Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District 1836-1840, Vicar Apostolic of the Yorkshire District 1840-1850
Bishop of Beverley 1850-1860
Bishop Briggs was the local ordinary of the Oblates when they established their missions in Everingham, Market Weighton, Howden, Leeds and Sicklinghall. He had actively encouraged William Maxwell to invite the Oblates to Everingham and he always had the friendliest relations with the Oblates. A call to thank Bishop Briggs was included in the itinerary of the Founder during his 1857 visit to Britain. In 1850 the Bishop laid the first stone of the new church at Howden being built by Fr Cooke. On 24 May 1853 he laid the first stone of the church in Mount St. Mary’s, Leeds, later opened by the Founder. On 30 August 1854 he solemnly opened the new church of the Immaculate Conception in Sicklinghall. Responding on this occasion to an after-dinner toast, we read in the house Codex that he was especially gratified to assist in this event as the new church was connected with a religious house in which young missionaries would be trained in piety and learning from whose future labours he hoped many blessings would flow. He was in fact to ordain several Oblates in this church. The first ordination was on 3 October 1855: Brothers Timothy Ryan and Laclau-Pussacq subdeacons, Mourier minor orders and tonsure, McGrath and Ring tonsure. The following year on 4 November he conferred tonsure on Brothers Healy and King and the four minor orders on Brother Ring. Brother Mourier was ordained subdeacon, Brother Ryan deacon. The Bishop also confirmed Timothy Gubbins who was then a junior. On 8 December 1857 he ordained Brother Mourier deacon and Brothers Guillard and Ayral priests. Earlier in that year he had assisted pontifically at the High Mass sung by Bishop de Mazenod on the opening of the church of Mount St. Mary’s, Leeds.
John Briggs was born in 1789 in Barton Moss and ordained priest on 9 July 1814.President of St. Cuthbert’s College, Durham (1832-36), he was consecrated as Bishop of Trachis in partibus, and coadjutor of the Northern District in 1833. His principal consecrator was Bishop Thomas Penswick. He succeeded to the Northern District in 1836. In 1839 he returned the number of Catholics within his vicariate as about 180,000, of whom only 13,000 were in Yorkshire. In the reorganization of the Districts in 1840 he was appointed to the Yorkshire District, which, on the restoration of the hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850, became the Diocese of Beverley. Dr. Briggs, by a decree of Propaganda approved by Pius IX 23 September 1850, was translated from the see of Trachis to Beverley. “Eventually senior bishop of the restored hierarchy, his episcopate was one long, heroic struggle to provide schools and churches for an ever-growing destitute Catholic population -, the outcome of many years of Irish immigration. So early as 1838, Bishop Briggs deplored that great numbers of his people were without pastors, without chapels, and without schools for their children; of whom, in 1845, he stated that, in Yorkshire alone, no less than 3000 were receiving no Catholic education whatsoever - a class, ten years later, known to have numbered, throughout England and Wales, 120,000.” He was present in Rome for the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1854. He resigned on 7 November 1860 and died at York on 4 January 1861.
Michael Hughes, O.M.I.
Sources and Bibliography
G.A.: Codex Historicus Sicklinghall 1853-1866.
“Leeds”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Ortolan I, pp. 545, 552, 581, 611
Oblate Writings I, Vol. 3.