Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Reilly, Edmund Joseph
O'REILLY, EDMUND JOSEPH (1811–1878), Roman catholic divine, was born in London on 30 April 1811. His mother was a daughter of Edmund O'Callaghan of Killegorey, co. Clare, and one of her sisters married the third Lord Kenmore. O'Reilly, with his parents, settled in Ireland at Mount Catherine, near Limerick, when he was six years old. His father died soon afterwards, and he was sent to the jesuits' school at Clongoweswood, near Kildare. He afterwards studied metaphysics at Maynooth. About 1830 he entered the Irish College at Rome, of which Cullen was then rector. Cullen became his lifelong friend. In 1835 he graduated as doctor in sacred theology, and, after acting as assistant to Cullen, was ordained in 1838. Soon afterwards he returned to Ireland, and was appointed professor of theology at Maynooth College. He held the position for upwards of twelve years, his lectures being distinguished both for learning and lucidity.
In August 1850 O’Reilly became ‘theologian’ to Cullen, who had just been appointed archbishop of Armagh, at the synod of Thurles, where his services were of great value. He acted in a similar capacity to Bishop Brown of Shrewsbury at the synod of Oscott, and to Bishop Furlong of Ferns at the synod of Maynooth. In the summer of 1851 he passed his novitiate at Naples. Having become a full member of the society, O'Reilly was appointed teacher of theology at the Jesuits’ college of St. Beuno's, near St. Asaph. His lectures here attracted attention, and in the summer of 1868 he was selected by Newman and the Irish bishops as teacher of divinity in the newly founded catholic university of Ireland. Early in the next year, however, his society again claimed his services, and appointed him superior of their new house of retreat at Milltown Port, Dublin, where he passed the rest of his life. From 1863 to 1870 he was Irish provincial of his society. He died at Milltown Port. on 10 Nov. 1878, in the same year as his friend Cardinal Cullen, and was buried at Glasnevin.
Newman, in his ‘Letter to the Duke of Norfolk’ in the Vatican controversy, mentioned Vatican controversy as ‘one of the first theologians of the day;' and W. G. Ward, writing in the ‘Dublin Review' in praise of his essays, regretted that he had published so little. O'Reilly's knowledge of patristic theology was especially extensive, and he was continually referred to by the Irish bishops and clergy as a high authority. Even in questions of civil law his opinion was thought to be of value. He was scrupulously truthful in controversy, and in private life he charmed all who knew him by his courtesy and geniality.
O'Reilly contributed one essay to the 'Illustrated Monitor,' and others to the ‘Irish Monthly,' in 1873–4. From 1875 till his death he assisted Matthew Russell, the editor of the ‘Irish Monthly,' in revising the accepted articles. O'Reilly's essays were posthumously collected and edited by Father Russell in 1892, under the title ‘The Relations of the Church to Society.' Four of them deal with ‘Papal Infallability;' three with ‘The Church's Legislation;' and a similar number with 'The Clergy,’ 'The Obedience due to the Pope,' and ‘The Pope's Temporal Power;' while two treat of ‘Education,' and two of the 'Council of Constance.' In the last he attempts to answer the contentions of Mr. Gladstone in his Vatican pamphlets. O'Reilly also revised a ‘Catechism of Scripture History' compiled by the sisters of mercy of Limerick, and published in 1852.
[Biographical notice by M. Russell, S.J., prefixed to Relations of the Church to Society (1892), in which two letters of Cardinal Newman (to Dr. Russell, president of Maynooth, and to H. Russell), speaking very highly of O'Reilly, are printed; Tablet, 16 and 23 Nov. 1878; Brit. Mus. Cat. The obituary in the Irish Monthly, vol. vi., is by M. Russell.]