REGINALD OF BOLOGNA, PRIMATE OF IRELAND
Blessed Humbert, Bernard Gui, Saint Antoninus, Leander Alberti, and some other writers, followed by Father Thomas Malvenda in his Annals, all speak in terms of the highest praise of the virtues and good qualities of Reginald of Bologna. But, as often happens in the case of men of his time, they give us very few facts about his life. Practically all that we can learn from these authors is that Reginald was among the earliest disciples of Saint Dominic; that he received the habit of the Order at Saint Nicholas', Bologna; that, living there in the companionship of many saintly religious, he made such good use of the instructions and example of the holy patriarch as to advance rapidly in the way of virtue; and that he was one of the twelve or thirteen fathers whom Saint Dominic sent to England in 1221, shortly before his death.(1)
The purpose of the founder of the Friars Preacher in dispatching his disciples to Great Britain, as is well known, was that they might preach the faith unto the salvation of souls. This is the end for which he originated his Order. They were also to found houses of the institute there, that the good work might be perpetuated. Gilbert of Fresnay was at their head as provincial. We have no record of Reginald holding any office on the island. On the contrary, we are told that he traversed all England, and is even said to have gone into Ireland, proclaiming the word of God, and exemplifying it by the sanctity of his life.
After some years of tireless labor in the British Isles, Father Reginald returned to Italy. Gregory IX, always a true friend and an ardent admirer of the Friars Preacher, now made him a papal penitentiary, a position which he long filled, evidently with no little satisfaction to all concerned. In this office at the papal court he must have often been reminded of Saint Dominic, some of whose life and miracles he had witnessed in Bologna years before. Here he was in 1237, when the news reached Italy of Blessed Jordan's death by drowning off the coast of the Holy Land. This sad event he and his brother penitentiary, Father Godfrey, perhaps at the instruction of Gregory IX, made known to the fathers in Paris. Most likely they performed the same good office for houses of the Order in other parts of the world.(2)
Four years later, 1241, Reginald lost his friend, Gregory IX; but Innocent IV, who continued him in the same office, proved to be no less an admirer of the Friar Preacher. It was this Pope, not Gregory IX, as Father Touron thought, who appointed the early disciple of Saint Dominic archbishop of Armagh, consecrated him himself, and nominated him primate of Ireland. Doubtless Reginald's knowledge of the English language combined with his zeal, ability, and virtue to bring him to this position, which was no less important to the Church than laden with honor for himself. But we know now, from Father MacInerny's History of the Irish Dominicans, that the interference of Henry III with the Church in Ireland had its part in the appointment. Innocent wished to foil the policy of the English king.(3)
Father Touron could not give the date of Reginald's appointment to Armagh. However, we learn from the History of the Irish Dominicans that it occurred sometime in 1247. Arrived in Ireland, the new archbishop left nothing undone in order, not merely to maintain, but also further to perfect all the good things he found existing there, to repair the evils caused by outside interference or intrigues within, and to foster the cause of education. In part because of his unfamiliarity with the Irish language, he effected more for the Church in the Emerald Isle by his example and wise rule than by his preaching. The early writers call him a man of great authority, an accomplished prelate, and a divine worthy of everlasting memory.(4) But we can not free them from the censure of being careless; for, while they sing his praises to the satisfaction of all, they fail to give us the place or date of his birth, and to tell us when or where he died.
However, through Father MacInerny and other sources at hand, these gaps in the great primate's life can be partly filled up in our adaptation of Touron's excellent work. Possibly Reginald had no family name; for we nowhere find it mentioned, while the records of the time show that, on the continent, one's personal designation was quite ordinarily formed by the combination of his Christian name with that of his birthplace. Thus "Reginald of Bologna," as he is often called, might signify that he was born in the famous old university city, where he entered the Order of Saint Dominic.
Although he was the first Friar Preacher to become primate of Ireland, and the only one of Saint Dominic's immediate disciples to wear the miter there, Reginald was not the first Dominican added to the hierarchy of the Emerald Isle. That honor belongs to David McKelly, who became bishop of Cloyne in 1237, and was transferred to the Archdiocese of Cashel somewhat more than a year afterwards. Then came Alan O'Sullivan, who succeeded McKelly at Cloyne in 1240, later becoming the bishop of Lismore.(5) The Friars Preacher were then established in Ireland, and had thus given two of their members to its hierarchy. Possibly this also had its part in suggesting Reginald to Innocent IV for the See of Armagh, when he learned of the difficulties which had arisen there in connection with the resignation of Primate Albert Suerbeer.
Be that as it may, the Pope selected his penitentiary, Father MacInerny tells us, for the place. This was about 1247.(6) Despite the new Primate's zeal, kindly disposition, and gentle manners, he had to contend against not a little opposition, which was no doubt largely due to his being a foreigner. In 1252, five years after his consecration, he went to pay his ad limina visit to Innocent IV.(7) He did not intend to remain long on the continent. But affairs in connection with his own archdiocese and troubles in other parts of the Church of Ireland detained the holy man far beyond the time he had anticipated. Meanwhile, in 1254, Innocent died, and was succeeded by Alexander IV. Matters now dragged on, and prevented the primate from returning home. Finally, apparently in the latter half of 1256, he surrendered his pure soul to God. Both Rome and Anagni are suggested as the place of his demise.(8) Possibly he had been in ill health for some time.
No one questions Reginald's ability, zeal, and good intentions. As often happens, with innocence of heart and kindness he combined a fearless spirit, when there was question of right and wrong, or the interests of the Church and religion were involved. He won his cases before the papal court, but did not live to enjoy his triumph.(9) He lives in Irish history as one of the country's great prelates.
1. FONTANA, Vincent, O. P., Sacrum Theatrum Dominicanum, p. 54; FRACHET, Gerard de, O. P., Vitae Fratrum (Reichert ed.), pp. 80, 130, 329; MacINERNY, M. H., O. P., History of the Irish Dominicans; MALVENDA, Annales Sacri Ordinis Praedicatorum, p. 293; MAMACHI, Thomas, O. P., Annales Ordinis Praedicatorum, pp. 601, 603.
2. Father Touron evidently failed to find but little on Primate Reginald. Consequently, we have somewhat enlarged his sketch from Father M. H. MacInerny's History of the Irish Dominicans (Dublin, 1916). For Reginald's notification of the fathers in Paris of Blessed Jordan's death see DE FRACHET, as in note one, p. 130. (Ed. note).
3. History of the Irish Dominicans, pp. 84 ff.
4. MALVENDA, as in note 1.
5. MacINERNY, op. cit., pp. 4, 19, 53, 61.
6. Ibid., p. 86.
7. Ibid., p. 97.
8. Ibid., pp. 129-130. Gams (op. cit., p. 206) and Eubel (op. cit., I, 108) give 1247 as the year of Reginald's appointment to Armagh, and 1256 as that of his death. Both say he died in Rome.
9. MacINERNY, op. cit., p. 129.