Death of Rev Joseph Jeremiah Purcell O'Reilly (1799-1880), Wellington NZ
Evening Post, 22 July 1880
DEATH of FATHER O'REILLY
A good old man has gone to his rest in the person of the Rev Father O'Reilly, whose decease will be sincerely mourned by the religious community to whose spiritual wants he was such a zealous minister, and whose sorrow will be sincerely sympathised with by persons of all sections of belief, who have any knowledge of the many virtues of the kind and charitable old priest now gathered to his fathers.
The Rev Jeremiah Joseph Purcell O'Reilly was born in Cork, Ireland, in the year 1799. He was educated in France and Rome and, entering the order of St Francis, was ordained a priest at the age of 25. After being in Cork and Dublin for some time, he was stationed in Kilkenny, where he greatly endeared himself to his people by his untiring zeal and kindness of disposition. When, in 1841, he sailed for Wellington, having accepted the position of chaplain to Lord Petre, the parting with his flock, as may be imagined, was a very bitter one.
Arrived in this city, Father O'Reilly set to work to establish the first Roman Catholic Church in the settlement and ministered in the building erected by his exertions on the site of what is now St. Joseph's, Boulcott-street, until 1868, when he paid a visit to Europe, spending about six months of the time in Rome, where he was appointed chaplain to the Papal Zouaves.
He returned to the colony in 1870 with Bishop Viard and devoted himself with untiring activity to his parish work until 1879 when, owing to his great age and growing infirmity, he was compelled to retire. He was succeeded in charge of the parish by the Rev Father Kerrigan, who had been assisting Father O'Reilly for some time previous to his retirement and still holds the cure.
Although very feeble, the good old priest continued able to get about until a few months ago, his venerable appearance as he plodded his way through the streets at once impressing a stranger with respect. Latterly the poor old man, however, had been breaking up and for several days past was unable to leave his bed, in the school-room next to St. Joseph's Church, which was fitted up as his residence, even to enter the church adjoining, where, as long as he could possibly do so, he passed the greater portion of his time engaged in religious exercises. Gradually his powers failed him, although he retained his mental faculties to the last and yesterday afternoon, amid the most devoted attentions of loving friends, he peacefully departed this life to reap the reward of his labors.
As has been already intimated, it is almost impossible to express the love and esteem which Father O'Reilly inspired among the members of his flock. Of him it might truly be said, in the words of Chaucer -
"This noble ensample to his sheep he gaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
But Christe's lore, and his apostles' twelve,
He taught but first he follow'd it himselve"
Father O'Reilly's life was indeed a living sermon to his flock. His charity was unbounded and the call of sickness was never made to him in vain. In fact he gave away nearly all his means, living a most abstemious life himself, in order that he might relieve the wants of his less fortunate brethren, no matter to what creed they belonged; and there is no doubt that his health was greatly injured by the privations and exposure to the weather he endured on his visits of mercy.
As an instance of his self-denying habits, it is recorded that he declined to take up his residence in the parsonage erected for him in Boulcott-street, saying it was much too grand a place for him, upon which the school-room, already referred to, was fitted up as comfortably as possible for him, and here he breathed his last. It is also told of him that some years ago he was called out to a sick person living at what is now known as Newtown, but which was then a howling wilderness of swamp and hills. Unfortunately the good old priest lost his way and next morning was found by a milkman up to his waist in a swamp, calmly telling his beads.
It may also be mentioned that Father O'Reilly was an earnest and successful temperance advocate and was an author of culture and ability, having written various books on the teachings of the church and other subjects.
The funeral of the deceased priest is fixed to take place on Sunday afternoon, in the Catholic cemetery. The procession will leave St. Joseph's Church at half-past 2 and the interment will take place with all the solemnities of the church. In the meantime the body will lie in state at the church from this evening until Sunday.
