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Youth and education
Cornelius Lucey was born into a farming family at Windsor, Ovens, near Cork City. He attended Ballinora Primary School and played for the local GAA club.He studied at St Finbarr's College, Farranferris, the diocesan college. He graduated from St Patrick's College, Maynooth with BC and BCL, and obtained MAs at Innsbruck University in 1927–29 and then University College Dublin.
Lucey was ordained a priest in 1927. He held the Chair of Philosophy and Political Theory at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, from 1929 to 1950. He was one of the founders of Christus Rex, a priestly society devoted to social issues, on which he was a prominent commentator. In 1951 he was appointed bishop of the diocese of Cork, from 1958 united to the Diocese of Ross. He founded the St. Anne's Adoption Society in 1954. His outspoken sermons, often given at confirmations, made him something of a thorn in the side of the establishment. His views on matters of faith and morals were conservative, and he was involved in a controversy in the 1960s, when he withdrew the diocesan faculties of Father James Good, a lecturer at University College, Cork, for publicly dissenting from the teaching of Pope Paul VI. He started the Cork diocesan mission to Peru, and many priests from Cork ministered there from 1961.
Lucey retired as bishop in 1980. He went to the Turkana District in Kenya to work as an ordinary curate with Fr. James Good, who had gone there some years earlier. Good later described the last two years of the Bishop's life and his reaction to Turkana customs:
- The parish priest of Lorogumu was an advanced liturgist and (among other things) had introduced general Absolution along with an entrance rite to Sunday Mass in which six ladies clad (or unclad) à la Turkana custom danced to the altar before the priest. I panicked but Bishop Lucey got his way and was duly installed as curate in Lorogumu, under Fr Tony Barrett, a Kiltegan priest who was an expert in Turkana language and custom. It was a perfect combination: one might describe it as a perfect marriage of minds and of mutual admiration. At a later date I asked Bishop Lucey how he liked the Lorogumu liturgy and he replied 'very beautiful'.
Death and legacy
After nearly two years in Kenya he became seriously ill. He was flown back to Cork in May 1982, and was diagnosed with leukaemia. He died in September 1982.