Rev. J. J. O’Connell is not buried in the Graveyard of the Basilica of St. Peter, but many family members are, and he is one of three priests, brothers, who honored their parents, Patrick and Anne Wray O’Connell, with a memorial marker in the O’Connell Family section of this graveyard. Born, educated, and ordained in Ireland, the young priest arrived in South Carolina, with parents and other family members, in 1850. After 44 years of ministry in trying times, he was laid to rest in 1894 at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina.
Besides his ministry during his lifetime, Father O’Connell left a valuable gift to the Church and to anyone with an interest in Christianity or United States history. The name of the book is Catholicity In The Carolinas and Georgia: Leaves of its History (1879). The book was identified by Kessinger’s Legacy Reprints as worthy of preservation and is available for purchase now on Amazon.com. The statement by Kessinger’s: “Because this work is culturally important, we have made it available as part of our commitment to protecting, preserving and promoting the world’s literature.”
For most readers, the book is best used for reference and not to be read through. Following three chapters on Bishop England, first bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, and other early leaders, there are city by city accounts of early Catholicism in the three states for which Bishop England bore responsibility plus “East Florida” and Alabama. Included are discussions of theology and faith. There are also many biographical sketches and comments about other priests and members of the early Catholic churches including names of some interred in the basilica graveyard.
There is a “Prefatory Epistle” in which Father O’Connell introduces the work and his reasons for writing: “To narrate the means and manner of the establishment of the Church, her progress, and unostentatious triumphs, in the face of appalling difficulties and disheartening obstacles, and to preserve the memory of the great and good men whom God raised up and fitted for the work, is the object of the writer.” Readers will find especially interesting a paragraph on the Civil War, ended fourteen years prior to the date of the book. It includes these two sentences: “I am a citizen of the United States, and sincerely attached to her form of government. Forbidden by my profession, and incapacitated by my position in society, from participating in the angry strife of politics which led to the disruption of the government, I took no share in accelerating that measure, though one of the greatest sufferers by its disaster.”
Later, in the section about Bishop England, there is this summary of the difficulties faced: “…heresy and error were rampant everywhere; the vilest slanders the most cruel and unfounded calumnies, bold falsehoods, were teeming from the press, announced in the pulpit, and taught by the school-books, until the very name of Catholic was a disgrace.”
The book is a treasure, but Fr. O’Connell also has a brick and mortar legacy, having been instrumental in the founding of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina. The Belmont Abbey website provides more detail about this second important legacy of the Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia author, Rev. Jeremiah Joseph O’Connell.
Read more about the O’Connell family and see the Three Priests monument HERE.
Below is the obituary of Father O’Connell.