Patrick Cardinal O'Donnell

Card_O_DonnellPatrick Cardinal O'Donnell

Bishop of Raphoe: 1888-1923


The best years of Bishop Patrick O’Donnell were spent in The Diocese of Raphoe, although like his predecessor Cardinal Logue, he became Primate Archbishop of Armagh and Cardinal.


Patrick O'Donnell was the son of a small farmer of Kilraine, near Glenties, Co. Donegal.  He was born on the 28th November 1855. He was educated in the High School, Letterkneey, the Catholic University, Dublin (1873-'75) and St Patrick's College, Maynooth. He was ordained to the priesthood on the 29th June, 1880.  In that same year he was appointed to the staff of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, holding the chairs of Dogmatic and Moral Theology.   In 1884 he became dean of the revived post-graduate Dunboyne Institute and in 1885 was awarded his STD. From his desk in Maynooth he poured out a continuous stream of articles on moral theology and canon law.


He was appointed bishop, the youngest in the world, in 1888, and consecrated by Cardinal Logue on 3rd April in Letterkenny. With superior qualities of mind and body, he was a benign figure who was yet gifted with sharp political acumen. He had the most distinguished episcopate, locally and nationally. He undertook and completed prodigious building projects: a superbly-sited neo-gothic (with Romanesque details) cathedral, overlooked by a house for bishop and clergy (1891-1901); St Eunan’s Diocesan College (1906); the Presentation Monastery and Loreto schools and an extension to Loreto Convent, all in Letterkenny.


The Marine Industrial School was erected in Killybegs, and all over the diocese churches, schools and parochial houses were built. In 1901 Pope Leo XIII restored the Raphoe Cathedral Chapter.


He was the longest serving member of the Congested Districts Board, from beginning to end (1892-1923), which through the work of the bishop, laity and clergy brought many advantages to Donegal farming and fishing and in the establishment of a light railway system. He was an ardent promoter of the Irish language and culture and was warmly supported by such priests as Dr Maguire and John McAteer and by uch laymen as JP Craig and Séan Mac a’Bhaird.   In 1906 they launched Feis Thír Chonaill on what was to be an active life, and in 1907 founded the Four Masters School, an Irish Summer school for teachers in St Eunan’s College.


Bishop O'Donnell strongly promoted the Temperance movement,  eventfully making the selling of poteen a reserved sin, forcing the illicit distillers to move across the Swilly to Inch and to Derry Diocese, and forcing the bishop of Derry to ban it.


He was rector of the Catholic University and a senator of the new National University, which awarded him an LLD in 1915. The thirteenth centenary of Colum Cille, culminating in the Gartan Festival, was a triumph for him and his talented classmate, Edward Maguire. He encouraged him to write his two-volume History of the Raphoe Diocese (Dublin 1920)


Bishop O'Donnell was in full sympathy with the plight of Donegal’s many smallholders and  opposed Balfour’s Coercion Act (1887) and equally the Vatican condemnation in 1888 of the Plan of Campaign.


For many years Dr O'Donnell was in effect chaplain to the Irish Parliamentary Party and presided over the Irish race Convention on 1896. But he condemned the 1916 executions and was amongst the first to see that Sinn Fein was the party of the future. He was a member of the 1917 Irish Convention.


Cardinal Logue secured his appointment as coadjutor-archbishop of Armagh in December 1921. Because of difficult times he remained as administrator of Raphoe until the appointment of his successor in 1923.


He became Archbishop of Armagh on the 19 December, 1924, and was created Cardinal on the 14 December, 1925.  He died on the 22 October 1927, and was buried in St Patrick's Cemetery, Armagh.  His episcopal motto was 'In Hoc Signo Vinces' - By this Sign (Cross) you shall conquer.


Information from 'The Raphoe Diocese, a brief History' by Fr John J. Silke, 2000