Rev. Hugh O'Neil

From the Biographical Review, Volume XXXIII, located at the Durham Center Museum.
Transcribed by Celeste MacCormack


Rev. Hugh O’Neil, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Hunter, N. Y., and of St. Francis de Sales Church, Platerkill, was born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland, May 18, 1838, son of Patrick and Ellen (McSweeny) O’Neil.

The first of the family to settle in Waterford was his great-grandfather, Hugh O’Neil, who went there from Shaw’s Castle, County Tyrone.  Edward O’Neil, his grandfather, was born in Kilkenny, and was a farmer. Patrick O’Neil, his father, who was born in Waterford and was a farmer in early life, later engaged in the bakery business in Dungarvan. He was also a spirits merchant, and before the advent of railroads he ran a line of carriages known as post coaches.  He was a great admirer of Daniel O’Connell, and while taking an active part in electing a member of parliament he contracted an illness which caused his death at the age of fifty-two years.

 Patrick O’Neil was a highly respected citizen and an able supporter of the church.  His wife, Ellen, was born in Tipperary in 1796, daughter of Thomas McSweeny. During the Rebellion of 1798 her parents took refuge in a town in the county of Waterford.  She was the mother of eight children, of whom the subject of this sketch and his sister Margaret are the only survivors.  Margaret, now Mrs. O’Callahan, resides with her brother in Hunter.  She has a daughter who is the Assistant Reverend Mother in the convent at West Troy. One of Father O’Neil’s brothers, Edward, was educated in St. John’s College, Waterford, from which he was graduated in 1852.  He was ordained to the priesthood, and sent to Manchester, England, where he became a Canon, and served in the capacity until his death, which occurred in 1892, at the age of sixty-seven.

Hugh O’Neil began his education in a classical school, prepared for college under private tutors, and in 1858 went to Allhallows College, where he was graduated in 1860. His theological studies were pursued in Waterford and St. Mary’s College, Oscott, England, where he was a fellow-student with the late King Alphonso of Spain and with the father of the later General Garcia, the Cuban leader.  He was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, February 9, 1867, and his first appointment was to St. Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham, England, where he remained nine months.  His next charge was at the village of Ilkeston, now a city, where his duties required him to cover a circuit of forty-five miles; and during his labors there, which extended through a period of eleven years, he erected a church and a school building and developed the parish into a highly prosperous condition.  The routine work which he accomplished unaided is now performed by eight priests. At this own request he was transferred to the village of Hathersage, Peak of Derbyshire, famous as the home of Robin Hood, and with the assistance of the Duke of Norfolk be repaired and opened an ancient church built previous to the Rebellion.

At the expiration of four and one-half years he came to United States on a leave of absence, arriving in New York in 1882, and, subsequently deciding to remain this country, he severed his connection with his English parish and accepted an assignment to a mission church in Philadelphia.  At the request of the bishop of Indianapolis he went to St.  Patrick’s Church in that city.  After that he was again stationed in Philadelphia for a short time, and then became attached to the diocese of Albany, and was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Troy.  In 1887 he came to Hunter as pastor of St. Mary’s Church.

The arduous duties of a widely distributed district, which included villages and settlements within a radius of fifty miles, were zealously and energetically performed by him for five years, or until his circuit was divided, since which time the concentration of his labors has enabled him to accomplish results far more visible in their effects.  Beside effecting the enlargement and improvement of St. Mary’s Church, he erected St. Francis de Sales Church in Platerkill in 1891.  At both of these churches he officiates the year round, celebrating two masses each Sunday during the summer season, besides holding week-day services whenever occasion demands.  He formerly conducted service regularly at the hotel Kaaterskill during the season, but these he was obliged to relinquish on account of his increasing labors elsewhere.  He has earnestly endeavored to promote the spiritual welfare of his widely-scattered flock, and the zeal he displays in conducting the affairs of his pastorate has gained for him the good will of the entire community.  He organized the Sacred Heart and Rosary societies, and he takes a lively interest in the work of the town improvement society, of which he is a member.  At the earnest request of the people of Lexington he aided in securing the erection of a church in that village; and he has also repaired St. Henry’s Church, located between Ashland and Prattsville.

Father O’Neil began to interest himself in political affairs shortly after his arrival in this country, and in 1884 he headed a committee who,  at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City, presented the late Hon, James G. Blaine with a gold-headed cane.  He is a naturalized citizen of the United States, and supports the Democratic party.


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