Knights of Columbus Council 4358, Decatur, GA

Knights of Columbus

Father Thomas O'Reilly Council Nº 4358

In Service to One.   In Service to All.
St. Thomas More Parish
Knights of Columbus Council Nº 4358 • Decatur, GA • 470-202-VINE (8463) 

Our Council's Namesake: Father Thomas O'Reilly

Fr. Thomas O'Reilly

Born in Drumgora in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1831, and fresh from All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, Father Thomas O'Reilly became one of a group of hardworking circuit priests who visited Catholics in southern territories of the diocese. Appointed pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Atlanta in 1861, the thirty-year-old priest also took on responsibility for small gatherings of Catholics in outlying missions such as Marietta, Dalton, Albany, and Covington. In September, 1864, when Atlanta fell to Union forces, Father O'Reilly, already appointed chaplain to Catholics in the Confederate Army, undertook the additional care of Catholic members of the U.S. Army stationed in the city. The aid and assistance that he rendered Atlanta was perhaps greater than any other man of that period.

In November, 1864, O'Reilly learned that General William T. Sherman planned to burn Atlanta to the ground. With Union General Henry Slocum acting as intermediary, the diminutive but feisty priest sent a message to General Sherman: Destruction of the churches of Atlanta was not a military necessity. In fact, their burning would be a sin against God. If Sherman persisted in burning the Catholic Church, all Catholics in the ranks of the Union Army were primed to mutiny. Ecumenical as well as determined, Father O'Reilly asked that all five of Atlanta's churches be spared as well as its City Hall and Court House. Reading Father O'Reilly's implied threat correctly, General Sherman granted the priest's request and placed the churches and designated official buildings under armed guard. Structures inside the boundaries of Loyd and Washington streets and Mitchell Street and the railroad were likewise spared because of their proximity to the churches. Later, the surviving churches provided temporary shelter for refugee Atlantans returning to their singed city.

With the Civil War over, Father O'Reilly moved quickly to restore the Church of the Immaculate Conception, but his parishioners felt that the small frame building, damaged by shells launched during the siege of Atlanta, needed to be replaced. Designing the new church became the task of Atlanta's foremost architect, W. H. Parkins, and a projected cost of $75,000 to $80,000 was set. Bishop Augustin Verot officiated at the groundbreaking for the new Church of the Immaculate Conception on September 1, 1869. Though he hoped to see the church completed, Father O'Reilly's failing health, worsened by the demands of the recent war, denied him this hope. He traveled to Chalybeate Springs in Virginia seeking a cure, but succumbed to illness on September 6, 1872, at only 41 years of age. The train bearing his body arrived in Atlanta on September 9, 1872, and was met by the largest crowd that had ever gathered at the Union Depot. Many of the men were crying as were the women and children. Father O'Reilly was buried on September 10, 1872, in a vault prepared beneath the altar of the rising Church of the Immaculate Conception

On October 18, 1945, eighty-one years after his brave and defiant intercession, the Atlanta Historical Society honored Fr. O'Reilly by erecting a monument to him in gratitude for his part in saving the churches and City Hall of Atlanta in 1864.


Home Page