Paul Cullen (1852 – 1878)

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Name: Cullen, Paul


Reference Code: IE/DDA/AB4
Title: Papers of Cardinal Paul Cullen
Dates: 1852-1878
Level of Description: Fonds
Extent: 128 boxes approximately


Paul Cullen was born on 27 April 1803 in Ballitore, Co. Kildare.  He attended St. Patrick’s College, Carlow and Propaganda College, Rome where he was ordained in 1829.  He was appointed Professor of SS and Hebrew at Propaganda and taught there from 1829-1832 before becoming Rector of the Irish College, Rome from 1832-1849.  On 8 January 1850 he was promoted as Archbishop of Armagh and was ordained Bishop on 24 February of that year.  He remained at Armagh until appointed to the See of Dublin on 3 May 1852.  He became Cardinal on 22 June 1866 and his motto was ‘Ponit Animam Pro Amicis’.  He died on 24 October 1878 and is buried in the grounds of Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Dublin, which he founded in 1859.


Paul Cullen was the most influential and powerful Irish ecclesiastical figure of the nineteenth century.  His position as an outstanding church figure was widely acknowledged in Rome and as recognition of this he was made Rector of the Irish College at a time when it was under threat from insurgents.  His advice was respected and many Irish bishops invited him to act as their agent in Rome.

When he was appointed to Armagh he set about reforming the Irish Church, unifying the hierarchy and reinforcing the authority of Rome.  To do this he summonsed the hierarchy to a Synod in Thurles in 1850.  The end result was to bring the Irish Church into line with Rome.  These included rules relating to the celebration of Mass, the administration of the sacraments and the maintenance of registers and archives.  Measures to counter proselytising were introduced.

Cullen was also a supporter of the National School issue and he proposed using the Board of Education to implement reforms to meet the requirements of Catholic children.  Not all Irish bishops agreed with him and one of his greatest critics was Archbishop MacHale of Tuam.    Cullen promoted and fostered the introduction of religious orders into the country and promoted those already in existence.  He was also eager to provide a Catholic alternative to the ‘Queen’s Colleges’ which had been branded ‘godless’ by Rome.  He spent much time in developing the idea of a Catholic University which proved to be contentious, expensive and ultimately a failure.

He was a very strong advocate for the relief of the poor and embarked on a policy of social, educational and medical relief.  He made many submissions to Government Commissions on these topics.  After a series of disastrous harvest in the 1860s, he founded, with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Mansion House Relief Committee in 1862.

He had a strong dislike of secret societies and waged a public campaign against the Young Irelanders, Fenians and Fenianism.  He saw them as enemies of Ireland.  He believed that constitutional means were the best way of having a ‘free Ireland’.  He defended the rights of tenants and was a champion of poor house-reform and an advocate of Industrial Schools.  He gave testimony before both the Poor Law Commission in 1861 and the Powis Commission in 1869 which led to reform in both systems.

Cullen wrote many pastorals and was very aware of his duties to his local diocese.  He participated in a full programme of diocesan visitations, examined candidates for Confirmation, delivered Charity Sermons, visited hospitals, schools, orphanages, convents and other institutions.

His surviving papers reflect the various aspects of his life and are chiefly made up of correspondence between the Holy See, Irish and Foreign Bishops, Diocesan and Religious Priests, Nuns and Laity.  The papers are in date order.


Access: Available by appointment only
Language: English, Latin, occasional Italian
Finding Aid: Descriptive Catalogue

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