Millett, Benignus (1922–2006), Franciscan priest and historian, was born 1 April 1922 in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, eldest of eight children (five sons and three daughters) of Matthew Millett, a tax consultant and auditor, and his wife Mary (née Keating); he was christened Austin Matthew . He was educated locally, leaving Ard Scoil na mBráithre in June 1939. In September of the same year he joined the Franciscans and went on to study philosophy at UCG; he graduated BA in 1943. Because of the second world war he remained in Galway to pursue theological studies at St Anthony's College (1943–6) but completed his final year at the Gregorianum in Rome (1946–7). He was ordained to the priesthood on 5 April 1947.
The Irish Franciscans had opened their house of studies in Killiney, Co. Dublin, in 1945 with the aim of producing a history of the Irish Franciscan province, editing and publishing Irish-language and Franciscan texts, and providing a specialised library service. Millett was chosen to join the team of Franciscan scholars there, and in preparation for this studied at the Vatican Scuola di Biblioteconomia (1947–8), graduating with a diploma in library science, and at the Gregorianum (1948–54), where he was awarded a doctorate in ecclesiastical history. His dissertation was subsequently published as The Irish Franciscans 1651–1665 (1964) and revealed a serious work of scholarship with meticulous attention to and use of the sources; this foreshadowed his life's work and prepared him for the editorial and coordinating activity he would pursue in the decades to come.
Millett returned to Ireland in 1954 and was to remain in Killiney for the rest of his life, working alongside well-known confreres such as Canice Mooney (qv) and Cathaldus Giblin. He held a number of posts, including librarian (1954–69), guardian or superior (1967–78, 1984–7), director of the Dún Mhuire Institute (1984–7), provincial chronicler (1964–76), and provincial censor of books (1966–2006).
The position that will always be associated with his name is that of general editor of Collectanea Hibernica, founded in 1958 and published annually with the aim of making available sources for Irish history and guides to such sources. He was its first editor and prepared all forty-eight volumes, many of which contain his own contributions, especially on Irish material in the archives of Propaganda, before it was discontinued following his death. The journal not only provided a medium for making available to historians a small portion of the vast repository of Irish Franciscan texts but also other sources not readily accessible.
Another major project which was to absorb much of his time and energy was the work on the cause for beatification of the Irish martyrs. In 1975 he was invited to join a Dublin diocesan commission to advance the cause and in 1981 was appointed secretary and coordinator of the commission. Along with his friend the historian Patrick Corish, he was the driving force behind the task of drawing up the vitae of more than 150 martyrs that were submitted to Rome in 1988, seventeen of whom were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992. A further list of forty-two martyrs was submitted in 1998. Corish and Millett subsequently edited the lives of the seventeen beati in The Irish martyrs (2005).
In January 1955 Millett attended his first meeting of the Irish Catholic Historical Committee (ICHC), with which his association was to continue throughout his life, not only in contributing to Archivium Hibernicum, but more so in relishing the friendship of fellow historians that membership provided. Millett also found time to work on a projected history of the Irish Franciscan province; at the time of his death he had completed his work for the period 1501–1603 (which has been prepared for publication).
His list of writings, in excess of one hundred, is impressive and among the more significant ones are: Franciscan Fathers (ed.), 'Guide to material for a biography of Father Luke Wadding', in Father Luke Wadding: commemorative volume (1957), 229–62; Survival and reorganization 1660–95 (1968); and his contributions to A new history of Ireland, volumes iii (1976) and ix (1984). Apart from writing for the journals already mentioned, he contributed to other periodicals, encyclopaedias and commemorative volumes both in Ireland and abroad, including the biographical entry for Luke Wadding (qv) (d. 1657) in the Dictionary of Irish Biography (2009 and online). His achievements were recognised by his peers: membership of the RIA (1976), honorary fellow of the Library Association of Ireland, and associate member of the Academy of American Franciscan History.
Millett died suddenly on 11 August 2006 while in Wexford on holiday with members of his family and was interred in Shanganagh cemetery. He will be remembered as a cherished friend and genial host. Always generous with his time and advice, he radiated warm graciousness, joy, and courtesy.