52 Ancestors – William O’Brien O’Grady

This week’s theme for #52Ancestors is “Favourite Find” and mine is my great uncle William O’Brien O’Grady. Through family rumour and legend, one of my grandad’s brothers ( there were 7 of them) was a passionist priest called Father Cornelius who was based at some point in Paris.

I eliminated some of the brothers but still had two possible candidates. On the off chance, I found teh website of teh Passionist order in paris and emailed them in my A level French. they could not help me but directyed me to the Order’s main base in Ireland. I wasn’t holding out much hope but I got a wonderfeul reply. It included a photo of my great uncle when he was in the seminary in Enniskillen ( he is no. 2) and also an obituary which gave a flavour of the man he was.

William O’Brien O’Grady was born in Ballaghderreeen on 25th February 1890 to Anthony and Bridget O’Grady (both school teachers). He professed on February 19th 1908 at Enniskillen and was ordained in Dublin on 21st December 1913.

From his obituary:

“His outstanding personality was soon recognised and in 1920 he was appointed vice-master of novices; after that he was successively director of students and Vicar at Mt. Argus, Dublin.

When the Anglo-Hibernian Province was divided in 1927, Fr. Cornelius was appointed Rector of St. Annes Retreat, Sutton, where he remained until 1932. From 1933-1938 he was in charge of the chapel-of-ease at Hatchard Road, Highgate, and thanks to his activities, that pro-parish was soon put on a very sound basis and among the parishioners his memory is still green and venerated, and many stories are_ current of his kindness and humour.


From 1939-1950 he was Superior of St. Joseph’s Church, Paris. This was his longest, most exciting and most renowned superiorship. The period, of course, covered the war years when Fr. Cornelius was seen at his best. In spite of the strict rationing he somehow managed to get adequate food for hi~ community, and sometimes he was seen tramping across Paris and climbing steep stairs to take a few eggs or a little butter to a poor Irish or English governess. These gifts were made possible only by the sacrifice of little extras which had been given to him for his own use. Of the German occupation he had many grim and humorous stories to tell, including the story of his arrest and a couple of months in a German concentration camp. He handled the Germans with tact and courtesy and was rescued from several awkward predicaments by his ready wit.

With the French he was a great favourite and maintained cordial relations with the authorities, both civil and ecclesiastical. His wit and fluent, though not exactly classical, French were a constant source of amusement at the curial offices. The charity and hospitality of Fr. Cornelius became a by-word in the English-speaking community of France. Priests who called at Avenue Hoche were certain of a warm welcome and generous hospitality. Clerics who were students in France at that time remember him with warm affection and gratitude. The French clergy still enquire solicitously about “Pere O’Gradi” When he eventually he left Paris, the Cardinal sent the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese to see him off.

After leaving Paris Fr. Cornelius was Rector of Blythe Hall from 1950-1953 and Superior of Herne Bay from 1953-1959.

As a superior he was noted for his charity and understanding and if he had a fault at all, it was excessive kindness. He excelled in creating and maintaining a community-spirit among his subjects and to those in trouble he was always a helpful and compassionate father.

As a retreat-master and missioner he was one of the old school who gave satisfaction and edification wherever he went.
During his last days in Highgate he gave great edification by his patience and zeal. As long as he was able? he dragged himself down to the confessional and was always anxious to help in any way that he possibly could. He hated not to be,asked to do things. About his sufferings he maintained an almost unbroken silence and the doctors sometimes wished that he were less patient. After a long illness patiently borne he died quietly after a fierce heart attack. It was surely fitting that his “dies natalisll should have coincided with Our Lord’s own birthday.”

Such a wonderful obituary makes me sad that our lives never crossed but proud to be related to him.

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