St. Malachy is known principally as a reformer of the Irish clergy, enforcing the rule of celibacy and other disciplines. By the age of 30 he had been appointed abbot of Bangor
and bishop of Connor. By 35 he was archbishop of Armagh
. However, it was some time before Malachy gained control of his see, as his appointment was violently opposed by supporters of the family that had been in control of the monastery and church of Armagh for generations. Despite being in danger of his life, Malachy cleaned up the diocese and restored it to peace.
In 1137 Malachy journeyed to Rome, where Pope Innocent II
appointed him papal legate for Ireland. On his travels back and forth, he visited St. Bernard at Clairvaux
, who aided him in establishing (1142) the first Cistercian
house in Ireland, the abbey of Mellifont in Louth
. It was on one such visit to Clairvaux that Malachy was taken ill and died in St. Bernard's arms.
St. Bernard later wrote Malachy's biography, saying of him: "his first and greatest miracle was himself. His inward beauty, strength, and purity are proved by his life; there was nothing in his behavior that could offend anyone."
Legend says that Malachy had the gift of prophecy and while in Rome had a vision of all the popes
from his day forward. According to Malachy's written description of the vision, which was lost until 1590, there were to be only two popes after John Paul II. Today, however, most people believe the manuscript to be a fake.