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
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.
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.
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
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.
Fennell died on wedensday 15 December. 2010
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
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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