O’Mahony, Donal, 1936-2010, Capuchin priest

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O’Mahony, Donal, 1936-2010, Capuchin priest

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  • O'Mahony, Augustine

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2 August 1936-14 August 2010


Donal O’Mahony was born on 2 August 1936 in Blackrock, Cork, the son of Jeremiah O’Mahony and his wife Ellen (née Walsh). He was educated at Rochestown College, and then trained as a sports journalist with the ‘Irish Independent’ for three years. Finding he had a vocation for the priesthood, he was received into the Capuchin Franciscan Order on 8 November 1958, and trained at Ard Mhuire Capuchin Friary at Cashelmore, Creeslough, in County Donegal. He took Augustine as his religious name and was ordained on 1 June 1966 at St. Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Based at the Capuchin Friary on Church Street in Dublin, he was from the beginning prepared to confront sensitive topics, arguing in the 1967 edition of ‘The Capuchin Annual’ that contemporary Marian devotional practices were not undermined by the promotion of ecumenism and an emphasis on liturgical worship emanating from the Second Vatican Council. As editor from January 1967 of the monthly ‘Father Mathew Record’, he modernised the magazine’s design and layout (undertaken by illustrator Richard King), included his own photography, commissioned articles on contemporary secular culture (including from Micheál MacLiammóir), and highlighted the issues of poverty and deprivation in Ireland and abroad. From January 1968, he renamed the publication ‘Eirigh: A Magazine of Christian Optimism’, and co-opted lay editorial and managerial staff. Its editorial policy sought to ‘communicate the Christian message to a modern family readership in the light of our inherited spiritual, national, and cultural traditions’, urged the promotion of breastfeeding in the developing world, and stressed how social improvements based on economic development were resulting in resource depletion and ecological debasement. Within a year circulation had increased by 11,600; however, the magazine was distributed principally via mail and rising postal rates caused it to cease publication in December 1973. The last issue was devoted to unequal distribution of wealth within and between countries.

O’Mahony also wrote as a columnist with the weekly ‘Women’s View’ (December 1967 to September 1970), drawing on the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi when expounding on the role of women in the church, and on other issues such as student protest, just war and animal rights. Based at the Capuchin Friary in Kilkenny in the early to mid-1970s, he became involved with the local branch of Pax Christi (an international Catholic peace and reconciliation organisation based in the Netherlands), and organised peace concerts, talks and walks. He was active in European peace forums, religious and secular, seeking to defuse cold war tensions and mitigate religious repression in various Warsaw Pact states. In January 1975 he was appointed national chaplain of Pax Christi in Ireland and later joined the international board.

When Dr Tiede Herrema, the Dutch managing director of the Ferenka plant in Limerick, was kidnapped on 3 October 1975 by Eddie Gallagher and Marion Coyle of the Provisional IRA, Cardinal Bernard Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht and international president of Pax Christi, suggested O’Mahony as a suitable intermediary to negotiate with Herrema’s captors. On 9 October, O’Mahony, under Garda special branch surveillance, secretly received a tape from the kidnappers. Believing his moral responsibility allowed him to maintain confidentiality in contacts with the kidnappers, he offered to switch places with the married Herrema, visited the family of Gallagher in Ballybofey, and consulted a psychologist to better understand his interlocutors. Perceived as unwilling to criticise the government by the kidnappers, O’Mahony was replaced as intermediary by Philip Flynn – deputy secretary general of the Local Government and Public Services Union and a member of Provisional Sinn Féin – although he remained involved in the background. Herrema, released unharmed on 7 November, remained grateful for O’Mahony’s efforts on his behalf, and led a Pax Christi Ireland fundraising campaign in 1977.

