Published March 8, 2018
ATLANTA— The Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta is sponsoring events on Friday, March 16, honoring Father Thomas O’Reilly’s heroic actions during the Civil War. All are invited to attend.
It is the 154th 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 by 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 have spread to the others.
As a result, these churches survived: St. Philip Episcopal Church, Trinity Methodist, Second Baptist, Central Presbyterian and the Shrine. Three of the five congregations are still active in the same location today. Father O’Reilly’s crypt is located in the lower level of the Shrine.
The March 16 activities will begin at 10 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony. A special presentation by the city of Atlanta will be held in the atrium at City Hall followed by the wreath laying at Father O’Reilly’s monument. The monument was erected in 1945 by the Atlanta Historical Society, the five churches and the city of Atlanta.
A reception and tour will follow at the Shrine. Mass will be celebrated by Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor, at 12:10 p.m.
Shane Stephens, 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.
On the previous day, Thursday, March 15, at 10:30 a.m., Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will celebrate Mass for St. Patrick’s Day at the Cathedral of Christ the King.