From Clonea to Armidale, New South Wales
The Right Rev.Bishop Patrick O'Connor

Written and submitted by Eddie Cantwell

Patrick O'Connor was born during the darkest period of Ireland's history at Knockyoolahan West, Clonea Dungarvan, Co Waterford. He was born in a house that was steeped in tradition and religion on Christmas day of 1848.

His three uncles who were priests, Joseph, Patrick and Gerard Meany were all born in the same house. His aunt was Mother superior at Lismore convent in County Waterford and another uncle (Denis) a Doctor of note who spent six years on the Pribloff Islands back in the 1870s.

Six of his granduncles were also priests. It was no surprise that both Patrick and his brother David would follow in the footsteps of their famous uncles.

Patrick O'Connor was educated at the Christian Brother's school in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and later at All Hallows, Dublin. In 1874, he spent some time with his ailing uncle, Fr. Joseph Meany at St.Annes, Blackburn, England; he was witness to the priest's passing that same year. On St.Patricks day 1876, he sailed for New South Wales, and here in the township of Armidale he remained up until his death in 1932.

Armidale is situated in northern New South Wales. It is about 350 miles north of Sidney and 300 miles south of Brisbane. It became a city in 1885. It owes its name to G.J.McDonald who was commissioner of Crown lands. He named the early settlement Armidale after his ancestral home in Scotland. Squatters first settled in the area in 1835. The settlement grew quickly, and became a noted wool producing and gold-mining centre.

Here in this extended parish young Patrick O'Connor blazed a trail through the big timbers of the north on horseback, sometimes travelling up to eighty miles to answer a sick call. During these early days he had the companionship of an old collage friend Fr. Doyle, who later became Bishop of Lismore. The new priest worked long and hard in his new mission field, he became friend to all regardless of their religious persuasion. It was said of him, "He had a heart of gold, and was loved by Catholics and Protestants alike". He was often heard to say that he never said a word that would give a member of a non-Catholic denomination cause for anger and he prayed that his priests would do the same. In 1887, Fr. Patrick O'Connor was appointed Vicar - General, after just under ten years in the field. On the occasion of the silver jubilee of his ordination he was raised to the dignity of Monsignor, and on the third of May he was consecrated Bishop of Armidale.

Bishop O'Connor was not satisfied with just running the diocese, he continued to retain the missionary zeal that had made him such a popular priest, and so the missionary priest became a missionary Bishop. He twice toured the world along with another Bishop and a number of priests from Australia. During his second circumnavigation of the globe in 1905, (his first was 1888) a newspaper article which covered his visit to Middletown in Ohio includes a rather interesting description of him.

"Dr O Connor is a fine specimen of the Irish type of manhood, being tall and well built with a fine head, well poised on a pair of broad shoulders; his unassuming, kindly manner wins everyone. He is one of the great churchmen of Australia today. The people of Middletown gave him a most cordial welcome, and it is to be regretted that many of the clergy, not having any assistant, were unable to hear him; but a number of people of all creeds attended Mass and vespers and many personal friends called at the residence of Mr. And Mrs. Patrick J. Miles with whom he stopped… Dr. O'Connor delivered an eloquent sermon at vespers, holding the keen attention of his listeners for forty minutes".

Patrick O'Connor was indeed a handsome young man; an early photo which I have in my possession confirms the writer's remark.

In later Bishop O'Connor became a well-known personality at the Ocean View Hotel at Clonea, Dungarvan County Waterford, where he occasionally spent his holidays; indeed, one of the rooms in the hotel carried his name up until the time that the hotel changed hands. It was known as 'The Bishop's room'. Interestingly, while researching this project a gentleman obliged me by going with camera to photograph the final resting place of the Clonea Bishop at Armidale. Having no luck, an elderly Nun was called on to render assistance in the search of the missing Bishop. 'I believe that you may have a tradition in Ireland which is known as sweeping things under the carpet' the searching photographer commented, tongue in cheek. The reason for the remark was well founded; the church floor was completely carpeted and underneath it was the final resting place of Bishop Patrick O'Connor. The carpet was partially rolled back to allow the camera-man to take a few photos, which I now have in my possession.

This is just a brief profile of The Right Rev. Patrick Joseph O'Connor, third Bishop of Armidale who died on the 15th July 1932. He is buried in front of our Lady's altar inside St. Patrick's Cathedral Armidale.

Eddie Cantwell 2004


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