Published February 28, 2013
ATLANTA—The annual ceremony to honor Father Thomas O’Reilly, the Irish-born priest who founded the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta and figured prominently in Atlanta Catholic and city history, will be held on Thursday, March 14, at the parish he pastored a century and a half ago.
Those familiar with the heroic story, and those who would like to learn about it, are invited to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in downtown Atlanta, for an 11 a.m. reception. Guests will be able to visit the crypt where Father O’Reilly, the pastor of Atlanta’s first Catholic church, is interred. Members of the Hibernian Benevolent Society will provide Irish bread and scones during the social hour.
At 12:10 p.m. Mass will be celebrated in the church by Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor. Guests will then walk to the adjacent Old Atlanta City Hall where a wreath will be laid at the Father O’Reilly Memorial. The memorial notes that the Catholic priest saved Atlanta’s churches and city buildings from the burning of Atlanta by confronting Union Gen. William T. Sherman over ordering his troops to destroy houses of worship. Father O’Reilly is reputed to have won the love and admiration of soldiers on both sides of the civil conflict because of his care of the wounded and dying. This occurred in 1864.
The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. Special guests from all the five churches saved by Father O’Reilly’s intercession will attend, as well as an honor guard of policemen from the Metro Atlanta Police Emerald Society (MAPES) and firefighters who are members of the Fire Emerald Society of Metro Atlanta (FESMA). Geno Summers, a bagpiper, will play at the ceremony.
A city official from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office will also attend and read the proclamation citing Father O’Reilly’s service to Atlanta.