From the Trailblazers Website of Biographys on Canadian Women
"Mary O’Donnell, a native of Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland, died at the residence of her son,
Jeremiah, Roman Catholic parish priest in Harbour Main, on Dec. 14, 1875, at the age of 84.
She had been predeceased by her husband, Thomas, some years before and had come out to
Newfoundland as housekeeper to her son. Little is known about her life. She was in all likelihood a
hardworking woman, dedicated to her family and to her church, very similar to thousands of other
Irish women who emigrated to Newfoundland.
In one way, though, Mary O’Donnell was quite remarkable. At least eight of her children emigrated
to Newfoundland — there were others who remained in Ireland — and of those eight, six entered
religious orders, four as priests and two as nuns.
All born in Cahir
The eight O’Donnell children who settled in Newfoundland were all born in Cahir. Jeremiah, who
may have been the oldest, was born around 1814. He studied for the priesthood and was ordained
in 1840. He arrived in Newfoundland around 1852 and spent some time in Harbour Grace before
moving to St. John’s where he taught at the newly established Catholic boys’ school, St.
Bonaventure’s College, from 1858 to 1860, before being assigned to parish work at the Cathedral of
St. John the Baptist.
On May 13, 1861, he was shot in the leg when he and fellow priests tried to disperse a mob
reacting to the House of Assembly’s decision not to seat George Hogsett and Charles Furey, two
of the candidates who claimed victory in Harbour Main district in the election held earlier in the
year. He remained in St. John’s until he was appointed successor to Rev. Kyran Walsh as parish
priest at Harbour Main in 1868.
He retired to Conception Harbour in 1882, but continued to administer the western part of the
parish for another two years. He died there on Feb. 27, 1891.
Margaret and Richard O’Donnell may have been twins. If not, they were born very close together in
1824 or 1825. Margaret married one Michael Leamy, a farmer at Blackhead, near St. John’s, where
she died on May 7, 1889 at the age of 64.
Richard served as parish priest at Assumption Parish, St. Mary’s, St. Mary’s Bay from 1877 to
1887. His parish included the many small communities in that area, and he must have made quite
an impression, as the name of one of them, Mussel Pond, was changed to O’Donnell’s in his
honour. He died on May 19, 1889, just 12 days after his sister Margaret, also at age 64.
Patrick was born in 1837. He attended the Trappist Monastery at Mount Melleray, County
Waterford, and St. Patrick’s College, at Carlow. He came to St. John’s in 1861, and after two
years of study at St. Bonaventure’s College, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John T.
He spent almost all his clerical life in the Harbour Main parish, where he acted as curate first to
Father Walsh, and then to his brother, Jeremiah. He served in Conception Harbour, before being
named parish priest of Harbour Main. He died there on Jan. 16, 1906, and was buried beneath the
floor of the parish church.
David, born in 1840, studied at Carlow College, and was ordained there in
1864. He followed the
other members of his family to Newfoundland, where he was assigned to parish work at Witless
Bay. He died there at age 31 on April 25, 1871.
Alice O’Donnell was born in 1828 or 1829 and entered the Presentation order at St. John’s in 1854.
She was professed in 1856 and was given the religious name Sister Mary Bernard.
She was one of four sisters who went to Witless Bay in 1860 to found a convent, of which she
became the mother superior, serving until 1916. At the time of her death on April 6, 1924, at age
95, she was the oldest of the Presentation Sisters in Newfoundland.
Her younger sister, Bridget, was born in 1834. She entered the Presentation order in 1858 and was
professed in 1861, with the religious name Sister Mary Joseph. She was mother superior of the
convent at Renews for many years prior to her death on Jan. 19, 1896.
The other O’Donnell in Newfoundland, Thomas, was born in 1830. He married Mary Theresa Little,
a sister of then prime minister of Newfoundland Philip F. Little on Feb. 24, 1857.
They before both died young, Mary on Dec. 3, 1864 and Thomas less than five months later on
April 27, 1865. Their four children were placed in the care of their mother’s family at Littledale, on
the outskirts of St. John’s.
The O’Donnells made quite a mark on the religious life of Newfoundland. Several nephews and
nieces also joined religious orders in Newfoundland, Ireland and the United States. It is highly
likely that no other family has had so many of its siblings enter religious orders, and it is equally
unlikely their feat will be matched in the years to come. "
(1)Riggs, Bert. "Family Matters Kept in Order," The Evening Telegram,
St. John's Newfoundland newspaper December, 14, 199
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