O'Donnel, James Louis (DNB00)


O'DONNEL, JAMES LOUIS (1738–1811), ‘the Apostle of Newfoundland,’ was born at Knocklofty, Tipperary, in 1738. At the age of eighteen he left Ireland and entered the Franciscan convent of St. Isidore at Rome. He was afterwards sent to Bohemia, and was ordained priest at Prague in 1770. In 1775 he returned to Ireland and settled at Waterford. In 1779 he was appointed prior of the Franciscan house there, and subsequently became provincial of the order in Ireland.

In 1784, at the request of the leading Newfoundland merchants and their agents at Waterford, O'Donnel was sent out to Newfoundland as prefect and vicar-apostolic. He was the first fully accredited Roman catholic priest who had appeared in the island. He obtained permission to build churches and schools, and did his utmost to diminish sectarian animosities.

On 21 Sept. 1796 he was consecrated at Quebec titular bishop of Thyatira, and on his return to Newfoundland made his first episcopal visitation. In 1801 he published a body of diocesan statutes, and divided the diocese into missions, he himself, owing to the paucity of clergy, being obliged to act as a mission-priest. During succeeding years he used his influence among the Roman catholics to check disaffection to the government. In 1800 O'Donnel discovered and reported to the commandant, Major-general Skerret, a projected mutiny among the soldiers of the Newfoundland regiment stationed at St. John's. The government awarded him a life pension of 50l. for his important service to the colony, and his position in Newfoundland was thenceforth equal in everything but name to that of the governor. O'Donnel's missionary exertions wore out his health, and in 1807 he was obliged to resign his see and return to Ireland.

He spent his last years at Waterford, where he was known as a learned and eloquent preacher, and died there on 15 April 1811.

[Gent. Mag. 1811, i. 497, copied in Ryan's Biographia Hibernica; Hatton and Harvey's Newfoundland, pp. 70, 84–5; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography (not strictly accurate in details).]

G. Le G. N.