Bishop John MacEvilly (1816-1902), Louisburgh in Co. Mayo
John MacEvilly, one of Louisburgh's most famous and respected sons was born in Bunowen, Louisburgh on April 15th, 1816. His parents William and Sarah belonged to the farming classes and they had eight children; five sons and three daughters. John received his secondary school education in St Jarlaths College, Tuam, and from there he went on to Maynooth College and was ordained in 1840. His brother Jeremiah also studied in Maynooth and was ordained in 1853.
John entered Maynooth in 1833. He was a diligent student and was selected to attend a school in Dunboyne, which was solely for highly successful academics. He was ordained in 1840 by Archbishop Murray of Dublin and was appointed professor of Scripture and Hebrew at St Jarlaths College in 1842 by Archbishop John Mac Hale.
The clergy at this time were heavily involved in the politics of the day, and throughout MacEvilly's youth, Daniel O Connell was the leading figure in the movement for Catholic emancipation. He had a strong influence on the early political views of MacEvilly who, like most of the clergy was a member of The Repeal Association which sought the repeal of the Act of Union.
In 1843 it appeared the Repeal Association would achieve its goal and leave the union, however strong opposition and the onset of the famine were obstacles too large to overcome. MacEvilly witnessed the worst of the famine and his energies were spent trying to organise relief for the starving destitute. Daniel O Connell died in 1847 and the repeal movement was gradually replaced by the Tenant League. Mac Evilly was involved in the formation of the Tenant Protection Society at Tuam in 1850.
In the same year Mac Evilly was involved in a Synod, where he met Paul Cullen, who would later exert great influence over John. Paul Cullen became very powerful within the church and had MacEvilly's unquestioned loyalty throughout.
Archbishop MacHale appointed MacEvilly president of St Jarlath's in 1852 a post that directly involved the holder in local politics. In January 1854 he was one of the principal speakers at a banquet in Tuam to honour the leaders of The Tenant League. In his speech he defended his own position in politics and the principal of independent opposition.
In 1856 MacEvilly had his commentary on the Epistles of St Paul published, the first of many such publications. By 1857 he had established his friendship with Paul Cullen who was instrumental in his appointment as the Bishop of Galway in 1857 at the age of thirty-nine.
In appearance MacEvilly was a strong well-built man, extremely hard working and he appears to have been a stern and uncompromising member of the clergy who expected total obedience from his priests. As he got older, though still involved in the politics of the day his views changed somewhat and he thought less of independent opposition and more of complete obedience to the church.
He maintained his involvement in the land question and spoke on it just four months before his death in 1902 at the age of 86.
By Bernie O'Malley