Lucey, Cornelius (1902–82), catholic bishop of Cork, was born 15 July 1902 at the family farm at Ballincollig in the parish of Ballinora, near Cork city, youngest among six children of Cornelius Lucey, farmer, and Mary Lucey (née Lynch). Following his initial education in the local national school, he studied at the Presentation Brothers’ College in Cork, at St Finbarr's, Farranferris, and at Maynooth College, where he graduated with a BA in 1927, the same year in which he was ordained a priest. He studied (1927–9) at Innsbruck University, Austria, where he received his doctorate in theology, and graduated MA (1930) at UCD, where he was later to lecture in the extramural course in social ethics. He held the chair of philosophy and political theory at Maynooth from 1929 to 1950, when he was appointed coadjutor to the bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan (qv).
Lucey was ordained bishop of Cork in January 1951, and subsequently bishop of Ross (1958). He quickly became a highly vocal member of the hierarchy and had forthright views on virtually everything. Along with Bishop Michael Browne (qv) of Galway, he became one of the most outspoken defenders of catholic social theory, expressing views on a variety of public affairs, and his sermons (particularly at confirmation services) became renowned for their staunch defence of traditional catholic teaching. Maintaining that catholics had no right to disagree with the church on matters of faith and morals, he also frequently sermonised on issues such as politics and the constitution of the state, the plight of small farmers, government economic policies, emigration, smoking, gambling, alcoholism, and industrial affairs. Although a man of some sensitivity, he frequently came across as stern and removed. However, it would be simplistic to stereotype him as a myopic authoritarian. An independent thinker, he cared little for labels, and rarely responded when criticised. He had little time for those who believed that independent Ireland could afford to bask in the glory of its fight for freedom, and many of his beliefs could be summed up in his statement that ‘it was a misguided idealism to be prepared to die for one's country, but not to live for it, or to work for it, or to make it a better place for more to settle down in’ (Canning, 257). This explained why he spoke out so strongly against emigration, which he felt was more reprehensible and unnatural than partition.
When the government was contemplating reform of the health services in the 1940s and early 1950s, Lucey not only warned that mother-and-child provisions would be a service that would be used to promote birth control practice, but also castigated faceless bureaucrats for increasing state interference in family life. As a member of the hierarchy committee that challenged the government's 1953 health bill proposals, he declared that the catholic hierarchy were the final arbiters of right and wrong, even in political matters. Some compared him to the nineteenth-century archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale (qv), citing his similar fearless independence and strong defence of the interests of the provinces against the growing power of Dublin. The diocese he inherited was growing in population, particularly around Cork city, and he supervised an extensive church- and school-building programme in the first five years of his episcopate; in 1954 he visited Boston, USA, where the bulk of the money for these developments was raised. He also visited Spain to represent the hierarchy at the celebrations in honour of the national apostle of Spain, St James.
As well as being honorary secretary of the Father Mathew Union for Irish priests, he had founded (1941) the Christus Rex society for priests with Fr Peter McKevitt, professor of sociology at Maynooth, and became joint editor of its journal, and was a regular contributor to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record. Having served on the commission on emigration and other population problems (1948–54), he wrote a minority report which was a thinly veiled attack on civil servants for possessing too much power and influence over social and economic policy. As well as calling for the wholesale decentralisation of government departments, he insisted the government was not doing enough to maintain Christian standards with regard to family life, and fancifully maintained that 50,000 new farms could be created in the country if there were a more concentrated effort on dairy farming.
An advocate of adoption before the political will existed for its facilitation, and concerned with the problems facing unmarried mothers, he founded St Anne's adoption society (1954), and was also involved in the establishment and promotion of credit unions, maintaining they were the only way to stamp out the scourge of moneylenders. A promoter of temperance, he supported the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, but warned of the dangers of the association's adopting too extreme an approach, particularly with regard to those who had lapsed from their pledges. He was also a member of the hierarchy's committee that negotiated with the government regarding the intoxicating liquor bill of 1959. In the 1960s he was involved in discussions with the minister for education regarding the status of Maynooth College. As well as demanding stricter censorship laws and speaking out against land speculation, Lucey suggested that one of the difficulties facing the ecumenical movement in Ireland was the association of protestantism with eighteenth-century ascendancy and the penal laws, and that the contribution of catholics to the ecumenical movement should be to forget the past and see protestants not as descendants of landlords, but as Irishmen.
Deeply committed to the missions, Lucey was founder and superior of La Sociedad de Santa Toribio, a missionary and welfare organisation for the barriadas of Peru, and in the mid 1960s ‘adopted’ four parishes in the archdiocese of Tiujillo in Peru as extra parishes of his home diocese of Cork. Continuing to court controversy, in 1968 he barred the theologian Dr James Good from preaching in the diocese of Cork after Good had criticised the papal encyclical Humanae vitae. Good was subsequently dismissed from the chair of theology in UCC, though the two men were later reconciled. Lucey regularly spoke out against contraception, mixed marriages, and integrated schooling in the north, but admitted that if a united Ireland was realised, he would accept the legalisation of divorce and contraception in order to safeguard the civil liberties of minorities. In November 1972 he withdrew his support from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council in Cork when its medical consultant admitted that the overwhelming majority of people using the centre were seeking advice on family planning. His actions resulted in the Irish Medical Times accusing him of ‘ecclesiastical blackmail’ (Irish Times), an indication of the extent to which his views were becoming out of step with wider opinion. Lucey also refused to soften his views on mixed marriages, even after the establishment of an inter-church joint standing committee on mixed marriages (1975).
A fluent Irish speaker and keen GAA follower, Lucey had beekeeping as his other main passion; he was vice-president of the federation of beekeepers and a founder of the journal the Irish Beekeeper. Regarded with great affection in his native Cork, he received the freedom of the city in 1980. Ending a career which was marked by courage, conviction, and conservatism, Lucy volunteered to spend his retirement after 1980 doing mission work in Kenya, desiring ‘to make reparation for my sins while I still had the time, not that I have been all that bad a sinner’ (Canning, 256–7). Having contracted malaria in the Turkana desert, he died 24 September 1982 in Cork and was buried in the precincts of St Mary's cathedral, Cork.