THE FUNERAL CEREMONY
The remains of the late Rev Joseph Jeremiah Purcell O'Reilly were interred yesterday afternoon in the Catholic Cemetery, overlooking the Terrace. Though chilly, the weather was fine and the funeral ceremony was witnessed by one of the largest gatherings of persons on similar occasions for some time past. That the deceased was held in high esteem by the public generally is attested by the fact that among those who followed his remains to the burial ground were persons representing almost every description of religious belief. In addition to the large number of people directly connected with the funeral procession, great crowds assembled along the line of route and as the cortege passed, took up their places in the rear, until at length the procession occupied a dozen minutes in passing a given point. Besides these, hundreds of people gathered around the grave and its vicinity to watch the arrival of those taking part in the ceremony and it is computed that there could not have been fewer than 7,000 to 8,000 persons who attended the funeral.
At half-past 7 and at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, Mass was celebrated at the Roman Catholic Cathedral; and a mass also took place at St Mary of the Angels, Boulott-street, at 7.30, 9, and 10. In the latter place of worship, moreover, a solemn requiem mass was performed at 11 o'clock, the church being crowded to its utmost capacity. The hour fixed for the formation of the procession was 2.30 p.m., but long prior to this citizens began to flock towards the neighbourhood of St Mary's of the Angels, and many were privileged to obtain a farewell glance at the face of the departed one, previous to the coffin and its contents being consigned to the grave.
Shortly after the hour named, the coffin was borne from the interior of the church to the bier awaiting it at the door, the priests within the sacred edifice, meanwhile, chanting "In Paradise." The bands of the city, who united for the occasion, then began "The Dead March in Saul" and the procession moved along at a slow-march pace. First of all came a cross-bearer and two altar boy, dressed in their white surplices and black cassocks. Following these were nearly 200 little girls belonging to the Convent Schools, walking in double file. Next in order were nearly 40 children of St Joseph's Providence, then 28 Children of Mary. The latter were arrayed in light blue dresses and white muslin head-dress, floating almost down to the ground, while each young lady wore a wreath of white flowers and evergreens upon the crown of the head. As may be easily imagined, these ladies formed one of the leading features of the procession. They were followed by about 200 boys from the Marist Brothers Schools. Then came three Christian Brothers, 30 members of the Hibernian Society adorned in all the insignia of their order, and next between 70 and 80 musicians, representing the various brass and wood instruments. Several members of the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Society of the Blessed Sacrament followed next. Ten or twelve altar boys and five priests immediately proceeded the coffin, which was covered with a large black pall, and surmounted by a wreath of flowers. The rear of the procession was composed of Hibernian brethren, a number of mourning carriages, and the general public. In this manner the cortege proceeded down Willis-street, along Lambton Quay, Bowen-street and the Terrace. The "Dead March in Saul" and other suitable dirges alternated with each other and the whole affair produced a most solemn effect.
The cemetery was reached at ten minutes past four o'clock and the funeral service was rendered by the Very Rev Father Yardin, assisted by Fathers McNamara, Sauzau, Halbwachs, Coffey and Kerrigan. The service being concluded, the Children of Mary approached and cast innumerable wreaths upon the coffin in the grave, the procession was reformed and the assemblage dispersed.
There were inner and an outer coffins, the former lined with zinc and upholstered in white satin and the latter mounted with black and gold. There were constructed of kauri and the lid of the inner one consisted of plate glass.
The plate bore the following inscription:-
Josephus Jermiah Purcell O'Reilly,
Pretiosam Mortem obiit
21mo Julie die, A.D 1880. Octogesimo
Aetatis anno completo
Joseph Jeremiah Purcell O'Reilly
Died a happy death,
On the 21st day of July
A.D. 1880 aged 80 years
At vespers yesterday the Benediction and the anthem "Blessed are the departed" were sung at the Cathedral
The funeral service was conducted by the Rev Father McNamara, who took for the subject of his discourse the text "I have fought the good fight, and have finished my course; I have kept the faith," 2 Timothy, ch. 4, ver. 2. The text was applied to the life of the deceased priest, whose many virtues and pious example requiem mass was sung by the very Rev Father Yardin, Administrator of the Diocese of Wellington, assisted by the Rev Fathers Coffey, Kerrigan and McNamara and the music was very efficiently rendered by the choir
Gravestones of Father Joseph Jeremiah Purcell O'Reilly (1799-1880) and Father Jean-Baptiste Petitjean (1811-1876) in the Mount Street Cemetery in Wellington Jan 1940