McQuaid, John Charles (1895–1973), catholic archbishop of Dublin, was born 28 July 1895 in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, second child and only son of Dr Eugene McQuaid and his wife Jane (née Corry), who married in 1893. Jane McQuaid died within a month of her son's death and her widower remarried the following year. By his second wife, Agnes (née Mayne), he had four more children. Dr McQuaid was the assistant medical officer for the district and the registrar of births, deaths and marriages. There was a strong medical tradition in the family: Dr McQuaid's brother was a doctor, his daughter Helen became a doctor, and so did one of his sons by his second marriage.
Education, teaching, and public affairs
John Charles McQuaid was educated at St Patrick's College, Cavan, and later at Blackrock College in Dublin and Clongowes in Co. Kildare, where one of his teachers was Joseph P. Walshe (qv), later the first, long-serving secretary of the Department of External Affairs. McQuaid entered the Holy Ghost noviciate at Kimmage Manor in 1913 and was professed in 1914. Although the Holy Ghost Order was a missionary order, McQuaid never worked on the missions. While at Kimmage Manor he studied at UCD, from where he graduated (1917) with first-class honours in ancient classics. The following year he was awarded a first-class honours MA and also studied for the higher diploma in education. He then went to Rome, where he took a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University. He was ordained in 1924 and had just started further postgraduate studies in oriental languages when he was recalled to Blackrock in November 1925 to become dean of studies. In 1931 he became president of Blackrock, a post he held until 1939. He was also elected chairman of the Catholic Headmasters’ Association and remained in that post until 1940.
He was a popular teacher at Blackrock and had the reputation of being strict but fair. His classes were long remembered by former pupils, in whom McQuaid tried to imbue not only his love of classics and the English language but also an understanding of the visual arts. With his senior students he combined the teaching of film appreciation with his teaching of English literature. He took a keen interest in literature, music, drama, film, and art, and when later, as archbishop, he spoke on these subjects, he usually did so knowledgeably, unlike some members of the hierarchy. In 1945 he founded Our Lady's Choral Society which, unlike the Palestrina Choir at the pro-cathedral, accepted women. In the visual arts, even before he became archbishop, he was a patron of the stained-glass artists Michael Healy (qv), Evie Hone (qv), and Mainie Jellett (qv); Healy designed two fine windows for the Blackrock College chapel. When McQuaid was consulted about commissioning an artist to replace the great stained-glass windows at Eton College, he recommended Hone, which led to one of her finest works.
McQuaid was a long-standing friend and neighbour of the de Valera family. Éamon de Valera (qv) was a former pupil of Blackrock College, and his sons also attended the school. In 1936–7 McQuaid tendered advice to de Valera, who was then president of the executive council, when the 1937 constitution was being drafted. The nature of this advice has been a matter of some controversy, but the evidence from the de Valera and McQuaid papers illustrates both the extent and the limits of McQuaid's contribution. His involvement in the drafting process was initially informal but then became more engaged. He supplied de Valera with documentation relating to papal encyclicals, philosophy, and theology. Some of this material influenced the articles of the constitution relating to personal rights, the family, education, private property, religion, and the directive principles of social policy. However, his proposed religious clause, which declared that the catholic church was the ‘one true church’ was rejected by de Valera and the team of officials who were drafting the constitution, much to McQuaid's disappointment.
Early years as archbishop
At the time of his appointment as archbishop (December 1940) McQuaid was only 45 and was one of the youngest members of the hierarchy. The appointment of a priest from the ranks of the regular clergy occasioned considerable surprise, and was the first since the Dominican archbishop John Troy (qv) (1739–1823). Recent research has established (as was suspected at the time) that the taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, and also the secretary of the department, Joseph P. Walshe, had pressed McQuaid's candidacy on the Vatican. The previous incumbent, Dr Edward Byrne (qv), had been ill for a long time and the administration of the diocese had run down. However, McQuaid also had an outstanding reputation as a catholic educationist and had already been mentioned as a potential candidate for his native diocese of Kilmore. It is doubtful whether the Vatican needed much persuasion to appoint McQuaid, whose formidable administrative abilities had already come to the attention of the Irish nuncio, Paschal Robinson (qv).
McQuaid immediately embarked on a thorough overhaul of the diocesan administration. He had a phenomenal capacity for work and, as the Irish Times obituary (9 April 1973) commented after his death, he had ‘the great administrator's innovating gifts. He did not wait for problems to hit him, but sought them out and anticipated them’. His appointment to the diocese of Dublin, the most important and populous in the country, came at a more stable point in Irish politics. The war had produced a new mood of national consensus, and McQuaid's relations with de Valera were excellent, in contrast to most of the hierarchy, who were distinctly cool towards him. De Valera was later to state that he had also been impressed by McQuaid's social concerns at a time when the hardships of the war were particularly affecting the poor. Within four years of his appointment McQuaid had set up the Catholic Social Service Conference (CSSC) to coordinate catholic charity work, and the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau (CSWB) to look after the thousands of emigrants who were going to Britain for war work. In 1943 the government appointed him chairman of the youth unemployment commission. He gave financial help to the victims of air raids in Dublin, was instrumental in setting up VD clinics, and actively promoted better care for TB patients, the elderly, the physically and intellectually disabled, and sick children.
