ST MALACHY PATRON OF DOWN & CONNOR
When St Malachy was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor and Abbot of Bangor in 1124 his great friend St Bernard described the state of Connor in far from complimentary terms. It was a fact that the discipline and morality taught in the universal Church was greatly lacking all over Ireland. The Scandinavian raids and the isolation of a few centuries had removed the image of saints and scholars. Malachy was well trained to cope with the problems. As a young man he had lived the life of a hermit, of solitude and prayer guided by the saintly Imar of Armagh. He was ordained at 25 and acted as Vicar in Armagh for two years; then for two years he stayed at the great centre of learning, Lismore in Munster. It was then he was called to the united diocese of Down and Connor.
The wooden monastery of Bangor became the centre of his Episcopal administration and from here ‘he used to traverse the country, areas and towns with that holy company of disciples who never left his side. He used to go and distribute the full measure of the heavenly grain, even to those who gave him no thanks for it.’ (St Bernard)
In 1134 Malachy followed Patrick as Archbishop of Armagh and continued the reforms. Three years later he resigned this See to return to the diocese of Down and his beloved Bangor. During the succeeding years he was the leader of the movement for the reform and sanctification of the Church in Ireland. In this he was deeply influenced by the way of life of the Cistercians of Clairvaux, a place he visited on his way to Rome and where he formed a lifelong friendship with St Bernard. He had wished to live among them but eventually had his wish to die there. On his second journey to Rome he died at Clairvaux on 21 November 1148 with these last words:- ‘I have believed in God, and all things are possible to the man who believes. I have loved God, I have loved you, and love will never fail.’ His feast is celebrated on November 3rd as Patron of the Diocese.
ST MACNISSI PATRON OF CONNOR
St Aengus MacNissi was baptised by St Patrick and as a young boy was put under his care. He was trained by him to be a priest and eventually became a bishop. The centre of his Episcopal See was the church of Connor in Co Antrim which gave its name to the diocese. This was a monastic settlement where in its early stages the monks lived in separate huts to pray and study in solitude. It became a monastery in 480 AD. From here St MacNissi founded other churches and, as with so many of the early Irish Saints, many miracles were attributed to him as ‘the Divine word is everywhere sown’. He died 514 AD and is commemorated as the Patron of the diocese of Connor on 4 September.