Cleary, James Vincent (1828–98), catholic archbishop and educator, was born 18 September 1828 in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, the son of Thomas Cleary and his wife Margaret O'Brien. Educated locally, at the age of fifteen he went to Rome to begin studies for the priesthood. Returning to Ireland in 1845, he entered St Patrick's College, Maynooth, was ordained in September 1852, and then travelled to Spain to study at Salamanca University. On his return to Ireland he became professor of dogmatic theology at St John's College, Waterford (1954–73) and served as college president (1873–80). He was awarded, under papal charter, the Catholic University of Ireland's first theology degree when he graduated DD in 1862. In 1876 he was appointed vicar general of Waterford and parish priest of his home town of Dungarvan.
In April 1881 he was appointed bishop of Kingston, in Ontario, Canada. There was initially some opposition to his appointment as there were several local candidates for the position. He showed himself to be a great organiser, and set about reducing the diocesan debt while also initiating a programme of church building. Under his direction a new chapel was added to St Mary's Cathedral in Kingston. New stained glass windows were also commissioned for the cathedral, made to Cleary's own design. They have been described as being some of the finest works of stained glass in Canada. Education was one of his major concerns and he frequently clashed with both politicians and the academic staff at Queen's College, Kingston, on aspects of education policy. His greatest educational achievement was the re-opening of Regiopolis College, a catholic seminary and classical school, in September 1896. The original college had closed in 1869 and its charter had been defunct. In July 1889 the ecclesiastical province of Kingston was created and, in recognition of his abilities and achievements, Cleary became its first archbishop.
He maintained his links with Ireland and was a leading figure in the Irish Canadian community. Committed to the cause of home rule for Ireland, he assisted the Irish MP Edward Blake (qv) in fund-raising activities in 1894. In later years Cleary's health declined and he died 24 February 1898 at Kingston. An impressive crowd of clerical and civic dignitaries attended his requiem mass after which he was interred in the St James Chapel of St Mary's Cathedral, Kingston. A large collection of his papers is held in the archives of the archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario.