Chennai, India, (formerly called Madras),
Since the 1640s the Catholic Church increasingly centred its focus on Madras, five kilometres from Mylapur.
Both centres had a bishop, but, with difficulties in making appointments and in that appointees often had to come from Europe, on numerous occasions there were gaps of up to three years when one centre or the other had no bishop in residence.
Antonio da Incarnacao O.S.A. was made the bishop of Fort Saint George (Madras) in 1747, and died in office in 1752.
He was replaced by Bernardo de San Caetano O.S.A., who died in 1780 and was succeeded by Manoel de Jesus Marie Jose O.S.A., a native of Goa and the prior of the Augustinian community there.
He was consecrated in 1788, and died at Saint Thomas in 1800. He was succeeded by Joaquim de Menezes e Athalde O.S.A., who was consecrated and received charge of the diocese in 1805.
But before he could travel out from Europe he was transferred to the Diocese of Funchal in Portugal.
Rome then made Fort Saint George a Vicariate of Madras on 25th April 1832. A citizen of Ireland, Daniel O'Connor O.S.A. became the first British subject to become a bishop in India.
A hasty appointment carried out in political expediency, Daniel O'Connor O.S.A. arrived on 20th August 1835, with baggage that, it was reported, contained "several thousands of books for the instruction of the ignorant."
O’Connor was born in Limerick on 6th July 1786, and entered the Augustinian novitiate at Galway in 1807. He was ordained to the priesthood on 29th June 1810, and ministered for the next twenty-one years in Cork. During that time, he had been Prior of the Augustinian community in Cork in 1823-1827
He served in the Augustinian church at Cork, and took an active part in the movement for independence of the Irish Church from restrictions by the English Parliament. In that matter, he was the member of a delegation that in April 1829 was sent to London to meet with the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel.
Upon appointment as the Vicar-Apostolic of Madras by the Holy See, he was consecrated a bishop in the Augustinian Church at Cork on 3rd August 1834. He then remained in Ireland for eight months to raise funds for the Madras mission.
He gathered over 1,600 pounds sterling, with which he paid the expenses of the voyage for ten priests and seminarians to accompany him to India, plus the several thousand books on religious education that were mentioned above.
O'Connor was the first of a series of church leaders from Ireland appointed to Madras. His successors were diocesan clergy who had been educated at Maynooth College, the Catholic seminary in Dublin that had been built with British Government assistance to provide priests for Ireland and British territories.
Almost all of these men sent from Ireland were doctors of divinity. They were socially and intellectually on an equality with the best British talent. Protestants as well as Catholics crowded to hear their sermons in churches and their lectures on scientific matters.
When Dr O'Connor first came out, he brought letters of introduction to the governor and was a guest at Government House. In 1836 the Supreme (British) Government of India appointed O’Connor as the official Superior of the Catholic Church there.
By this appointment, the colonial government required that all Catholic matters be brought to it via Bishop O’Connor; he was appointed as liaison officer for the Catholic Church with the Presidency of Madras.
He had with him a few Irish Augustinian friars, although historical details about this matter are unclear.
(Continued on the next page.)
For further Reading
A History of the Abbeys, Convents and Churches, and other Religious Houses of the Order...in Ireland. By W. J. Bathersby, Dublin: G.P. Warren, 1856.