BROWNE (Brown), TIMOTHY, Roman Catholic priest and Augustinian; b. c. 1786 probably in New Ross (Republic of Ireland); d. 9 Oct. 1855 in Galway (Republic of Ireland)
Timothy Browne studied for the priesthood at New Ross under his uncle Philip Crane, an Augustinian priest, and the celebrated James Warren Doyle of the same order, who was later bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Reported to have “superior ability,” Browne was professed as an Augustinian monk in 1808 and ordained to the priesthood on 29 June 1810 in Waterford.
Browne, a member of the Irish province of the Order of St Augustine, left Ireland in 1811 to serve in Newfoundland. Initially a curate to Bishop Patrick Lambert* in St John’s, he was soon appointed, probably in 1815, pastor of the Ferryland district to replace Father Ambrose Fitzpatrick, whose scandalous conduct had forced his resignation. Covering the coast south of St John’s from Bay Bulls to Trepassey and the whole of St Mary’s Bay, Browne’s extensive parish contained some 3,500 Catholics. His first headquarters seem to have been at Bay Bulls, perhaps because the house and chapel at Ferryland were “in ruins.”
In 1819 the shortage of priests of his order in Ireland caused his Augustinian superiors to threaten Browne’s recall, despite his own preference to stay in Newfoundland. To prevent his removal, Bishop Thomas Scallan*, Lambert’s successor, went so far as to seek Rome’s intervention. Not only did he stress that Browne’s departure would even further decrease the already sparse Newfoundland clergy, but he maintained that Browne was his most outstanding priest, “the greatest glory and pride of this mission.” This appeal had effect, and the Roman authorities saw that Browne was allowed to remain.
Scallan’s enthusiasm for Browne soon waned. In reporting to Rome in 1822 he mentioned that Browne, although a worthy priest and an excellent preacher, was a poor manager of his personal affairs and heavily in debt. Browne was nevertheless one of three priests recommended by Scallan in 1827 as his possible successor. However, Michael Anthony Fleming*, Scallan’s first preference, eventually received the appointment as coadjutor bishop in 1829.
Scallan’s death and Fleming’s succession in 1830 marked a turning-point in Browne’s career. From the beginning Fleming considered Browne a liability to the church and within a few months had described the Augustinian to Rome as “lacking prudence and religion.” Although Browne had previously served his mission alone, in 1834 Fleming assigned to him as curate James W. Duffy, one of a number of priests recently arrived from Ireland. In so doing, Fleming probably hoped to undermine Browne’s position in the parish. Browne disliked Duffy intensely; technically Duffy’s superior, he held aloof from the legal difficulties Duffy was involved in after 1835 as a result of the destruction of fishing premises at St Mary’s.
By 1835 even Governor Henry Prescott* noted that Browne was “in bad odour” with the new bishop and “diametrically opposite in disposition and conduct to him – and the rest of the clergy.” Open hostility soon divided Catholics into supporters or opponents of Fleming. In St John’s the latter were denounced by Father Edward Troy*, who publicly taunted them as “Mad Dogs.” Browne supported one of those Catholics against whom reprisals had been taken in a formal complaint to government. At the same time Browne began to receive favourable notice from Henry David Winton, Fleming’s arch-antagonist, in the columns of the St John’s Public Ledger.
Fleming acknowledged differences with “two or three” of his clergy, ascribing them to his subdivision of existing missionary districts and the resulting loss of income to the incumbents. Browne, although not mentioned by name, had been especially affected by this reorganization, since by 1837 two new parishes (St Mary’s, given to Duffy, and Bay Bulls) had been carved from his district. In that year, without particular reason, Fleming stripped Browne of all his priestly faculties, except the permission to say mass privately. Local clergy were even forbidden to hear Browne’s confession. Totally estranged from his bishop, Browne had recourse only to Rome; in 1838 he denounced Fleming in a letter to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda for having made Newfoundland Catholicism “inhuman, irreligious, and bigoted.”
In June 1841 Browne, aided by some £200 collected from both Catholics and Protestants, left Newfoundland for Rome as agent for the Catholic opposition to Fleming. An unedifying quarrel followed. Browne accused his superior of abuse of his episcopal authority, and Fleming alleged in turn that Browne had neglected his spiritual duties, caused division in his parish by his involvement in litigation, and appropriated church property for private use. Indeed, Fleming insinuated that Browne and his brother and cousin were in Newfoundland solely for personal gain. Catholic opposition to himself, Fleming put down to a renewal in Newfoundland of rivalries between two areas in Ireland, Leinster and Munster; most of his adversaries, he noted, were from Leinster. Although Browne’s charges made some impact in Rome, Fleming was able to counter them with success and by late 1843 Browne’s cause was clearly lost. He left Rome for Ireland in 1844. Details of his later career there are few but it appears to have been unremarkable. In July 1855, while attending a chapter of his order in Galway, he became ill and died.
Browne was a respected pastor and deserves credit for his concern for the harmony of the Newfoundland communitet his early promise went unrealized, and secular affairs became a growing preoccupation with him. Still, Fleming’s contention that Browne’s unworldliness lay at the root of their differences was unjust. Nor was theirs simply a clash of subordinate with superior. Newfoundland Catholicism of the 1830s wore a new and more militant aspect than Browne was accustomed to, and perhaps his real difficulty was that he was unable, or unwilling, to adapt to it.
AAQ, 10 CM, IV: 30; 30 CN. AASJ, Fleming papers; Scallan papers. Archivio della Propaganda Fide (Rome), Scritture riferite nei Congressi, America Settentrionale, 2 (1792–1830); 5 (1842–48). PRO, CO194/57, 194/86, 194/90, 194/94–95. M. A. Fleming, Relazione della missione cattolica in Terranuova nell’America settentrionale . . . (Rome, 1837). Newfoundlander, 26 Sept. 1833, 5 Nov. 1855. Public Ledger, 23 June, 29 Sept. 1835; 4 May, 21, 24 June 1836; 22 May 1840; 22 June 1841; 23 March 1843. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 4 March, 23 Feb. 1815. Howley, Ecclesiastical hist. of Nfld.