Bishop Reichel was Church of Ireland bishop of Meath, yet he did not reside in the diocese during his time as bishop. A former rector of Trim, he was a controversial figure who fought and won the right for bishops of Meath to be next in rank to the archbishops – a right still enjoyed by both Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Bishops today. Ruth Illingworth gave an interesting talk on Reichel to the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society and this article is partly based on her work.
The Right Rev. Charles Parsons Reichel, was born at Fulneck, near Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1816. He was the son of a Moravian minister, but his ancestors have been, with the above exception, Lutheran clergymen, so far back as the Thirty Years’ War. His mother Hannah Parsons was English. Reichel spent much of his childhood in America. He took a great interest in chemistry and nearly blew himself up in an experiment that went wrong.
In 1835 Reichel went to study at the University of Berlin, where he studied Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, together with Ecclesiastical History and New Testament Exegesis. However he had what would today be termed a nervous breakdown from overworking. He suffered from depression which he described as ‘a darkness that can be felt.’
In 1838 he returned to England, and graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gained a classical scholarship, and took a gold medal in Greek, first Hebrew premium at seven examinations, and was first in the first class at the final Divinity examination in 1846. It was at Trinity that he became an Anglican. He was then ordained deacon in 1847; appointed to a curacy at St. Mary’s, Dublin, which he resigned three years afterwards on being appointed Professor of Latin at Queen’s College, Belfast. He was angered by the sectarianism, with parks and other civic amenities being closed on Sunday. He said that ‘If Jesus Christ came back to Belfast he would be arrested for Sabbath breaking.’
In 1854 he was chosen Donnellan Lecturer at Dublin University. These lectures are now out of print, and he has been Select Preacher at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin; in the latter University holding the office twice. In 1856 he was created D.D. by the University of Dublin, and was appointed chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Carlisle. The Lord Lieutenant appointed him as vicar of Mullingar in 1864. The Crown had the right to appoint the vicar of Mullingar, which was a good position with an income of £365 per annum. Rev. Reichel trained the Westmeath choirs while serving in Mullingar. He became involved in a political and religious controversy when the Protestant Railway master was killed. Very bad feelings were generated on both sides of the religious divide. He was very mistrustful of the Roman Catholic church and outspoken in criticism of it.
In 1869 the Church of Ireland was disestablished – the state ceased its control over the church and ceased funding its activities. Reichel and the majority of the clergy opposed the move. The Church had to make changes as it was no longer to receive financial help from the state and would also now be free to organise itself. The “General Convention of the Church of Ireland” sat for nearly sixty days in 1870 to consider changes to the church. Dr. Reichel took a prominent part in establishing the system for nominating clergy to parishes and ensured that the bishop of the diocese would have a say in the nominations.
Reichel was transferred to Trim and the Archdeaconry of Meath in 1875. Dr. Reichel was appointed Dean of Clonmacnois in 1882, and he acted as Commissioner for his Grace, the Lord Primate, in which capacity he carried on the affairs of the diocese of Meath when Bishop Butcher died in 1876. Reichel was a candidate for the bishopric but came in third in the voting. This was the first election of a bishop after the disestablishment of the church. All previous bishops had been appointed by the Crown. Dr. Plunket was elected bishop of Meath and in 1884 he became archbishop of Dublin and the see of Meath was vacant again.
In the election of bishop Rev. Dr. Joseph Bell, Rector of Kells and Rev. Dean Reichel were the two main candidates but neither achieved the necessary amount of votes and so both names were forwarded to the bench of Bishops. The bishops met and selected Dr. Reichel. While the bishopric was vacant a decision was taken to reduce the status of the Meath diocese. Until this decision the Bishop of Meath was always regarded as being next to the archbishops in status. Reichel when he became bishop fought this decision and had it reversed.
During his term as bishop Reichel was in very poor health suffering from gout, bronchitis and pneumonia. Reichel resided at Dundrum during his time as bishop. He refused to live at Ardbraccan as the house was too big and living in Dublin allowed him better access to the railways to travel around his diocese. Bishop Reichel sat on the newly established Board of Education for the diocese of Meath. The Board took over the administration of the funds of the Preston School at Navan, together with some other less important endowments.
He opposed Home Rule believing it would lead to Rome Rule. While he did not share Parnell’s political views he did not like the activities of Bishop Nulty and the priests. Reichel defended the right to free speech and free voting.
Bishop Reichel’s son, Sir Henry (Harry) became a distinguished college head and educationist. In 1884 he was appointed first principal of the University College of North Wales, Bangor, and was knighted in 1907. In 1894 Bishop Reichel died at the home of his son in Bangor, Wales. His remains were returned to Dublin for funeral and burial at Whitechurch cemetery. The archbishop of Dublin described him as one of the brightest ornament that had ever shed light on the Irish Episcopate. “He always seemed to me to be an eminently single-minded man, independent in his searching after truth, and most fearless in his enunciation of truth when he thought he had found it.” “He, himself, was frank and outspoken.”
Reichel was regarded as a fine preacher, never preaching without his manuscript and his reading accompanied with no action whatever. Many of his sermons were published. In controversy he was regarded as a hard hitter and left many with the impression that his words were always bitter and cutting. In private life Reichel was full of kindness and had a ready hand for those in need.
Bishop Reichel was a controversial but gifted man.