Resistance to state intervention
The problem was that McQuaid's formidable endeavours were taking place at a time when the state was assuming a more interventionist role in social and economic policies. This was not only due to the exigencies of wartime. Since 1932, Fianna Fáil administrations pursued more dirigiste social and economic programmes than had their Cumann na nGaedheal predecessors, and the war gave these a greater impetus. At the end of 1942 the Beveridge report was published in Britain and received extensive coverage in Irish newspapers and periodicals. lt also provoked considerable discussion among government ministers. Two years later, the first children's allowances act was introduced and the government embarked on an expansion of Irish health services, culminating in the 1947 health act. This contained the provision for free medical services for mothers and children under 16, but this was not implemented before the Fianna Fáil administration left office in February 1948. The catholic hierarchy had expressed its opposition to this provision when the bill was being drafted, and was to repeat its opposition in 1950–51 when the minister for health in the first inter-party government, Noel Browne (qv), attempted to bring in the free medical service known as the ‘mother-and-child scheme’.
The resulting controversy was the most serious in church–state relations since the founding of the state in 1922 and was to dog McQuaid for the rest of his life. Expanded medical services and social welfare systems were being introduced in most of western Europe after the second world war, but produced nothing like the convulsions they did in Ireland. The hierarchy distrusted government bureaucracy and feared that contraception and abortion would be introduced under the cover of state health services. Also at stake was the church's control of the voluntary hospitals and its symbiotic relationship with the doctors (as McQuaid's own family testified). With Irish tuberculosis and infant mortality statistics among the highest in the world, health was an issue of considerable popular concern. The hierarchy exploited the tensions between Browne and his colleagues, and this led to Browne's resignation and the withdrawal of the scheme in April 1951. However, by allying itself with the conservative medical profession in fulminations against socialised medicine, the hierarchy seemed to be out of touch with harsh social realities, though in McQuaid's case this was certainly untrue. He attracted most of the lightning hurled at the hierarchy for their rejection of the ‘mother-and-child scheme’, although other bishops, notably Michael Browne (qv) of Galway and Cornelius Lucey (qv) of Cork, had made equally forthright pronouncements about the abuse of state power.
In 1953 the crisis erupted again when Fianna Fáil was back in power. By now McQuaid's relations with de Valera had soured. His intervention in the 1946 national teachers’ strike, when he expressed sympathy with the strikers’ cause, had greatly annoyed the government. In reiterating their opposition to the new health bill in 1953 McQuaid and the rest of the hierarchy attempted the same divide-and-rule tactics they had employed so successfully in prising Noel Browne apart from the inter-party government, but were frustrated by de Valera and his minister for health, Dr James Ryan (qv), who were altogether cannier political operators. The new health bill was passed with cosmetic changes.
McQuaid's failure to be made a cardinal was due in part to Irish lobbying at the Vatican. He also clashed with other governments. During the second inter-party government (1954–7) plans for a national agricultural institute were attacked by McQuaid as an attempt to take over higher education. He also criticised provisions in the 1952 adoption act and the 1959 intoxicating liquor act. On some of these issues his fears were well founded. On adoption, for example, he thought that the rights of the natural mother were being overlooked, while the intoxicating liquor act showed that the government of Seán Lemass (qv) seriously underestimated the prevalence of alcoholism and was too reluctant to confront the powerful lobby of the licensed vintners.
McQuaid and the Dublin diocese
During McQuaid's episcopate the population of Dublin increased to over 800,000 people, the number of diocesan clergy increased from 370 to 600, and the number of religious from 500 to 800. To meet the needs of the increased population in the new suburbs over sixty new parishes were founded, bringing the total to 131 in 1972. With regard to education, the number of primary schools in the diocese increased by a third, and although free secondary education was not introduced until 1967, this was the sector that experienced most growth during the period of McQuaid's episcopate. The number of secondary schools more than doubled, from sixty-two in 1946 to 129 in 1966. In the sphere of health McQuaid was particularly concerned about maternity care. After the war he also began to focus attention on paediatrics and mental health. One of his most cherished projects, and one in which he had been involved since the 1930s, was Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, in Crumlin, which was finally opened in 1956. In the 1960s McQuaid's social concerns embraced new problems such as juvenile delinquency, Traveller resettlement and drug addiction. McQuaid's private charity became legendary in the diocese. He showed compassion and generosity towards people who were in trouble of any kind: those who were sick, dying, in financial difficulties, priests who were experiencing difficulties with their faith. To many people McQuaid was at his best when he was away from the diocese on the annual diocesan pilgrimages to Lourdes, which he regularly attended, and during which he spent many hours with sick pilgrims.
