Relatively little is known of the early life of Thaddeus McCarthy. He was born in West Cork, possibly in Carriganass or Kilbrittain, about 1455 or 1456. It is probably the case that he belonged to the sept of the McCarthy Rabhach of Carbery. His mother may have been a daughter of Edward FitzMaurice, 9th. Lord of Kerry. Laurence Rehenan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History of Maynooth College, suggests that he was educated by the Franciscan Friars of Timoleague. It would appear that Thaddeus, prior to nomination to Ross, occupied a position in one of the Roman tribunals.
Consecration as Bishop of Ross
At the age of 27 he was appointed Bishop of Ross by Pope Sixtus IV. On May 3, 1482 Thaddeus was consecrated in the Church of Santo Stefano del Cacco in Rome. The consecrating Prelate was Stephen Teglatius (or de Taleazis), Archbishop of Antivari (the modern Bar), assisted by Daniel, Bishop of Rhosus in Cilicia, and by Julianus de Matheis (or de Maffei de Vulterris), Bishop of Bertinori.
When he returned to Munster he discovered that the see was already in the possession of Hugh O'Driscoll, who had been appointed to the see in 1473 by the same Pope Sixtus. Bishop O'Driscoll assumed Thaddeus was an imposter and complained to Rome. In 1483 Sixtus excommunicated Thaddeus.
Thaddeus assumed the excommunication to be a forgery and refused to accept it. Thaddeus, like many of the McCarthys, was a formidable man. He decided that he would make a personal walking pilgrimage to the Pope in Rome to plead his case and, having sailed to France, he did so, gathering support along the way. He was, by all accounts, a tall gaunt ascetic man with blue eyes and a silvery beard and he had a presence about him. Having walked for months, eating and sleeping in abbeys along the way, he eventually arrived in Rome, secured an audience with His Holiness.
In 1488 Pope Innocent VIII confirmed the excommunication, at which time Thaddeus appealed the decision and a commission was set up. The commission found in his favour, and the excommunication was nullified. He was then appointed Bishop of Cork and Cloyne on April 21, 1490.
Bishop of Cork and Cloyne
Returning to Munster, Thaddeus found that Gerald FitzGerald had usurped the Diocese of Cork and Cloyne with support from local rulers. Thaddeus returned to Rome, where he obtained the excommunication of FitzGerald.
However, on his return trip he fell ill and died in Ivrea, Piedmont. The local bishop had a saintly vision of Thaddeus at the moment of his death. He was buried in the Ivrea cathedral and many miracles have been attributed to him there. In 1742, when his tomb was opened, the body was found to be perfectly preserved. Pope Leo XIII confirmed the immemorial cult of the Blessed Thaddeus in 1896.
- L. Lainé, Généalogie de la Maison de McCarthy, Paris 1839
- M. Brady, Episcopal Succession, Vol. II, Rome 1876
- Canon Vaudagnotti,Vita del Cardinale Richelmy, Ivrea 1896
- Giovanni Saroglia, Il Beato Taddeo Macar, Vescovo Irlandese, Ivrea
- F. Hurley, Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy in Journal of the Cork Archeological and Historical Society, 1897, pp. 94-100
- M. Kiely, Episcopal Succession in Cork and Cloyne in the Fifteenth Century, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 1932, pp. 124-125
- Les Pères Bénédictins de Paris, Vies des Saints et Bienhereux, Paris 1952
- A. Tommasini, Irish Saints in Italy, London 1937
- Sr. A. Bolster, History of the Diocese of Cork, Cork 1972
- J. O'Brien, The Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy, in Pobal Dé: Cloyne Diocesan Magazine, vol. 16 (1992), pp.14-15
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