Fonds - Bishop James Louis O'Donel fonds

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Bishop James Louis O'Donel fonds

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  • Textual record

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  • 1737-1811, predominant 1784-1811 (Creation)
    O'Donel, James Louis

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12 cm of textual records

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Biographical history

James Louis O'Donel (1737-1811), Franciscan priest and Catholic bishop, was born in Knocklofty, County Tipperary, Ireland in 1737, son of Michael and Ann (Crosby) O'Donel. He died on 5 April 1811 at a friary in Waterford, Ireland.

There is little information available on O'Donel's early life, but it is known that as a young boy he was educated by a private tutor, and later at a classical school in Limerick. He joined the Order of Saint Francis in Limerick and was appointed a member of Convent of the Immaculate Conception of the Irish Franciscan Community at Prague. There he received the habit of St. Francis, made his final profession of vows, completed his education and was ordained a priest in 1770.

After five years as chaplain to several aristocratic families in Bohemia, Rev. O'Donel returned to Ireland (1775). In 1776, he was elected as a provincial definitor (consultor). On 19 July 1779, he was selected Minister Provincial, or Superior, for a three-year term, placing him at the head of the Franciscan Order in Ireland. When his term of office was completed, he was appointed guardian of the friary in Waterford. In 1784 Rev. O'Donel was appointed by Pope Pius VI as Prefect Apostolic of Newfoundland, including Labrador, Greenland and all points north up to the North Pole.

Rev. O'Donel arrived in Newfoundland on 30 May 1784. In the same year, on 24 October 1784, Governor Edward John Campbell proclaimed freedom of religion. Recognizing that the greatest need of the church in Newfoundland was the presence of more priests, O'Donel recruited fellow Franciscans. Franciscans Patrick John Phelan, John Patrick Phelan and his nephew, Reverend Michael O'Donel, a secular priest, came to Newfoundland. In 1785, O'Donel oversaw the completion of the first Roman Catholic chapel on Henry Street, St. John's.

O'Donel was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland on 5 January 1796. On 21 September 1796, he was consecrated titular Bishop of Thyatira in Quebec by Bishop John Francis Hubert, becoming the first bishop in Newfoundland and the first English-speaking bishop in North America. By 1790 Bishop O'Donel had established clergy in Ferryland, Harbour Grace and Placentia. Experiencing a decline in his health, he applied to Rome in 1805 for a coadjutor. During the last year of his term of office (1806) he supported the establishment of the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) at the Society's inaugural meeting in the London Tavern on 17 February 1806.

With the arrival of Rev. Patrick Lambert in Newfoundland, O'Donel resigned from his office on 31 December 1806. The following year, on 26 July 1807, O'Donel left Newfoundland. Along the way he made a brief stopover at Portsmouth and Bristol before retiring to the friary in Waterford, Ireland, where he died in 1811.

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Scope and content

Fonds consists of canonical certificates of ordination, correspondence and a copy of his last will and testament. Fonds also includes newspaper clippings and printed material related to his life.

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  • English

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File list available.

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Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Parish fonds

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Created - May 21, 2013

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  • English

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