File 46 - Letters and postcards from Fr Francis X O'Brien SJ to the Irish Fr Provincial Thomas V. Nolan SJ written while a chaplain

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Letters and postcards from Fr Francis X O'Brien SJ to the Irish Fr Provincial Thomas V. Nolan SJ written while a chaplain


  • 18 March 1917 – 20 January 1919 (Creation)

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18 items

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(01 December 1881-24 February 1974)

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Born: 01 December 1881, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1899, Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1915, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 17 March 1918, Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Died: 24 February 1974, Little Sisters of the Poor, Drummoyne, Sydney - Australiae Province (ASL)

Part of the St Francis Xavier, Lavender Bay, North Sydney, Australia community at the time of death.

Transcribed HIB to ASL : 05 April 1931

by 1906 at Stonyhurst England (ANG) studying
Came to Australia for Regency 1905
by 1918 Military Chaplain: No 5 POW Cam,p APO, S20, BEF France
by 1919 Military Chaplain: 30 general Hospital, APC 4, BEF France

Brother: Ó Briain, Liam (1888–1974), republican, scholar of Romance languages, and Irish-language enthusiast.

◆ Jesuits in Ireland :

Jesuits and the influenza, 1918-19
Damien Burke
The influenza pandemic that raged worldwide in 1918-19 (misnamed the Spanish flu, as during the First World War, neutral Spain reported on the influenza) killed approximately 100 million people.

The influenza was widely referenced by Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War. Fr FX O’Brien comments from France in September 1918 that: “I suppose you had your share of influenza that swept over Ireland recently. Here even still, we get traces of it”.

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
FX, as he was affectionately known, was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers and entered the Jesuits, 7 September 1899, at Tullabeg. He obtained first class honours in Latin and second class honors in Greek during his juniorate and later studied physics at the Dublin College of Science.
As a regent he was sent to Riverview, 1906-12, where he taught senior classes. worked in the boarding house and was editor of “Our Alma Mater”. He had a choir from 1909-12. After theology at Milltown Park and tertianship at Tullabeg, 1912-17, he became a military chaplain, 1917-19 serving the No. 5 German Prisoners of War Company, as well as the 30th General Hospital, BEF France. He arrived back in Australia in 1920 to spend a few years teaching at Riverview.
From 1922-31 FX was rector of St Aloysius' College, and usually prefect of studies as well, taught, directed the Sodality and a choir. Some Jesuits claimed he was too hesitant and undecided be a rector, and not much of a preacher or public speaker.
However, in 1931 he was appointed rector of Xavier College for three years, and then worked in the parish of Richmond for a further two. From there he went as superior to the Toowong Parish in Brisbane and returned to St Aloysius' College from 1940-49, being rector again, 1944-48.
He spent one year at the preparatory school to Riverview, Campion Hall, before returning to parish responsibilities at St Aloysius' College, 1950-55 . He worked from the church of
the Star of the Sea. His final placement was the North Sydney parish. During that time he cared for patients mainly at the Mater Hospital, where he spent his day visiting everybody,
whatever their religious persuasion. He was much loved because of his infectious good will, friendliness, and interest in people. In his earlier days he was much in demand for weddings and baptisms, but in his latter days funerals predominated.
FX was a bright, cheerful, breezy person, wonderful at malting friends, and had a prodigious memory. He made most impression on individuals and families, and he was a good community man. As rector of St Aloysius' College, he left no buildings, there were no departures from tradition and yet he was one of the most loved Jesuits ever experienced at the college. He revived the Old Boys Union, almost moribund for many years. He was president of the Registered Schools Association in 1927, one of the founders and first president of the Associated Secondary Schools of NSW, and was a member of the Catholic Education Council and the Catholic Schools Association. At the time of his death he was the doyen of the province.

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 49th Year No 2 1974

Obituary :

Fr F X O’Brien (1881-1974)

When Fr F X O'Brien died in the Retired Priests' Home in Sydney on February 24, the Australian Province lost its oldest and one of its best-known members.
Fr O'Brien (better known as FX) was born in Dublin on 1 December 1881, received his early education from the Christian Brothers at O’Connell Schools, and entered the Society at Tullabeg on 7 September 1899. Endowed with a phenomenal memory for people and events, right up to the end of his long life, he frequently recalled those testing years in Tullabeg under the direction of that redoubtable novice master, Fr James Murphy. Grateful to survive the two years, he passed on to juniorate studies, and later to philosophy in Stonyhurst. In 1906, he was sent to Australia as a missionary (he always insisted on this term), spent six years teaching in Riverview College, Sydney, and then returned to Ireland for theology in Milltown Park, where he was ordained priest on 3 July 1915. In 1916 he went to Tullabeg for tertianship, but when the Long Retreat was over, he went to France as military chaplain, where he remained till the war ended in 1918. He then returned to Tullabeg to complete his tertianship and in 1919 returned to Australia. The years that followed were mostly spent in the colleges. He was Rector of St Aloysius, Sydney, Rector of Xavier College, Melbourne, Parish Priest of Toowong, Brisbane, and Rector of St Aloysius College for another term. For the last twelve years of his life, he lived at St Mary’s Presbytery, North Sydney, where he was a most zealous and devoted chaplain to the Mater Hospital nearby. Up to a year ago when he was ninety-one, he was in excellent health, then he had to undergo a prostate operation after which he never recovered his old vigour. He declined steadily, and was placed under the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Retired Priests Home where he died peacefully in his ninety-third year on February 24.
Although a man of sturdy and independent character, Fr O’Brien had a graciousness, affability and friendliness of manner that won him a host of friends. While he loved Australia and its people, he retained a deep attachment to the old country, and was a most faithful member of Irish societies in Sydney. He was a most obedient, humble and loyal Jesuit, deeply attached to the spirit and traditions of what some now call the Old Society.bewildered at the change of direction it has taken in recent years, and saddened by the large number of defections among its priest members. To our traditional spiritual practices, morning meditation, Rosary, etc he was faithful to the end of his life. In Community life, he was always pleasant, jovial, and gracious. There is no doubt that dur ing his long life he served his Master with a loyalty, love and devotion truly worthy of imitation.
The large crowd of over a 1,000 people which filled St Mary's Church for his Requiem Mass on February 27, which included the newly-consecrated Irish bishop, Bishop Cremin an old Mungret boy), the Australian Provincial, Fr Patrick O’Sullivan, and about fifty priests, was an eloquent tribute to the esteem and affection in which he was held. It was fitting that the funeral on its way to the cemetery should make a detour so as to pass by the Mater Hospital where as chaplain over the years he had helped so many to meet their Maker, and where doctors, Sisters, nurses, and even patients stood in silent tribute to a much loved and devoted pastor.
We offer sympathy to Fr O”Brien's brother, Mr Liam O’Brien, emeritus Professor of French, UCG, for whom the bereavement is the heavier in that he had planned to visit Fr F X in Sydney during the coming summer.

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Letters and postcards from Fr Francis X O'Brien SJ to the Irish Fr Provincial Thomas V. Nolan SJ written while a chaplain attached to the No. 5 Prisoners of War Company, B.E.F., France and the 30th General Hospital, B.E.F., France.

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The Irish Jesuit Archives are open only to bona fide researchers. Access by advance appointment. Further details: [email protected]

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No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the Archivist. Copyright restrictions apply. Photocopying is not available. Digital photography is at the discretion of the Archivist.

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1998; 2020




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