ARCHBISHOP O'DONNELL 1897-1980
The success of the research into our Irish family history and genealogy
is in large part due to the Archbishop's diligence and effort in
creating a family tree of which we hold a precious copy of related
data. We are thankful for his important work which enabled the copying
of information concerning our family ancestors! Our immediate
forbearers where proud of his life and accomplishments.
of our Williamson related families share their O'Donnell of Knockanglass,
Tipperary, family genes with Archbishop
O'Donnell of Brisbane Australia. Our shared origins are through James O'Donnell
(1757-1810) and Catherine (nee Crean) of Knockanglass, our common
ancestors. Our Mary Ann Williamson's (nee O'Donnell)
J. Farrell Hopwood
(Article Copy Courtesy of "Michael O'Donnell")
(Web Site Copy Courtesy of "Joe Kenny" of "Fethard at Home")
PATRICK MARY O'DONNELL
Archbishop of Brisbane 1965-1973
Born Fethard, 2nd February 1897
Ordained Priest 15th April 1922
Coadjutor Archbishop 17th March 1949
Archbishop of Brisbane 10th April 1965 - 5th March 1973
Died 2nd November 1980
O'Donnell, Owning, Carrick-on-Suir.
greeted by a guard of honour on his visit to Fethard in 1954
PATRICK MARY O'DONNELL
A year before he
died the then retired Archbishop Patrick Mary O'Donnell wrote in
a special Irish number of the Australian Catholic newspaper The
Leader (11 April 1979):
"In the heart of man
there exists a strong desire that may even be an instinct to
cherish the memory of famous men. History relates their
deeds, monuments commemorate their heroism and their names
endure for centuries. But inevitably the lapse of time dims
the lustre, even as it withers the pages and wears the
stone. The name, perhaps like a fading echo, may linger but
the power of it is gone."
We can but hope that
this will not be for some years to come at least the fate of Dr.
O'Donnell himself. Perhaps already some priest in the
Archdiocese of Brisbane is researching his biography and will
give us a volume worthy to stand beside those written on his
Patrick Mary O'Donnell (as he himself wrote his name, but in the
1901 Census his father wrote it as Patrick only) was born at
Main Street, Fethard, the youngest child of Thomas and Johanna
O'Donnell (both of these were born in 1856), on 2 February 1897.
The family had a drapery business in the shop that is today
O'Sullivan's Pharmacy. According to Patrick himself he was the
youngest of sixteen children, though the 1901 Census lists only
five children: Mary Ellen aged 20 years (she was then assisting
her father in the drapery business), James then aged 17 and at
school (older residents in Fethard will still remember him),
Edmond aged 13 and at school, Sarah aged 9 and at school, and
Patrick who was then aged four years. But the others could have
been away from home when this Census was undertaken in March
1901. It will be necessary to research the local Catholic parish
records on the family to discover when the parents married, how
many children they had and when born, and when the parents died.
As I write this I have not been able to discover when and why
the family abandoned the drapery business. It was not listed in
a Trade Directory of 1915.
Archbishop O'Donnell has written that his family came to Fethard
from Knockinglass which is that hilly area directly to the north
of Moyglass village. According to him a James O'Donnell was born
here in 1757 and died in 1810. This James married a Catherine
Crehan and had family. In 1850 John O'Donnell of Knockinglass
farmed 48 acres which in those times would have been a
comfortable farm. And in a Trade Directory of 1889 John (either
the same, or a son) was living in Knockinglass, but in the same
directory a Thomas O'Donnell is shown as having a drapery
business in Fethard. An 1870 Directory does not list Thomas but
that of 1881 has him recorded as a linen and woollen draper. We
may presume, then, that sometime in the 1870s he set himself up
in business in Fethard; by 1880 he would have been 24 years old.
By 1901 the drapery business in Fethard was well established
with Thomas employing an assistant in the shop, John Skehan then
aged 31 years (who will also be recalled by older Fethard
residents), and his daughter Mary Ellen. Thomas's wife may also
have assisted in the shop since they employed a servant, Ellen
Nolan aged 23 years. It would seem that the family were a
prosperous one and especially so as they could support a son who
pursued his education in various part of Ireland and in Rome.
