1866 – 1933
Born in Co Cork, the eldest of five children, O’Reilly was educated at St Colman’s College, Fermoy, before studying philosophy and theology at Maynooth. He was ordained a Vincentian priest in January 1890 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1892.
In 1899 he became information editor of the Catholic monthly, Austral Light, and was to contribute prose and verse to it for over 20 years. He published a volume, Poems (1919), which revealed the depth, seriousness and whimsicality of his rich personality.
O’Reilly was president of St Stanislaus’ College, Bathurst, NSW from 1903-14, and from 1910 was prominent in the education debate. He vigorously fought against the continued exclusion of Catholic schools from government funding.
O’Reilly entered into bitter controversy in 1911 over the celebration of Empire rather than Australia Day.
He was firmly of the view that “everything that was best and noblest in Australia was Irish”.
A powerful orator, he was greatly concerned for the poor and for the victims of sectarian bigotry, and once declared that the “Sydney ‘pommy’ Press is the vilest on earth”.
His funeral mass at St Mary’s in Sydney was so packed that 3,000 people, unable to find room in the cathedral, stood in Hyde Park during the service.