Published February 20, 2014
ATLANTA— The Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta is sponsoring events on Friday, March 14, honoring Father Thomas O’Reilly’s heroic actions during the Civil War. All are invited to attend.
It is the 150th anniversary of the historic turmoil in 1864 when a large swath of Atlanta was destroyed by fire, but five downtown churches and some municipal buildings were spared, actions that have historically been credited to Father O’Reilly’s intervention.
The Irish pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, now the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, reportedly ministered to soldiers on both sides of the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy, hearing confessions, celebrating Mass, performing last rites, and writing letters for soldiers. He requested of a Union general that the Atlanta City Hall, the courthouse, and an adjoining residential neighborhood be spared. In addition, Father O’Reilly requested that all of Atlanta’s churches not be destroyed. Since all these structures were wooden, a fire at one could easily spread to the others.
As a result, these churches survived: St. Philip’s Episcopal, Trinity Methodist, Second Baptist, Central Presbyterian, and Immaculate Conception. Three of the five congregations are still active in the same location today. Father O’Reilly’s crypt is in the lower level of the Immaculate Conception Shrine.
The March 14 activities will begin at 11 a.m. at the Shrine and will feature a reception and a tour. Mass will be celebrated by Msgr. Henry Gracz, the pastor, at 12:10 p.m.
At 1 p.m. a wreath-laying ceremony and a special presentation by the city of Atlanta will be held at Father O’Reilly’s monument at Atlanta City Hall. The monument was erected in 1945 by the Atlanta Historical Society, the five churches, and the city of Atlanta.
Msgr. James Fennessy, pastor of St. Jude Church in Atlanta, Paul Gleeson, consul general of Ireland in Atlanta, Atlanta officials, units from the Atlanta police and fire departments and representatives from the five churches will all be a part of this historic event.
The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located at 48 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SW, Atlanta. For more information, contact 404-521-1866 or www.catholicshrineatlanta.org.