Father Donal O’Sullivan’s priesthood and sacrifice remembered 100 years after his death in The Battle of the Somme

3 Jul, 2016 | News

Father Donal O’Sullivan, who served as a World War I chaplain and who was killed in the first week of the Battle of the Somme on 5 July 1916 while ministering to the wounded, is being remembered and prayed for at Masses across the Diocese of Kerry today. Bishop Ray Browne, Bishop of Kerry, has asked that prayers would also be offered for world peace and for people everywhere who serve in the army of their country.

Father Donal O’Sullivan was born at 6 High Street in Killarney and was aged just 26 when he was killed. He was educated at the Monastery National School, Saint Brendan’s College in Killarney and Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and he was ordained to the priesthood in June 1914. He taught in Saint Brendan’s College for eighteen months prior to volunteering as a chaplain in WWI where he served as chaplain to the 7th Brigade.

Father O’Sullivan was killed by a shell, which exploded beside him as he was giving the Last Rites to a wounded soldier. His chalice, which his family had presented to him on his ordination and which he had taken with him to the war, was returned to his family. It had stayed in possession of his family who had hoped that a vocation would arise from among them and when that did not happen it was passed into the care of the office for the Year of Priests and then subsequently to Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society. The chalice and Father Donal’s story is being used to promote vocations to priesthood.


The grave of Father Donal O’Sullivan. Pic Brenda Drumm

Father O’Sullivan is buried in the cemetery at Bouzincourt in the valley of the Somme.

On Thursday 23 June Father Ruairi O’Domhnall, Vocations Director with the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, who now looks after the chalice, was in the valley of the Somme as part of a special Centenary Pilgrimage which was led by the Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and which included young people from both traditions.

Father Ruairi had brought the chalice with him and hoped that the group might find the grave of Father O’Sullivan so as to bring the chalice back and share a moment of prayer at the graveside of Father Donal.

Listen to what happened when the pilgrimage group set about reuniting the chalice with Father Donal O’Sullivan, one hundred years after his death in The Battle of the Somme.

Thousands of soldiers from across Ireland died or were wounded at the Somme with the first day, 1 July 1916, being the bloodiest in military history.

Father Donal O’Sullivan’s vocation and sacrifice is remembered around Ireland and especially in his home diocese where a photo and plaque in his memory sits in the chapel of Saint Brendan’s College and where next Tuesday, 5 July 2016, the college will host a 1916 seminar to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. Mass will be celebrated in Irish and the liturgy will also celebrate the Centenary of the founding of Cumann na Sagart.

Following the concelebrated Mass two lectures will be given: firstly, a memorial lecture in memory of Fr  O’Sullivan titled “Catholic Chaplains in World War 1” which will be given by Canon Gerard Casey, parish priest of Mallow. This will be followed by a talk by Father Tomás Ó Luanaigh on ‘Kerry Clergy in the National Movement’.

On Friday last, Archbishop Eamon Martin joined Church leaders from Ireland and up to three thousand people in a ceremony at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, France, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Archbishop Eamon with the other main Church leaders, Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Rev Bill Mullally, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, jointly called for Christians of all traditions in Ireland to pray for peace.  The Church leaders said “Let us put our faith into action – love our neighbours, reach out to the stranger, care for the vulnerable, build community and be agents for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.”



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