Browne, Michael John (1895–1980), catholic bishop of Galway, was born 20 December 1895 in Westport, Co. Mayo, fifth child of Michael Browne, draper, and Elizabeth Browne (née Higgins). Educated at CBS Westport, St Jarlath's College, Tuam, and St Patrick's College, Maynooth, he graduated BA from the NUI (1916), was ordained (1920), and completed a doctorate in divinity in Rome (1921). Returning to Ireland, he was appointed professor of moral theology and canon law at Maynooth. During his time at the college he was awarded a doctorate in canon law (1924), became secretary of the Maynooth Union (1929–37), and from 1934 to 1976 was a member of the NUI senate. He wrote prolifically throughout his life, publishing mainly in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record; some of his work proved influential in the drafting of the 1937 constitution.
On 10 October 1937 he was consecrated bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora, becoming, at 41, the youngest bishop in the country. An energetic builder, he oversaw the construction of thirty churches and sixty schools and the creation of eight new parishes. He also commissioned a new cathedral for the city of Galway, which opened (1966) to widespread criticism of its neo-gothic style, and which became popularly known as ‘Taj Micheáil’. Although a powerful force in educational developments during the 1940s and 1950s, he is best remembered as a controversial and outspoken bishop, whose pronouncements gave an exaggerated impression of the hierarchy's conservatism. Throughout his career he embroiled himself in several public disputes. As chairman of the commission on vocational organisation he clashed openly with Seán Lemass (qv), minister for industry and commerce, after the commission's report was published in 1943, and disagreed vehemently with J. J. McElligott (qv), secretary of the Department of Finance, over the centralisation of government power. In 1950–51, as a member of the hierarchy's committee assembled to discuss the ‘mother and child’ scheme with the minister for health, Dr Noel Browne (qv), he asserted the episcopal position actively and cogently. He objected to the foundation of the Agricultural Institute in 1955, decrying state interference in third-level education. He endorsed a catholic boycott of protestant businesses in Fethard-on-Sea, Co. Wexford, in 1957, for which he was rebuked by Eamon de Valera (qv), despite being a lifelong supporter of the Fianna Fáil leader. In 1965 he obliquely criticised Irish support for UN intervention in the Congo, and publicly attacked the minister for education, George Colley (qv), and questioned his educational qualifications, incensed by his intention to amalgamate small rural schools. In 1968 he dismissed the Department of Education's study Investment in education as communist in tone, and condemned TCD as ‘a centre for atheist and communist propaganda’. He also reproached RTÉ for its method of selecting priests to appear in broadcasts.
Although he viewed the church as the main bulwark against totalitarianism and communism, he believed he had a duty to control his parishioners and regulate their lives, especially their recreation. During the 1950s he reinforced the sexual segregation of Galway's beaches, and in the early 1960s he requested the women of Galway to temper their attire. His episcopal signature – ‘Michael’ following the sign of the cross – earned him the nickname ‘Cross Michael’ because of his abrasive manner. His candour earned him positions on several episcopal committees, including those on adoption and the 1953 health bill. He was also chosen alongside Cardinal William Conway (qv) to represent Irish bishops at the world synod of bishops in Rome in 1967, 1969, and 1971. Undeterred by unpopularity, he lent his support to the travelling community, offering land around the bishop's palace to Galway corporation for use as a halting site. A member of the governing body of UCG, he received an honorary doctorate from the NUI in 1971. On 20 August 1973 he received the freedom of the city of Galway. In July 1976 he retired and was succeeded by Bishop Eamon Casey. Browne was accorded a special private audience with the pope on his visit to Ireland in September 1979. He died 23 February 1980 at his home in Galway, and was buried in the crypt of the cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas, Galway.