Patrick O'Donnell began his education with the Presentation
Sisters in Fethard and then moved across Old Chapel Lane to the
National School where the Patrician Brothers taught. The
Archbishop had affectionate memories of his time at school in
Fethard and on every visit to the town made a point of visiting
both teaching orders. In time he moved to The Academy conducted
by the Brothers on the Main Street. From here he went to the
Jesuits at Mungret College in Limerick and later still he spent
a short time in All Hallows College in Dublin.
To finish his education he took up residence in the Propaganda
Fide College in Rome where many of his fellow students were to
be in later years leaders in the Catholic Church. One such was
Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney. Patrick O'Donnell was
ordained a priest in Rome in April 1922.
In June of 1922 he returned to Ireland for a short holiday
before going to the diocese of Sale, near to Melbourne in
Australia. He had been ordained for that diocese. About mid
September 1922 he sailed for Australia on the liner Kyber which
he probably joined at Liverpool. His ship would have sailed
through the Mediterranean and stopped at Port Said at the mouth
of the Suez Canal to take on coal. No doubt Patrick wandered
around Port Said while the ship was coaling to wonder at the
exotic scenes and sights. The liner would then have sailed
through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and then across the
Indian Ocean to the port of Colombo in modern-day Sri Lanka.
Here, again, the liner would have taken on coal. Like all the
passengers he would have explored this city. From here the young
priest, probably a little sea-sick, a little home-sick and most
likely wondering if he would ever again see Ireland, sailed
through the south Indian Ocean and across under south Australia
to the port of Melbourne which he reached at the end of October
1922. There was no fast and cheap travel by plane in those days;
the voyage by liner was expensive and took about seven weeks.
From Melbourne he was taken to the town of Sale which lies about
130 miles north-east of Melbourne and was the principal city in
the province of Gippsland in the State of Victoria. When Patrick
arrived there the town was not much bigger than Fethard and like
Fethard was in the centre of a rich agricultural area with a
temperate climate. But the town was increasing in size, by 1949
the population was 6,000 and today the population is about
15,000. His first position was that of curate in Sale Cathedral
and he was to serve in this capacity until he was appointed
Administrator of the Cathedral in 1930. He continued in the
latter until 1937.
In 1937 he was appointed parish priest of Leongatha in the
beautiful lake district of south Gippsland and close to the
southern coast of Australia. This was in the diocese of Sale.
While here, in 1944, he was created a Domestic Prelate by Pope
Pius XII and was appointed a Vicar General in the diocese. He
seems to have served in Leongatha until about 1946. In this year
he was promoted a Monsignor and transferred to the parish of
Warragul where he served until 18 December 1948. Warragul is
also in the diocese of Sale and somewhat to the east of
In 1947, while still parish priest in Warragul, he celebrated
the silver jubilee of his ordination. To mark the occasion he
made his first trip back to Ireland in a quarter of a century.
This time he was able to fly by plane and was accompanied by the
Apostolic Delegate to Australia, Dr. Pancio. They came via India
and the Middle East to Rome where Patrick spent some time before
flying to Paris where he met Archbishop Roncalli, the Nuncio to
France and later Pope John XXIII. Patrick O'Donnell celebrated
his silver jubilee by offering High Mass in the Urban College of
Propaganda Fide in Rome.
He was resettled about a year in his parish in Sale when, on 18
December 1948, he received a telegram from Rome notifying him
that he had been appointed Titular Archbishop of Pelusium and
Coadjutor to Dr. James Duhig, then Archbishop of Brisbane.
Brisbane lay about one thousand miles to the north, away in the
sub-tropical state of Queensland. On the same day as he received
the telegram Patrick wrote to Dr. Duhig: 'I am naturally filled
with apprehension. I have been Vicar General long enough to
realise the burdens and worries of a bishop'. But his neighbour
and fellow Irishman, Dr. Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne,
wrote to him in a shaky hand (Mannix was then 85 years): 'You
can't keep a good man down'.