In 1974 O’Mahony was entrusted with the ‘flat-dwellers apostolate’ by the Dublin Archdiocese; this involved administering the eucharist to flat-dwellers who had difficulties in going to church. Harrowed by the urban poverty he witnessed, he established an exploratory working group in 1976 to address housing deprivation, which evolved into the organisation Threshold, founded on 3 April 1978. A research-driven advocacy group lobbying for improved public and private housing conditions, on 19 August 1979 Threshold became a limited company with professional administration, providing training to volunteer advisors in conjunction with the Irish Management Institute, and advocating enhanced legislation and regulation to address the chronic shortage of quality accommodation. O’Mahony, as Threshold’s executive director, publicised the abject housing conditions endured by many and urged improved legislative and regulatory protection. The organisation concentrated on assisting private tenants to secure their legal rights and ameliorating the effects of homelessness, poverty, and deprivation, helping almost 3,000 people in its first two years. O’Mahony drew on his extensive international contacts as principal organiser of the Pax Christi International Council (Dublin) and the attendant peace conference (Derry) in April 1977. From the late 1970s, he regularly participated in seminars at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, in County Wicklow, and contributed to ecumenical reconciliation forums that facilitated the establishment of what became the New Ireland Movement. Urging the recognition of the humanity of all those in any conflict, O’Mahony frequently participated in ecumenical and secular protests promoting peace and sustainable living in Ireland and around the world.

In March 1983 Archbishop Dermot Ryan invited the Capuchins to administer the parish of St. Michan’s and St Paul’s in the Halston Street and Arran Quay areas. O’Mahony was formally appointed as parish priest at a service in the Capuchin Friary Church of St. Mary of the Angels, Church Street, on 10 April 1983, and ministered in the parish until 1987. An internationally respected mediator and negotiator, he was called upon, both publicly and privately, to defuse hostage-takings in Honduras, Italy and elsewhere throughout the 1980s, as well as facilitating inter-faith cross-community workshops in Lebanon. Posted to the General Curia of the Capuchin Franciscan Order in Rome (1987-9), in 1990 he was briefly chaplain to Coolmine Community School in Blanchardstown in County Dublin, before returning to Rome to take charge of the Order’s justice, peace and ecology office (1991-4). Visiting ninety-four countries over seven years, he participated in several UN summits on issues such as environmental protection and development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), a UN habitat conference (Istanbul, 1996), and a UN forum on sustainable development (Johannesburg, 2002). He was also a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. The ‘American Franciscan Journal’ awarded him their Franciscan person of the year. From the late 1990s, he ministered at Holy Trinity Friary on Father Mathew Quay in Cork, and was instrumental in establishing Integrate Cork, an anti-racism group (2000).

He travelled to Pretoria in South Africa in 2001 and was appointed guardian (local superior) of the Capuchin Friary there. He served as justice, peace, and ecology coordinator for the East African Capuchin Conference. With the justice and peace department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, he established the Damietta Peace Initiative in 2004 to promote peace and non-violence throughout Africa. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s mediation between Christians and Muslims in the Egyptian port city of Damietta (c.1219), this multi-ethnic, multi-faith community development and mediation initiative sought to engage grassroots activists across the continent. For his work in expanding the initiative throughout Africa, in 2008 O’Mahony received the peace award of the Interfaith Foundation of South Africa. Early in 2009 O’Mahony was diagnosed with cancer and returned to Ireland for treatment. He died on 14 August 2010 at Marymount Hospice in Cork. He was buried in the cemetery attached to the Capuchin Friary in Rochestown, County Cork.

Baptismal name: Donal O’Mahony
Religious name: Fr. Donal O’Mahony OFM Cap. (previously Fr. Augustine O’Mahony OFM Cap., he reverted to his baptismal name after the Second Vatican Council)
Date of birth: 2 Aug. 1936
Place of birth: Blackrock, Cork
Name of father: Jeremiah O’Mahony
Name of mother: Ellen Walsh
Date of reception into the Capuchin Order: 8 Nov. 1958
Date of first profession: 16 Nov. 1959
Date of final profession: 16 Nov. 1962
Date of ordination (as priest): 1 June 1966 (St. Eunan’s Cathedral, Letterkenny, County Donegal)
Missionary activity: Travelled to South Africa in 2001; returned in 2010
Date of death: 14 Aug. 2010
Place of death: Marymount Hospice, Cork
Place of burial: Cemetery, Capuchin Friary, Rochestown, County Cork


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Turlough O'Riordan, 'Fr. Donal O'Mahony', 'Dictionary of Irish Biography'. See https://www.dib.ie/biography/omahony-donal-a9868

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