Saint Malachy (1094 – 2 November 1148) was an Irish saint and Archbishop of Armagh, to whom were attributed several miracles and an alleged vision of 112 Popes later attributed to the apocalyptic list of Prophecy of the Popes. He was the first Irish saint to be canonised by Pope Clement III in 1199.
Malachy, whose family name was Ua Morgair, was born in Armagh in 1094. St. Bernard describes him as having noble birth. He was baptised Máel Máedóc (English: Malachy) and was trained under Imhar O’Hagan, subsequently Abbot of Armagh. After a long course of studies he was ordained priest by St Cellach (Celsus) in 1119. To perfect himself in sacred liturgy and theology, he proceeded to Lismore, where he spent nearly two years under St Malchus. He was then chosen Abbot of Bangor, in 1123. A year later, he was consecrated Bishop of Down and Connor, and, in 1132, he was promoted to the primacy of Armagh.
St Bernard gives us many interesting anecdotes regarding St Malachy, and highly praises his zeal for religion both in Connor and Armagh. In 1127 he paid a second visit to Lismore and acted for a time as confessor to Cormac MacCarthy, Prince of Desmond. While Bishop of Down and Connor, he continued to reside at Bangor, and when some of the native princes sacked the two dioceses of Down and Connor, he brought the Bangor monks to Iveragh,County Kerry, where they were welcomed by now King Cormac. On the death of St Celsus (who was buried at Lismore in 1129), St Malachy was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, 1132, which dignity he accepted with great reluctance. Owing to intrigues, he was unable to take possession of his See for two years; even then he had to purchase the Bachal Isu (Staff of Jesus) from Niall, the usurping lay-primate.
The influence of St Malachy in Irish ecclesiastical affairs has been compared with that of Boniface in Germany. He reformed and reorganised the Irish Church and brought it more closely into the liturgical practices then being actively pursued in Rome as a result of the reforms begun under Pope Gregory VII, the Saintly Hildebrand; like Boniface, he was a zealous reformer and a promoter of monasticism.
During three years at Armagh, as Bernard of Clairvaux writes, St Malachy restored the discipline of the Church, grown lax during the intruded rule of a series of lay-abbots, and had the Roman Liturgy adopted. St Bernard continues: Having extirpated barbarism and re-established Christian morals, seeing all things tranquil he began to think of his own peace. He therefore resigned the Sees of Armagh and Connor, in 1136 or 1137, but retained as Bishop of Down. He founded a priory of Austin Canons at Downpatrick, and was unceasing in his episcopal labours. Early in 1139 he journeyed to Rome, via Scotland, England, and France, visiting St Bernardat Clairvaux. He petitioned Pope Innocent II for pallia for the Sees of Armagh and Cashel, and was appointed legate for Ireland. On his return visit to Clairvaux he obtained five monks for a foundation in Ireland, under Christian, an Irishman, as superior: thus arose the great Abbey of Mellifont in 1142. St Malachy set out on a second journey to Rome in 1148, but on arriving at Clairvaux he fell sick, and died in the arms of St Bernard, on 2 November 1148.
St Malachy’s feast is celebrated on 3 November, so it won’t clash with All Souls Day. He is Patron Saint of theArchdiocese of Armagh and the Diocese of Down and Connor. Saint Malachy’s Church, Belfast was intended to be the Cathedral Church of Down and Connor dedicated in honour of the Diocesan Patron. However, the Irish Famine broke out and the grand plans for the Saint Malachy’s Cathedral were shelved in order to divert funds to the needy.