On Thursday 17 March 1949, St. Patrick's Day, Patrick Mary
O'Donnell was ordained as Archbishop in St. Mary's Cathedral at
Sale. The principal ordinand was his classmate from Rome days,
Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney who was assisted by two Tipperary men,
Bishop Ryan of Sale, Victoria and Bishop Gleeson of Maitland,
New South Wales.
On this special occasion he gave utterance for the first time to
the heartbreak and the sorrow he experienced on leaving Fethard,
his father and mother, his brothers and sisters all those 27
years ago. And with the modesty that was so much a feature of
the man he went on:
"I do not know why I
should be chosen for the dignity of Archbishop, but I say
that it is the loyalty and training of Bishop Ryan (Bishop
of Sale) which has fitted me for it. To leave the priests,
the brothers and the laity who have done so much for me is
one of the heart-breaking duties of a priest whose work is
elsewhere, but so it must be. I will never forget you."
On 28 April 1949 he
formally presented himself to Archbishop Duhig and received a
liturgical reception in St. Stephen's Cathedral in downtown
Brisbane. That night a civic reception was held for him in the
City Hall at which the Chief Justice of Queensland read an
address of welcome.
Dr. O'Donnell was the last Irish-born bishop to be appointed to
the Australian Hierarchy which must be seen as a significant
tribute to his talents, his popularity and his acceptability
both in Rome and in Australia. Since the 1930s it had been
Vatican policy, which it had been vigorously pushing, that only
native Australians should be promoted to local dioceses.
When Dr. O'Donnell moved north to Brisbane he lived for a short
time with Archbishop Duhig, but he then moved to his own
residence. This was Glengarriff, Derby Street, Hendra, Brisbane
which lay to the northeast of the city and in the suburbs. It is
immediately to the south of the modern-day airport. This house
was a large two-storied brick house with extensive grounds. It
had been the property of a Mr. T. C. Beirne until his death on
21 April 1949. The house had five bedrooms and quarters for
domestic staff. On the death of Mr. Beirne his daughters
presented it to the Archdiocese and Dr. Duhig passed it on to
his Coadjutor. With his house Dr. O'Donnell received an annual
salary of £1,500 from his Archbishop. Whatever other faults he
may have had Dr. Duhig was always generous with money and made
certain that Archbishop O'Donnell had sufficient whenever he
travelled to Europe and to his beloved Fethard.
In the Archdiocese of Brisbane Dr. O'Donnell was to serve in the
shadow of Archbishop Duhig for sixteen years until the latter,
who did not retire, died on 10 April 1965 aged 93 years. Though
there was no public confrontation or ill will between the two
Archbishops, it has to be said that in private Dr. Duhig was
less than supportive of his Coadjutor and often expressed the
opinion that Dr. O'Donnell lacked the essentials of leadership.
Nevertheless, at all times Archbishop O'Donnell was magnanimous
and loyal to his superior and his good humour overcame any
private frustration he may have experienced. A touch of this
humour may be seen in the comment made by Archbishop O'Donnell
when asked for his opinion on the great age of Dr. Duhig: 'Ah,
God bless us, poor James [Dr. Duhig] will probably die of
pneumonia caught at my funeral'.
Following his first visit home in 1947 Archbishop O'Donnell came
regularly to Ireland. he was here in 1950 when he blessed the
Holy Year Cross on Slievenamon with Canon Ryan of Fethard and
preached in Thurles Cathedral. This was on 15 August. Again in
1954 he was the leader of the Brisbane Archdiocesan pilgrimage
to Lourdes, Rome and, of course, Ireland. He was in Ireland
again in 1961 for the celebrations commemorating the 1,500th
anniversary of the death of St. Patrick. On this occasion he
left Brisbane on Thursday 23 February 1961 and flew via
Singapore, Calcutta, Cairo and on to Rome where he spent a week.
When he landed in Dublin he was met by Dr. McQuaid, the
Archbishop of Dublin and Fr. Walter Skehan of Clonbrogan,
Moyglass who was then parish priest of Loughmore. Dr. O'Donnell
attended the Vatican 11 sessions in Rome with his friend the
late Archbishop Thomas Morris of Cashel & Emly.
