Biographical entry: O'Donnell, Thomas Joseph (1876 - 1949)



Thomas Joseph O'Donnell, Catholic Archdeacon, was perhaps the most colourful and aggressive Tasmanian cleric. Born in Victoria, he was ordained in 1907 and served in the parishes of Circular Head, Latrobe, Moonah and Sandy Bay. Tirelessly he built churches and schools, strongly encouraged sport, and took a keen interest in civic affairs, often serving on town councils in ratepayers' interests, or protecting the public interest: in 1912, he denounced the operators of the Mount Lyell mine after the disastrous deaths of forty miners there.


To raise money for parish funds, O'Donnell ran huge functions such as Queen Carnivals, and enlisted the services of a sheep counter to estimate numbers at Mass. When a collection which he considered to be inadequate was brought forward, in disgust he hurled it back at the congregation and demanded more money.

An eloquent speaker, in the First World War O'Donnell led an inflammatory campaign against foreigners and was the most outspoken Catholic leader to promote conscription, notably on an Australia-wide tour. He served in the Army, then on a visit to Ireland was charged with sedition, imprisoned in the Tower of London, freed and sued the British government for wrongful arrest. A triumphal tour of America followed. In the 1930s he was the central figure in a major controversy over the Royal Hobart Hospital. Even at the end of his life he was suing a Sydney paper, claiming it had published libellous statements about his administration of the Good Shepherd Home in Sandy Bay.

Terry Southerwood

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