Margaret (Mother Angela) O'Donnell 1860

Margaret (Mother Angela) O'Donnell 1860

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In her book 'Goodbye to Catholic Ireland' Mary Kenny shows, among other things, how women played a role in constructing and supporting Catholic Ireland in the late 1800's to early 1900's. One of the women Mary writes about is my grandmother's sister Mother Angela O'Donnell who was born Margaret O'Donnell. I have written permission from Mary Kenny to copy this item from her book for this Facebook group. 


Mother Angela O'Donnell

When Mother Angela O'Donnell from Galbally, Co. Limerick died in 1916, her obituary revealed a life packed with incident. The daughter of John O'Donnell of Ardrahan, Galbally, Mother Angela entered the Order of St. Joseph of Cluny (a French missionary order established in Ireland) at the age of eighteen, at Mount Sackville, Dublin, where she had been educated.  She was sent to the novitiate in Paris, and then went on to Rome to be professed as a nun.  She remained in Rome for the following twenty years, during which time she became something of a confidante of Pope Leo X111, the energetic, evangelizing Pope who became associated with 'workers rights' after his encyclical Rerum Novarum.  Mother Angela's responsibilities meant she had a meeting with him every fortnight over these two decades.


Thereafter she returned to Paris at a time when the anti-clerical political programme was at its height.  In1905, a law was passed forbidding all religions to teach in schools, and all religious schools to be shut down.  There were tearful scenes of nuns being sent packing out of village schools, and indeed out of France.  Mother Angela was asked to find refuge for these French nuns in Ireland, but apparently the Irish bishops, somewhat inhospitably, felt that they were 'already fully taxed by the vast numbers of refugees from France' and thus she had to take the sisters in her charge elsewhere.   She choose Spain, and setting out with a consignment of books - their Convent had been requisitioned by the French Government and they were only permitted to take books with them - they set off, in what was to prove an extraordinary adventure, worthy of a biography in itself.


The sisters tramped their way across France on foot, begging for food and sleeping in barns and fields.  They finally found refuge in a stable - the association with Jesus Christ's birthplace is resonant - in the border town of Granollers, where they set up a dwelling and began teaching poor children, with the help of the local curé (priest).  The stable school prospered for a while, and then another anti-clerical riot broke out during which the stable as set on fire.  The sisters had to flee again, living roughly in the woods, and were, according to the obituarist, very nearly subject to a massacre - rescued at the last moment by a benign Mayor.  Eventually, Mother Angela O'Donnell started her school again and it became very successful.


By the end of her life, she was a local heroine who was given a funeral with full municipal honours: 'The towns of Barcelona and Granollers vied in giving her funeral honours... Her funeral march was like one grand triumphal march, the great and the little ones of both cities joining in the funeral train.'  Mother Angela still has collateral descendants living in the Galbally area of Limerick - Tipperary.   Did she have any influence one wonders, on the Pope whom she met regularly over a period of twenty years?

(End of article)

Additional Information
Date of Birth 5th Oct 1860  
Date of Death 18th Oct 1916  
Townland born Galbally, Co. Limerick  
Father (First Name/s and Surname) John O'Donnell of Ardrahan, Galbally  
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Margaret Gallahue  

Communities Associated with this Ancestor