Parish Of Birth
Bishop : 1648 – 1662
Vicar Apostolic : 1620
An Exiled Cork Bishop, Dr. Robert Barry, 1588-1662 A.D.
[This article was published in The Fold magazine, December 1960.]
Dr. Robert Barry, Bishop of the united dioceses of Cork and Cloyne, was born in the diocese of Cloyne A.D. 1588. His early studies were made with the Jesuit Fathers in their college at Bordeaux, but we have no evidence that might enable us to fix the place of his theological training. He would seem to have returned to Ireland immediately after his ordination, when he became chaplain to the Countess of Ormond, and in this position did good service to the cause of religion.
Fr. Barry worked in various places in England and in Ireland, and it would appear that Archbishop Rinuccini noticed his zeal and earnestness and arranged to have him appointed at the early age of 32 to be Vicar Apostolic of Cork and Ross.
A ZEALOUS BISHOP
While holding this position he did excellent work for the Confederate Catholics, and through the influence of the Apostolic Nuncio, Rinuccini, he was promoted to the united sees of Cork and Cloyne in 1648.
His zeal in his new office justified the choice of the Holy See, his labours were multiplied, and at the constant risk of his life he discharged the duties of the pastoral office. The vigilance of the enemies of the faith was at that time almost impossible to evade; but, disguised, the Bishop lived with his people, held his pastoral visitation, confirmed the persecuted flock by his example, and consoled them by the ministry of the sacraments.
This successful defiance of the law made him a marked man among the many who fought the good fight at that time, and he was signalled out for especially harsh treatment. The permission given to others to leave the country was withdrawn from him and he was compelled to hide in various places in order to escape the fury of the Cromwellian officials. At length he found means to leave Ireland and turned for a place of refuge to the shores of Brittany.
He arrived in St. Malo during the residence there of Dr. Comerford, Bishop of Waterford, and having in vain waited for signs of better times at home, he came to Nantes in 1652.
His life here was a fitting sequel to his record at home. Of him it may be truly said that having crossed the seas he changed only his climate. It is really pleasant to read of his life in Nantes; he was received by bishops and people with hospitality similar to that which greeted the Bishop of Waterford, Dr. Comerford, but he was happier in that God gave him some years of further life, which were consecrated to the paying off of the debt he owed to Catholic Brittany.
HIS WORK IN NANTES
The Bishop of Nantes at this time was Gabriel de Beauveau, who exhausted every means within his power to honour his persecuted brother. Dr. Barry practically became coadjutor of the diocese, but in the midst of these new duties he never forgot his own people, and administered his diocese through his vicars. His correspondence with them is said to have been frequent, and while we have not at hand any extracts from his letters, his active and apostolic character makes it easy to believe with what zeal and pastoral charity he provided for the spiritual good of the flock.
But the end came very soon to this double ministry. Consumed by the labours of his early career, and worn out by the fatigues and hardships of his life as a bishop, he died at Nantes on Friday, July 7th, 1662. He was buried in the Cathedral and lies beside his friend and brother exile, Bishop Comerford of Waterford.
DEVOTION TO THE MOTHER OF MERCY
A lasting monument to the piety and zeal of Dr. Barry remains to this day in the devotion to the Mother of Mercy, which is one of the most popular religious exercises of the city of Nantes. Devotion to Our Lady of Mercy had been of long standing already in the city of Nantes when Bishop Barry arrived, but the foundation of the novena in honour of the Mother of Mercy dates most probably form the year 1654 when Dr. Barry had already begun his apostolic labours in the diocese.
Through his initiative, the Chapel of the Madonna in the parish of St. Similien was renovated and restored to more than its ancient splendour, and it soon became the centre of a movement, which affected every section of the people. The novena now takes place in the magnificent new Church of St. Similien.
The arms of the Bishop of Cork are worked into the stain-glass windows above the altar of the Mother of Mercy, thus reminding the faithful of a great Bishop of Cork.
Date Of Death
Place Of Death
Place Of Burial
Cathedral vault, Nantes