Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Fr. Tom Fennell

Sleaty, Graiguecullen & Sydney

 Fr. Tom Fennell

04 January 2011

Fr Tom Fennell, 1916-2010

Forty-five years ago he flew home to Graiguecullen from Sydney to watch the county football finals.

Fr Tom Fennell, a native of Sleaty, Graiguecullen was back to watch his nephew, Andy Fennell lined out at full back for Graigcullen in the minor final while his older nephew, Mick worn number 11, as the green and red attempted to bridge a gap of 16 years in the senior final.

On the second Sunday in October the huge Graiguecullen expedition headed for O'Moore Park full of confidence but Emo once again denied a first title since winning five in a row in the late 1940's and their loyal followers were silenced. As the teams paraded before the senior final the stadium announcer told the crowd that the ball for the start of the senior final would be thrown in by a very special guest of the association, parish priest of Sydney, Austrailia, Fr Tom Fennell.

The Carlow border club followers wondered if this man might bring about change of luck. He did, Graiguecullen were not to be denied for the second year in a row.

Tom Fennell was born 8th Jume 1916 just inside the Laois border in Sleaty in the house that today is the headquaters of Laois county council, south east district.

Having gone to national school in Graiguecullen, he spent time in Killashee house outside Naas, where he played football. At 16 he was part of the Laois minor team that reached the All-Ireland final, having beaten Louth in the Leinster final.

When he studied for the preisthood he moved to Carlow College in 1935 and on 7th June 1942 was ordained there. His first posting was across the water in London but soon after he moved to Australia, where he ministered in the dioceses of Sydney for 68 years, working in a number of parishes until his final parish Cronualla, where he retired 21 years ago.

After spending years in Australia he and several colleagues travelled by ocean liner to Japan at the request of then bishop of Sydney. Fr. Fennell was designated to the diocese of Osaka, which had been devastated after the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbour by Japanese forces.

Fr Fennell often spoke of the awful sights that he and his colleagues faced following the atrocities of the war, but they worked hard and made many friends.

Another close friend was Fr Kevin O'Neill of Trumera and president of Carlow College. This week he spoke of the sadness at the death of Fr Tom, their oldest past pupil, whom he described as an unbelievable cleric and a fierce proud Laois man, who up to recently followed their fortunes through The Nationalist and the internet.

In 1950, after the war had abated, Fr Tom returned to Australia where he was posted to Sydney and was appointed parish priest in Bexley in1960. For almost 70 years Fr Tom served and preached the gospel and after he returned in 1950. He was joined by his niece Mary who became his parish secretary.

Fr Fennell enjoyed wonderful health and always remained in touch with his family in Graiguecullen. On journeys home he paid visits to Bill Delaney and the 'Boy Wonder' Tommy Murphy, but little did he think that not since he threw in that ball 45 years ago of his father John would fail to add to their laurels.

Fr Fennell died on wedensday 15 December. 2010

Concelebrated Mass of for Fr Thomas Fennell took place in Australia, while his family held a special memorial service in St Clare's Church, Graiguecullen on Sunday 19 December.

Courtesy of the Carlow Nationalist 4/1/11

Much-loved Priest kept a permanent welcome on the mat

It was with much sadness that the parish of Graiguecullen / Killeshin and the wider local community learned of the death of Graiguecullen native Fr. Tom Fennell last December. During his requiem mass in Australia, Cardinal Pell referred to Fr. Tom as "a natural leader who was one of the best liked priests of his time. There was an 'attractiveness' that stayed with him all his life and won him friends wherever he was stationed. People of all walks of life were drawn to him"

Fr. Tom was born on the 8th of June 19J 6 in Sleaty. He was ordained in St. Patrick's College, Carlow on the 7th of June 1942 and following his ordination he was appointed to Plymouth parish, England before travelling to Australia to take up an appointment as Assistant Priest at Forest Lodge in 1945. In 1947 he was one of the first volunteers to travel to minister in post-war Japan. He was posted in Osaka and opened a church which became a sort of Mecca, not just for Japanese but also for religious sisters, clergy, occupying personnel and lots of others. They were welcomed, listened to, accommodated and fed.

Fr. Tom returned to Australia and was appointed Assistant Priest at Cronulla and until he retired in 1989 he served in various parishes in the Sydney Diocese.

Fr. Tom Fennell and his family

Wherever he was, he worked continually, organising parish missions, retreats, and courses in spirituality, but he always had time to sit and talk and have meals with his visitors. The hospitality gene gave him the freedom to lead a busy pastoral life but also relax with people and make them feel at home.

Since his retirement he lived with his niece Mary in Cronulla in Sydney and together they started a new apostolate of "live-in supply". Active priests could now go on holidays knowing that under his stewardship parishioners would be well looked after. His home in Cronulla became another hospitality centre for local priests, friends from other parishes, even friends from Japan and especially family and friends from Ireland. There was always the 'permanent welcome on the mat.'

Fr. Tom travelled home to Ireland on many occasions and when in Australia was in constant touch with his family and parish back home.

He was one of the many priests who concelebrated mass in Holy Cross church with Bishop Keogh on May Sunday 1944 as part of the revival of the May Sunday Procession,

 One parishioner remembers him speaking at Mass in Holy Cross when home on holidays shortly after the Bishop Casey revelations and asking the congregation if a crack appeared in the ceiling of the church, would they close the door and walk away? "I don't think so", he replied. "I would expect you to repair the crack and to continue to worship in the church".

Fr. Tom also had the distinction of throwing in the ball when Graiguecullen last won the senior county football final in 1965. He loved to be kept up to date with everything and on all the special occasions in the parish he would ring up and wish everyone well.

Fr. Tom was delighted when Fiacc's Folk was revived in 2009 as this enabled him to keep up to date with all parish activities. On receiving his copy of the magazine he wrote a lovely letter to the editorial committee complimenting them on a job well done.

A few years ago Fr. Tom went to stay in the Stella Maris Aged Care nursing home. He felt at home there as he knew everyone and they knew and loved him and cared for him lovingly until he died peacefully on Wednesday 15th December 2010, A special Memorial mass was held in St. Clare's on the following Sunday where a large congregation turned up to pay their respects to a true native. May he rest in peace.

Source: Fiacc' Folk. Graiguecullen / Killeshin Parish Magazine 2011. Pages 36 & 37.

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