By Anne Walsh
The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (sometimes referred to as “The Learneds”) was held in Toronto May 29-June 2, 2017, and St. Alphonsus Liguori seemed happy to once again be among his learned peers! The conference of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association is a portion of the Congress and, at this conference, Dr. Nancy Earle (Associate Professor at Douglas College) and I presented a paper entitled “The Finest Room in the Colony: the Library of Bishop John Thomas Mullock.”
In the course of cataloguing the vast episcopal library, we discovered that Bishop Mullock, the Limerick-born bishop of St. John’s, had both translated some of the devotional and theological works of St. Alphonsus Liguori and also written a biography of the saint. Our research led us into a conversation and further research in dialogue with Fr. Emilio Lage, archivist at the Redemptorist Generalate in Rome. This research revealed that Mullock’s biography of St. Alphonsus (1846) is the first written in any language other than Italian, and that Mullock was also the first person to translate works of St. Alphonsus (1835).
For me, these were exciting discoveries. I was delighted to learn that, in my own diocese in Newfoundland and Labrador, there was such a close connection to Alphonsian scholarship. So it was a special honour to introduce St. Alphonsus and his works to the audience of scholars at “the learneds.” I was also delighted that, as a catechist among historians, I was welcomed and respected, and that the historians were as fascinated and intrigued as I about these discoveries.
So, even 226 years after his death, St. Alphonsus is still slowly yielding up his secrets, still drawing us forward in love of learning and love of God. “There are few saints, the study of whose lives would be more productive or of more utility to us than that of St. Alphonsus,” Mullock wrote in 1846 in the preface to his Life of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori. Why did Mullock form this opinion? Let’s return to Mullock’s own words: In Alphonsus, Mullock found what he believed to be a model for a modern bishop. In his preface to The Life of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, Mullock wrote, “In the life of St. Alphonsus Liguori… we have a man, I may say, of our own time, living within the influence of the ideas that rule our own age, mixed up with all the occurrences that checquer our daily existence. His days were spent in discharging the same duties as millions of his contemporaries; and he was a saint only because in the discharge of those duties, he sought above all, the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” From one bishop to another, these are words of high praise.