Miley, John (1805–61), priest and ecclesiastical historian, was born in Co. Kildare, possibly near Eadestown (his parents’ names are not known), and educated at Maynooth and the Irish College, Rome. After his ordination he returned to Dublin, where he served under Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) as a curate in several city parishes, including Marlborough St. (1835–49). He enthusiastically supported the political opinions of Daniel O'Connell (qv), and was O'Connell's confessor and friend. In December 1846 he exchanged letters with R. R. Madden (qv) regarding a possible reconciliation between O'Connell and the Young Irelanders who had left the Repeal Association. Murray permitted Miley to travel as O'Connell's private chaplain on the Liberator's 1847 journey to Italy in search of health. Miley travelled first to London in February, and then with O'Connell via Paris and Lyons to Genoa in mid May. O'Connell died there on 15 August 1847, with Miley at his side. In accordance with O'Connell's request, Miley took O'Connell's heart to Rome to be buried in St Agatha's church, and then accompanied O'Connell's body from Genoa to Dublin. Letters from Miley describe the Liberator's last days, and it was Miley who delivered the panegyric at O'Connell's funeral. In 1848, Miley used intemperate language to criticise publicly the anti-radical political stance of Archbishop Murray, and was lucky to receive only a mild reprimand.
In 1850 Miley was appointed rector of the Irish College in Paris, which had undergone long periods of conflict and student revolt, exacerbated by the political excitement of the year of revolutions, 1848. Miley's efforts to restore discipline almost immediately antagonised college staff and students, and he also challenged the governing board of Irish bishops, claiming that he as rector should have authority over staff appointments. The choice of the zealous, defiant Rev. Patrick Lavelle (qv) as professor of philosophy (December 1854), and his subsequent appointment as professor of Irish (1856), made matters very much worse. The Miley–Lavelle battle in the Irish College mirrored the bitter feud in Ireland between Paul Cullen (qv), Miley's patron, and Archbishop John MacHale (qv), who supported Lavelle. A few pro-Miley students (mostly from the diocese of Dublin) defied their fellow-students and the professors who opposed Cullen. In his lectures, Lavelle attacked Miley with veiled allegations that Miley was homosexual; Miley threatened legal action. Lavelle, never less than truculent, on one occasion struck Miley (who was in poor health) on the chin. Miley received no support from the board of bishops, and the college fell into chaos, even making headlines in Irish newspapers.
On 24 March 1858 Lavelle, who had been barred from the college on Miley's orders, climbed over the perimeter wall to gain entry; the Parisian civil authorities had to be involved. Such was the furore that the college was closed early for the summer vacation and the students were sent home in May. The Vincentian order was put in charge of the college, with Miley as administrator, but he resented their authority and reduced their proposed expenditures; as a result, the Vincentians intimated that they would withdraw if Miley was still involved. Miley was finally forced to resign in June 1859, and Cullen appointed him parish priest of Bray, Co. Wicklow, in August 1859.
Miley was an accomplished preacher and wrote several pamphlets on educational reform. He was recognised as an ecclesiastical historian; his publications included Rome under paganism and the popes (1848); History of the papal states (1850), which was well reviewed and was translated into several languages; and Temporal sovereignty of the popes (n.d.). He was in poor health after the difficulties of his ten years in Paris, and, after suffering from bronchitis, died 18 April 1861 at the parochial house, Bray. Among those who attended the funeral were Cullen and Lavelle. Miley was buried in the church of the Holy Redeemer, Bray.