John Francis O'Donnell 1852

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Migrated to/Born in New Zealand

John Francis O'Donnell was a son of Honora Quane and Owen O'Donnell of Glenroe Parish, Co Limerick. He was born c1852 and had a younger brother James Joseph, and a sister Mary. Both John Francis and James Joseph O'Donnell became priests and emigrated to New Zealand. Both brothers were first cousins to my great-grandfather Patrick Riordan, whose mother was Bridget Quane.

John Francis O'Donnell was the priest responsible for getting a new stone church built in Queenstown in New Zealand, on a hillside above the lake.  He died on 3 May 1917, and is buried in the cemetery in Queenstown. (photos attached).

When he was leaving his previous parish of Hyde, the following was said in an address to him: “Your untiring energy to teach our children the doctrines of our holy religion, and make them fit soldiers to fight the battles of life; your apostolic zeal at all times and in all seasons to be present at the bedside of any of your afflicted flock, to console and strengthen them; your constant appeals by precept and example to lead us to God; these are the marks which have shown you to be a man of God, and which have endeared you to the people of Hyde.”

There are many accounts in newspapers of the time about how he cared for the sick, and educated the children.

Queenstown has an incredibly scenic position, and it seems that it wasn't unusual for him to have priest visitors staying with him on holiday, including in one case in 1909, an O'Riordan cousin who was a priest in Australia: “Father O'Riordan, inspector of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Goulbum, who had been on a visit to his cousin, Rev. J. F. O'Donnell, Queenstown, passed through Dunedin during the week, on his return to Australia.”

A year after his death during an anniversary Mass, the priest in his sermon spoke of how dearly Fr O'Donnell loved Ireland, the land of his birth, and how he loved to sing her national songs. He also spoke of how much he loved the place he had found in the mountains of New Zealand. "The dearest spot on earth to him was his home here among the mountains, where every morning he thanked the Great God, Whose beauty and love he saw reflected in the deep blue waters of the lake. Just twelve months ago you laid his body, that frail casket which enclosed his beautiful soul, to rest under the towering peaks of Ben Lomond."

At the start of 2019 I was recuperating from an illness, and had time to research more about Fr John Francis O'Donnell. Thanks to the access we have to old newspapers and magazines in NZ on the Papers Past website, I was able to find out a lot about his life in New Zealand as a priest. I have it saved as a pdf: it is rather long, but perhaps it is of interest to someone from the Glenroe area. Contact me if you would like to know more.

Margaret Riordan
New Zealand

Additional Information
Date of Birth 1852  
Date of Death 3rd May 1917 VIEW SOURCE