Archbishop Thomas White Papers – another donation for Kilkenny Archives.

Archbishop Thomas White Papers – another donation for Kilkenny Archives.

Co. Laois born, Ossory clergyman, Holy See diplomat, Archbishop Thomas White died 7 May 2017. Some months later his family donated artefacts and papers to Kilkenny Archives Ltd. The papers include a series of letters written by Ossory bishops : Rev. Patrick Collier, Rev. Peter Birch and Rev. Laurence Forristal.  Archbishop White lived the last years of his life in Kilkenny.

Life and Ministry of Archbishop Thomas White RIP
Thomas White was born, one of a family of five, on 12 August 1931 to William and Bridget White. After his early education at Cullohill National School, Laois, he progressed to Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny. While there Thomas enjoyed outstanding academic and sporting successes and he was part of the College’s senior hurling team who won the Leinster Championships in the late 1940s.

The future archbishop studied for the priesthood in Saint Kieran’s College and later in Rome where he was ordained for the Diocese of Ossory on 25 February 1956. Released by his bishop, Rev Dr Patrick Collier from a commitment to teach Canon Law at Saint Kieran’s, the newly ordained Thomas spent the next two years at the Pontificia Accademia Ecclesiastica in preparation for a career in the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

In 1960, after graduation Monsignor White as he was then, was sent as Secretary to what was then the Apostolic Delegation of Eastern Africa, covering territory from Kuwait to the Zambezi, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, to work alongside Archbishop Guido del Mestri. For the next five years much of his time was taken up with preparing for decolonisation in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and the Seychelles, and the eventual establishment of separate Nunciatures in each of these countries after independence.

In 1965 he was transferred to the Nunciature in Guatemala where the Head of Mission was also Nuncio in El Salvador. It was a time of great political upheaval in Central America and the local Church was often in the forefront of the struggle to obtain fairer treatment for the poor campesinos.

From Central America in 1967 Monsignor White moved to Colombia. Most of his first year there was spent on the arrangements for the visit of Pope Paul VI in August 1968 for the Eucharistic Congress in Bogotá and the Plenary Assembly of the Latin American Bishops in Medellín. In 1970 he was posted to Switzerland as Counsellor of the Nunciature in Berne and also acted as Observer of the Holy See at various United Nations and other International Agencies in Geneva.

In 1974, following two years in administration work at the Secretariat of State, he received his first effective Head of Mission appointment as Chargé d’Affaires in the Apostolic Nunciature for China. His appointment coincided with the Cultural Revolution and as the Nunciature had to leave the mainland following the Communist takeover, he fulfilled his responsibilities towards China and the underground Catholic Church there from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. In 1978 he was ordained as Titular Archbishop of Sabiona and returned to Africa, this time as Apostolic Nuncio in Rwanda.

Archbishop White was transferred again as Nuncio to Ethiopia in 1983. The six years he spent there and the three terrible famines in that space of time changed him for life. As head of the diplomatic corps he was responsible for coordinating the contributions of many countries and charities to counter the effects of famine. The endless struggle to help the starving people eventually took its toll. Thomas suffered a heart attack in 1988.  He was then, in 1989, asked to serve in New Zealand. Attached to this was the Apostolic Delegation for Oceania, involving problems of distance and communication in that vast territory embracing practically all the island states of the Pacific Ocean. Shortly after his arrival in Wellington he presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth II who was there for the Commonwealth Games and wished to exercise her prerogatives as Queen of New Zealand. Over the next six years he was to repeat the same procedure with the King of Tonga and with the Presidents of Nauru, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Western Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati. 

Archbishop Thomas White was only the second Irishman in the history of the Church to have served as a Papal Nuncio in a country where he did not already hold an episcopal rank. After his retirement from the papal diplomatic service in 1996, Archbishop White carried out several important missions for the Vatican Secretariat of State, including liaison work with the church of the Syro-Malabar rite in India.

Following his retirement, Archbishop White lived in Blackrock, Co. Dublin. Later he moved to Saint Kieran’s College to be close to his family. More recently he moved to Gowran Abbey Nursing Home. Archbishop White is predeceased by his sister May McKenna and older brother Seán J White, while he is survived by his sister Alice O’Byrne, (now living in Kilkenny), and his younger brother Liam White who lives in London. I am grateful to Monsignor Michael Ryan for most of this detail.

This small but valuable clerical collection (which includes artefacts such as his travelling crozier, mitre etc.) is a welcome addition to the holdings at Kilkenny Archives Ltd. Other recent donations have come to us from Willoughby Jewellers (Kilkenny, through the good offices of Fonsie Mealy Auctioneer), the Home Rule Club (Kilkenny, custody only), The Nin Bligh Collection, The K.M. Lanigan Collection and lastly a very rare ledger which documents the details of the Charitable Society of the City of Kilkenny which ledger covers the years from 1830 until 1849. The details this ledger holds relating to the Famine years in Kilkenny are particularly notable.

 

John Kirwan

Archivist.