidently trust that you will show every favour to the priests who desire to undertake this work and grant them permission to devote themselves to it.

Whatever other methods and measures you in your wisdom and counsel may deem best suited to meet Our urgent appeal, you will have yourselves, I have no doubt, discover and happily bring to fruition.

That Almighty God “without Whom there is nothing strong, nothing holy”, may favour your deliberations, further your undertakings and bless them with abundant fruit, We loving impart Our Apostolic Benediction to you, to the Irish clergy, who are a shining example of virtue, and to the faithful committed to your care.

Given at Rome, in Saint Peter’s on the fourteenth day of December, 1960, in the third year of Our Pontificate.


Posted on March 23, 2011, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Bishop Con Lucey, Bishop Michael Browne, Cardinal John D'Alton, Cardinal William Conway, Conversion, Irish History, John XXIII, Missionaries, Papacy, Patrician Year (1961), Persecution, Pius XII, St. Patrick. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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