man's excavations led to many findings in Rome
Abstract from the work of Leonard E Boyle, OP
Joseph Mullooly was born at Lanesboro (Rathcline), Co Longford
on March 19, 1812, a son of Gilbert Mullooly, a farmer,
and his wife, Brigid Dowd. In 1840, armed with a testimonial
letter signed by his parish priest, Patrick Dawson, and
authenticated by the signature and seal of the Bishop of
Ardagh, William O'Higgin's, he set out for Italy. A year
later, on September 7, 1841, he took the dominican habit
as a member of the Irish Dominican Province at La Quercia
near Viterbo, north of Rome, where as fellow novices he
had Alexander Jandel, the future head of the Dominican Order,
and some other disciples of the famous French Doninican
preacher, Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, all of whom had spent
some months in early 1841 at San Clemente in Rome.
He never returned to Ireland again, and of the thirty-nine
years he spent in Italy before his death in 1880, all but
five were passed as member of the community of San Clemente.
Mullooly took his first vows as a Dominican at La Quercia
on September 8 1842 and sometime within the next three years,
and certainly before being sent to Perugia, he was assigned
by the General of the Order, Fr Ancarani, to San Clemente
in October 25th 1846, and had arrived there by November
14th, when his signature (but as Mullowny not Mullooly)
first appears in the Mass ledgers.
By then, he had completed his second year of theology and
had had a favourable report on his progress from the Perugia
It was not until the following May (1847), however, that
he resumed his studies, obtaining permission from Fr Ancarani
to study at the Minerva convent in Rome for a degree of
Lector in Sacred Theology. He took the degree on January
23 1849, and the examination for confessions on April 20.
By now, he had been cursar of San Clemente for some eighteen
months and was beginning to make this presence felt.
Six months after Mullooly had become bursar in December
1847, San Clemente acquired its first Irish superior for
years on May 5 1848 in the person of Thomas Mullins, but
in effect, it was Fr Mullooly who was running the place.
After the flight of Pius IX to Gaeta on November 24, 1848,
a Republic was proclaimed on Rome on February 4, 1849. Fr
Mullooly made a spirited protest.
On April 19, the 'Deputy Accountant of the Presidency' came
to San Clemente and took and inventory, however, Fr Mullooly
was one step ahead and buried all the account books for
1831-1846 in the Torione vineyard. A month later, Republican
soldiers invaded the vineyard, found the books and burned
In Spring of 1849, Fr Mullooly was very busy in an effort
to establish beyond all doubt to the Republican administration
that San Clemente and its property were under the protection
of the British crown. What really worried him was the threat
by the forces of the Republic to take over part of San Clemente
as a military hospital.
On May 8, 1849, some officials of the Pubblica Sicurezza
burst into the vineyard, beat up the custodian, and made
off with 200 barrels of wine. In reaction to the news, Fr
Mullooly went with some men to protect the vineyard against
"the brigands of the insane Roman Republic."
His role in protecting the San Clemente and his able administration
of the communities' finances, were rewarded by his appointment
as prior of San Clemente. Fr Mullooly set about returning
San Clement to its previous position as a house of studies,
in effect, an Irish and National college between 1854 to
His term as Prior ended in November 1857 when he was replaced
by Fr Thomas Folan from Galway. It was in the late summer
and autumn of 1857 that he made the first discoveries that
let to the great series of excavations, under the church,
for which he was responsible over the next twelve years,
between 1858 to 1870.
The finds that Fr Mullooly made under San Clemente were
examined by the Papal Commission on Sacred Archaeology in
mid-November of that year, and on November 29, the Commission
voted to undertake excavations as soon as possible. The
Commission attempted to begin excavations in January 1858
under its architect Francesco Fontana, but was forced to
give up almost at once, possibly because Fr Mullooly felt
that the Commission was acting high-handedly and as though
it had made the initial discovery.
Between January and June, Fr Mullooly appears to have pushed
on with the work himself in presumably a dogged attempt
to make sure that the discovery could not be claimed by
anyone but that 'National Establishment' (San Clemente)
for which he had worked so tirelessly for ten years and
Architect, Francesco Fontana and the master masons, Andrewas
Lelli and Angelo Ponpili began the work on behalf of the
Commissions in early June 1858. Much of the summer was spent
drafting away the rubbish which was already excavated. By
November, the removal of the cross-walls and the propping
up of the floor above had progressed sufficiently to allow
visitors to enter the excavations in some numbers and in
The Commission stopped work at San Clemente in February
1860 and some eighteen months later, Fr Mullooly was able
to take the work up again due to a decision of his in the
Spring of 1860 to "procure sufficient funds" on
his own for the continuation of the excavations.
Within three months of the departure of the Commission,
Fr Mullooly had obtained permission from Cardinal Patrizi,
President of the Commission and Vicar of Rome, to collect
money for the work, and on May 20 1860, he began to send
out printed circulars in Latin, English, Italian and French
to prospective donors.
By September 1861, there was enough money to reopen the
excavations on a limited scale. A new series of excavations
resulted in the discovery of the San Clemente frescos, which
measured 5x3m and stretched from the floor to the nave to
the pavement of the church above. It was intact save for
the upper compartment where the figures of Popes Linus,
Peter, Clement and Cletus, had been shorn of their heads
when the pavement of the church above had been laid in the
early 12th century.
On March 21, 1862, Fr Mullooly appealed to Cardinal Patrizi
for money to continue the excavations and within a few days,
work was underway again and not interrupted until 1870.
Fr Mullooly was one of the two outstanding products (the
other was Fr Burke) of the Irish Dominican province in the
19th century and in 1873, the Irish Province petitioned
the Dominican Order to give him the honorary degree of Master
in Theology, an award which was granted to him on January
Now that San Clement had escaped suppression because it
was a Collegium or educational establishment distinct from
the religious community that served it, it was essential
to have some students on the premises. In the summer of
1876, Fr Mullooly suggested to the Irish Province to consider
sending students to Rome one more. Fifteen months later.
on November 3 1877, the first students in ten years arrived
at San Clemente from Ireland. Fr Mullooly was only 68 at
the time of his death in 1880 in his room at San Clemente.
He was buried in the plot he had bought in 1876 in the Campo
Verano cemetery at San Lorenzo. In 1912, his remains were
returned to San Clement and placed under an inscribed slab
at the east end of the south aisle of the church he had
laboured so selflessly and single-mindedly to excavate.
Courtesy of The Longford Leader.