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
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