St. Stephen's Cathedral Brisbane
On 10 April 1965 he
succeeded as third Archbishop of Brisbane. This sub-tropical
city with its beautiful parks and towering buildings was to be
his home for the remainder of his life; and in its cathedral,
dwarfed by high-rise buildings, he was laid to his final rest.
As Archbishop of Brisbane Dr. O'Donnell returned to Fethard on
30 May 1969 for the consecration of the parish church. Together
with native priests from the parish he concelebrated Mass in the
church on Sunday 1 June which was Trinity Sunday and the 150th
anniversary of the first Mass being celebrated. On that Sunday
he was escorted into the town by the St. Joseph's Band from
Ferryhouse, Clonmel and boys from the Patrician Brothers Schools
formed at guard of honour in the churchyard. An ageing and
honoured son was coming home.
At a special Mass in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane on 18
April 1972 the Archbishop celebrated the 50th anniversary of his
ordination as a priest. He accepted the ruling of Vatican 11
which decreed that bishops and archbishops should retire at 75
years and so on 5 March 1973 he passed on the staff of office.
He continued to live at his home at Glengarriff, in Derby
Street, but Fethard and Clonmel still called him. In July of
that year the priests of the diocese of Brisbane laid on a
formal dinner which served as a formal farewell to their leader.
About one hundred priests attended. Two days later Dr. O'Donnell
left for Ireland and an extended holiday which he spent with his
sister, Mrs. C. Carri, O'Connell Street, Clonmel. He was
expected back in Brisbane within a few months, but even by March
1974 he had not returned. However, in mid 1974 he did do so and
to the best of my knowledge he never again left Brisbane.
Archbishop Patrick Mary O'Donnell died on 2 November 1980. He
was buried in the vault at the side aisle of his Cathedral in
Brisbane on the very hot afternoon of 6 November. A simple
placque commemorates his memory beside that of his predecessor
Dr. James Duhig. The Irish Government cabled condolences to the
Archdiocese. And what he always saw as his church (the parish
church in Fethard) held a concelebrated Mass on 6 November at
which Fr. William Hayes, who knew the Archbishop well, preached.
He described Dr. O'Donnell as a fine priest, a holy man, but a
O'Donnell's tomb tablet St. Stephen's Cathedral, Brisbane
It has been written of
Dr. O'Donnell that he was a wonderful preacher with a fine
command of the English language. However, his sermons tended to
be on the long side. His devout and pious nature together with
his command of Christian doctrine, the New Testament and Canon
Law shone through all his homilies. For the ordinary man and
woman seeking spiritual help as they struggled through life he
was a caring pastor, and by his loving and out-going nature
brought the mercy of a compassionate God to a people in
difficulty. He was most virtuous and holy in his personal life,
but in the performance of his Episcopal duties he tended to be
overly conscientious and to bind himself about with Canon Law.
Others have written he was vacillating and hesitant when he came
to making decisions. We should remember, though, that any
Archbishop who followed Dr. Duhig -- the Lion of Queensland --
would have had a high benchmark to aim for. Duhig could ooze
confidence even when he was in the wrong, but this Dr. O'Donnell
could never do. For all of that he did modernise the diocese of
Brisbane and passed it on in a healthy state to his successor.
Though he lived in a beautiful city with a warm, tropical
climate and close to sandy beaches and delightful scenery his
inner eye only saw the white clouds flying over Slievenamon and
his ear heard only the murmuring of the Clashawley. So, while
men on a distant continent will judge him as a leader of the
Catholic Church, people in Fethard should see him as a native
son who never forgot the place that bred and educated him to
manhood, the place that for all of his 83 years was his true
home. He was a man of humour who had a streak of irreverence in
him, a raconteur of style and wit.
LETTER FROM ARCHBISHOP
some genealogical notes sent by Archbishop ODonnell to his
nephew Jack ODonnell of New York USA in 1978. (kindly supplied
by George Byrnes, Texas, USA.)