Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirk, John (1760-1851)

KIRK, JOHN, D.D. (1760–1851), catholic divine and antiquary, son of William Kirk and his wife Mary Fielding, was born at Rochley, near Acton Burnell, Shropshire, on 13 April 1760, and at ten years of age was sent to Sedgley Park school, Staffordshire. He was admitted into the English College at Rome on 5 June 1773, a few months before the suppression of the Society of Jesus by Clement XIV. He was thus the last scholar received at the college by the Jesuits who had had the conduct of it, by favour of the holy see, for 193 years (Foley, Records, vi. 604). He was ordained priest on 18 Dec. 1784. Returning to England in August 1785, his first mission was at Aldenham Hall, Shropshire, in the family of Sir Richard Acton. In 1786 he became chaplain at Sedgley Park school, and as vice-president assisted the Rev. Thomas Southworth, whom he succeeded as president in 1793. He had previously removed to the small mission at Pipehill, near Lichfield, and he had had charge of the congregation at Tamworth. In July 1797 he left Sedgley to become chaplain and private secretary to Dr. Charles Berington [q. v.], vicar apostolic of the midland district, and after the bishop's sudden death (8 June 1798) he remained at the episcopal residence at Longbirch till the appointment of Dr. Gregory Stapleton to the vicariate in 1801. He then removed to Lichfield, where a chapel built by him was opened on 11 Nov. 1803; afterwards enlarged, it was converted in 1834 into the little Norman church of St. Cross. He also erected chapels at Hopwas, near Tamworth, and in Tamworth itself. By diploma dated 9 Nov. 1641, Pope Gregory XVI conferred upon him the degree of D.D. He died at Lichfield 21 Dec. 1851, aged 90.

Monsignor Weedall says of Kirk: 'He formed a perfect specimen of the olden times, a type of the fine old English priest; methodical, dignified, devout.' There is a portrait of him, engraved by Deere, in the 'Catholic Directory' for 1853.

During his residence in Rome, end for upwards of forty years of his long life, he was diligently preparing materials for a continuation of Dodd's 'Church History of England.' With infinite labour he transcribed or collected, and methodically arranged, letters, tracts, annals, recorded, diaries, and innumerable miscellaneous papers, forming upwards of fifty volumes in folio and quarto. An account of all these materials, specifically arranged under distinct heads, woe published by him in a 'Letter to the Rev. Joseph Berington, respecting the Continuation of Dodd's Church History of England,' Lichfield, September 1826 (Catholic Miscellany, vi. 250, 328, 465). Finally he handed over the work to the Rev. Mark Aloysius Tierney [q. v.] of Arundel, who brought out a new edition of Dodd's 'History,' 5 vols. London, 1839-43. 8vo. This edition is incomplete, ending with the year 1625, and no portion of a projected continuation appeared. On Tierney death in 1862 the manuscript materials bequeathed to Dr. Thomas Grant, bishop of Southwark, and they are now in the possession of that prelate's successor, Dr. John Butt. Transcripts of some of Kirk's letters and manuscripts are preserved in the library of St. Francis Xavier's College at Liverpool (Foley, Records, vii. 20). Four small but closely written bundles of biographical collections by Kirk, mostly of a later date than Dodd, were in the possession of the late Cardinal Manning (Gillon, Dict. of the English Catholics, i. Pref p. xv).

About 1794 Kirk undertook the task of deciphering, copying, and preparing for publication the 'State Papers and Letters' of Sir Ralph Sadler, ambassador to Scotland in the time of Elizabeth. These were published in 3 vols. 1809, 4to, by Arthur Clifford, with a biographical sketch by Sir Walter Scott. The original papers were then in the possession of the Cliffords of Tixall, Staffordshire; they are now in the British Museum (Athenæum, 1 March 1890, p. 277).

Kirk wrote, in collaboration with the Rev. Joseph Berington, 'The Faith of Catholics confirmed by Scripture and attested by the Fathers of the first five centuries of the Church,' London, 1813 and 1830,. 8vo; 3rd edit, revised and greatly enlarged by the Rev. James Waterworth, 3 vols. London, 1846, 8vo. There is a Latin translation in Joseph Braun's 'Bibliotheca Regularum Fidei,' Bonn, 1844, 8vo, vol. i. The work was attacked by the Rev. John Graham, M.A., in a review printed at the end of his 'Annals of Ireland,' London, 1849, 8vo; and the Rev. Richard Thomas Pembroke Pope published 'Roman Misquotation; or, Certain Passages from the Fathers adduced in Kirk's was brought to the test of their originals,' London, 1840, 8vo, In consequence of some exceptions having been taken to the 'Propositions' which form the heading of 'The Faith of Catholics,' Kirk published 'Roman Catholic Principles in reference to God and the King. First published in the year 1680. To which is prefixed an Inquiry respecting the Editions and the Author of that valuable tract,' London, 1815, 8vo. He proved by circumstantial evidence that the 'Principles' were drawn up by the Benedictine father James Corker [q. v.]

[Catholic Directory, 1853, p. 129; Catholic Magazine and Review, vol. v. p. ci; Gent. Mag. new ser. xxxvii. 301, ccxii. 509; Rambler, ix. 244-9. 425; Smith's Brewood. 2nd edit. 1874, p. 51; Monsignor Weedall in Tablet, 24 Jan. 1853 p. 51. and 31 Jan. p. 71.]

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