Friday, 17 October 2014

Father Denis Finbar O'Connor

The following extract about Denis Finbar O'Connor is from the online research paper, Always Faithful The New York Carmelites, the Irish People and Their Freedom Movement by Alfred Isacsson, O.Carm:

Denis Finbar O’Connor was born December 16, 1871 in Wexford and raised in Kinsale. One version for the family’s move would have his father working for a railroad and transferred to Kinsale to be the station master. Another would have him employed by the lighthouse services and transferred to the light at Kinsale.

Ordained September 24, 1895, O’Connor was in Australia at Gawler with Peter Elias Magennis for five years (1896-1901) before coming to Our Lady of the Scapular, Manhattan for the period, 1901-1908. He was at Transfiguration, Tarrytown, 1909-1916 where he had been made prior and pastor at the Irish Provincial Chapter of 1909. That year of the Rising (1916) was one of an Irish Provincial Chapter at which O’Connor was a representative. The chapter returned him to Our Lady of the Scapular this time as prior. He remained there until his death in 1924 at a time when he had been the major superior, Commissary General, of the Carmelites for the past two years. He died of pneumonia contracted while speaking in the rain at an open air rally in Jersey City.


Scenes of devastation in Dublin after the 1916
Easter Rising and the severe suppression of the
Irish population after the Rising were to have
a profound affect on priests such as
Denis O’Connor, returning to New York
as a changed man.. 
 
When he was in Tarrytown, Denis O’Connor showed some of the determination that would be a characteristic of his support for Irish independence. He was a fourth degree Knight of Columbus and the chaplain of the Tarrytown council. He proudly considered them Catholic, American and Irish. When he deemed them by their actions not true to the Irish cause, he ostracized the council and they affiliated themselves to another church much to O’Connor’s satisfaction.

The period he spent in Ireland in 1916 were his holidays as well as the Provincial Chapter. It was also the period after the Rising and the cruel suppression following it. Something happened to O’Connor while there because he returned to the United States and his assignment at Our Lady of the Scapular a different man. He made his parish the Irish church of New York and used its facilities for the promotion of Irish causes.

The 1916 Rising was followed in Ireland by cruel English repression. Property damage from the fighting, the shortage of food and the consequent depression of the people’s spirit was apparent to O’Connor. He had just spent seven years in Tarrytown as the prior and pastor of a country parish in a sleepy and slowly growing area. Previous to his administration, parish affairs were not too organized and he remedied this. Protests from neighbouring pastors of O’Connor’s violation of their parish boundaries showed the extent of his activity. Though the parish may have been founded to care for the Irish servants working on the Tarrytown estates, there was in his time there no political activity associated with the Irish Freedom Movement. Denis O’Connor was simply a good Carmelite and a good parish priest who did the work proper to such a position in such a town.
 
The change in Denis O’Connor after his 1916 trip to Ireland is very evident in the newspaper interviews he gave and the speeches he presented in Manhattan after his return which was also when he became a United States citizen. After his return from the chapter, O’Connor picked up his clothing and other belongings in Tarrytown but that must have taken place rather quickly as the interviews and speeches mentioned above are presented as though he had just returned from Ireland.
The Proclamation of Irish Independence
read out by the rebels of 1916

 
 
Something had to have happened in Ireland. One could easily say it was what he saw in troubled and devastated Ireland that changed him but we must consider the wide range of those years, 1916 to 1924. During this time, he moved from a country parish to an urban one, became involved in the Irish Freedom Movement, made the 28th Street parish an Irish haven and the priory a safe house, allowed any Irish group the use of the parish facilities, was chummy with all those active in the movement both here and in Ireland and, finally, was the “bag man” for the purchase of armaments.

What brought about this momentous change? It began with what he saw in Ireland, it was fostered by the influence of Magennis and I believe he joined the IRB on his 1916 Irish trip. Besides being proven by his actions, I think proof can be seen in the effects on and the reaction of Peter Elias Magennis to O’Connor’s death in 1924. This is expressed in an article in the Catholic Bulletin and his dedication to O’Connor of the main window in the chapel of Collegio San Alberto, then the Carmelite general headquarters and house of studies in Rome.

Lawrence D. Flanagan served the Carmelites in many posts in the United States up to 1926. When Gerard O’Farrell, the successor to Denis O’Connor as the Commissary General of the New York Carmelites died in 1926, Father Flanagan became the new Commissary General. He served in this post until 1931 when the New York Carmelites were raised to the status of a province, and he became the first provincial and held this office until 1943.

During this entire time of his being the Carmelite superior, he lived at Saint Simon Stock Church in the Bronx. Looking back on this period, one is inclined to say that his residence in the Bronx perhaps impeded his influence on the Manhattan centred Carmelites.


 


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