Hussey, Thomas (1746–1803), catholic bishop of Waterford and Lismore, was born in Harristown, Co. Meath. Educated at Seville, he was ordained to the priesthood on 25 March 1769 and was immediately appointed one of the chaplains to the Spanish ambassador in London. Hussey's time in the British capital placed him within an influential circle which included William Pitt, Charles James Fox, and Samuel Johnson. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1792 and established a significant friendship with Edmund Burke (qv); the latter served as Hussey's political mentor, while the cleric became Burke's principal Irish correspondent during his last years.
Hussey's society connections led him into many involvements. During the American War he was a member of a secret embassy led by Richard Cumberland that was sent to Spain in an effort to break the Franco–Spanish alliance. He joined at the request of King George III and, in spite of the mission's failure, impressed all except Cumberland, who resented his blatant ambition. In 1790 the committee of English catholics unanimously resolved to send Hussey to Rome in order to clarify their position in the furore caused by their apparently schismatic ‘Protestation’. The Spanish ambassador's refusal to grant leave of absence made this impossible, but in the same year Hussey displayed his commitment to the cause of catholic relief by securing the services of Richard Burke (son to Edmund) for the Committee of Catholics of Ireland.
Hussey's concern for Ireland became more focused in 1794, when he accepted an invitation from the Irish bishops to assist their campaign to establish a national seminary. Because the French Revolution resulted in the loss of almost five hundred seminary places, Edmund Burke believed that the establishment of a catholic college was not simply an educational matter, it was of absolute necessity for the order and security of the kingdom. The British government approved Hussey's association with the project and he was the accredited representative of the duke of Portland (qv) on the Maynooth issue during 1794–5. In acknowledgement of his efforts, in 1795 Hussey was appointed first president of the college, which he later described as his ‘favourite spot, this punctum saliens of the salvation of Ireland from Jacobinism and anarchy’ (Correspondence of Edmund Burke, viii, 141).
Having demonstrated his effectiveness, Hussey was named chaplain general to the king's forces in Ireland in August 1796 as part of a concerted attempt by the administration to stamp out disaffection in the army. He embraced this appointment with characteristic enthusiasm, but his behaviour was not as his political masters expected. Having shared Burke's horror at the recall of Earl Fitzwilliam (qv) as viceroy in 1795, Hussey concluded that the principal threat to the security of Ireland was neither the French Directory nor the United Irishmen, but rather the protestant ascendancy and those whom Burke labelled ‘the junta’, that occupied the main offices of state in Dublin Castle. Accordingly, Hussey set out to thwart these ‘Irish Jacobins’, and fought his first battle in August 1796 on the issue of catholic soldiers being flogged for refusing to attend protestant services.
Hussey's public profile was further enhanced in December 1796, when he was appointed bishop of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore. Consecrated at a lavish liturgy in Dublin, he chose to govern his diocese from the splendid new cathedral at Waterford, whereas his predecessors had lived in either Carrick-on-Suir or Clonmel. Indeed, his entire episcopate was in contrast to that of his contemporaries; he shunned their deferential style and assumed a confidence unprecedented in penal Ireland. So while his fellow bishops bore the resentment of their flock in silence, Hussey's public denunciation of the excesses of the administration became more vocal. In April 1797 he published a pastoral which contained a characterisation of the Church of Ireland as a sect and a pointed discussion of the ‘legal injustices and cruelties’ of the penal era. Reaction to the pastoral was immediate, and at least five pamphlets were published in response. The polemical firebrand Patrick Duigenan (qv) believed the pastoral was ‘as seditious a publication as any which has appeared to modern times’, while the catholic hierarchy at large shared John Troy's (qv) view that the ‘unpastoral letter’ had contained ‘too much vinegar’.
As a result of his pastoral, Hussey had become odious in the sight of the administration and an embarrassment to the acquiescent catholic establishment. Accordingly he resigned the presidency of the Royal College in May 1797; he left Ireland shortly afterwards and did not return until 1802. For this reason, Hussey's voice was silent in 1798, but on the subject of the union his intervention was characteristically frank, stating his preference for ‘a union with the Beys and Mamelukes of Egypt to that of being under the iron rod of the Mamelukes of Ireland’. While Hussey was reported to have busied himself in the negotiations of the Napoleonic Concordat at Paris, he continued to administer his diocese through his able vicar general Thomas Hearn. Education was his pastoral priority, and it was in response to his influence that Edmund Rice (qv) established the Christian and Presentation Brothers. Hussey returned to Ireland in 1803 and died suddenly at Tramore while bathing there on 11 July 1803. Even in death he managed to arouse strong emotion, and an angry Orange mob attempted to throw his remains into the River Suir during his funeral procession.