He was also active in other, more unexpected areas. It was paradoxical that McQuaid, who hardly ever made use of either the radio or the television (one exception was his 1948 radio appeal for funds to help the Christian Democrats in the Italian elections), helped to set up the Catholic Communications Office, and sent a number of priests to the US for television training in preparation for the opening of Telefís Éireann in 1961. In 1965 he established a diocesan press office. But McQuaid was not a good communicator; he was a shy and reserved man, whose dry humour was revealed only rarely. Like many others in his position, he increasingly felt the isolation of his office. He tended to keep aloof from the rest of the hierarchy and during the bishops’ meetings at Maynooth never stayed overnight at the college but travelled each day from Dublin. In the decade after his appointment his pastorals and addresses – his main form of communication with his flock – had vigour and clarity and testified especially to his dislike of the catholic middle classes. While individual pastorals such as Prayer (1948) and Death (1953) had a lucid, simple style, they increasingly became formulaic and abstract.
The second Vatican council
The Patrician year in 1961 was the apotheosis of McQuaid's episcopate and the kind of catholicism he represented. The following year Pope John XXIII summoned the second Vatican council, which introduced extensive changes in the liturgy, placed more emphasis on lay participation, and encouraged a greater interest in ecumenism. No significant reforms had been expected by the Irish hierarchy and in an explanatory pastoral, What is a general council? (1963), it was clear that McQuaid saw no need for a council because, as he wrote revealingly, councils ‘are not essential to the nature of the church’. He became increasingly preoccupied with the role of the pope and the bishops: bishops ‘have direct, immediate jurisdiction over their proper territory, for, in the church they alone are the judges of the faith’. On the question of lay participation, McQuaid's sporadically thorny relations with groups such as the Legion of Mary, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and Muintir na Tire were well known. As for ecumenism, McQuaid was the first Irish bishop expressly to forbid catholics to study at TCD without special dispensation, a move followed by the rest of the hierarchy. His discouragement of the inter-denominational Mercier Society in the early 1940s rankled for many years with people such as Erskine Childers (qv), later president of Ireland, and the distinguished civil servant León Ó Broin (qv), who had been actively involved in it.
The Vatican council finished its deliberations in December 1965, but there was a growing perception that McQuaid was dragging his feet on the reforms instituted by the council. This perception was confirmed with the publication of Our faith, which McQuaid wrote in 1968 for the Year of Faith. He took issue with the way that sections of the clergy and laity were choosing to interpret the work of the council, and laid particular emphasis on the role of the bishop. Serious criticism of McQuaid's personality and policies appeared in 1965–6 in the theological journal Herder Correspondence. While acknowledging McQuaid's charity and excellent administration of the diocese, it criticised his failure to inspire the clergy and the laity and ascribed this to McQuaid's personality with its ‘unconquered shyness, the martyr complex, the dislike of public occasions, [and] the penchant for the unnecessary harsh or humiliating phrase’. Members of McQuaid's clergy who expressed their disagreement with him increasingly felt the weight of his displeasure. Advancement and promotion were blocked and some found themselves dispatched to outlying parishes. Assertive lay voices were not so easily silenced. In 1969, Declan Costello, then Fine Gael TD for Dublin North-West, wrote in the journal Christus Rex that while there was a good deal of evidence to suggest a failure of communication between bishops and priests in the Irish church, ‘the communication between the laity and the clergy has been negligible’. He concluded with a prophetic warning: ‘The church has the allegiance of the vast majority of the Irish people. It would, however, be a mistake to depend on an unswerving allegiance in the future.’
The reaction to the 1968 papal encyclical on birth control, Humanae vitae, was a watershed in relations between clergy and laity in Ireland. In Dublin it caused open rebellion, the force of which caught McQuaid unawares. It provoked his last pastoral, Contraception and conscience: three statements (1971), whose shrill tone betrayed his anger and frustration at the response to Humanae vitae in the diocese. The pastoral began with a forthright attack on the media, which, in McQuaid's view, were subverting the teaching authority of the bishop; it ended with a forthright declaration that ‘in matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul’.
This was McQuaid's swansong, his elegy to the kind of catholicism in which he had been brought up and which he now saw disintegrating around him. Of course, it was not just the church that had changed: Irish society was going through a profound social, economic, and cultural transformation, the implications of which both disturbed and baffled him. In 1970 he was 75 and submitted his resignation to the Vatican, apparently not anticipating that it would be accepted. However, it was, and his departure was announced in January 1972. He died fifteen months later on 7 April 1973.