The mission of LowellIrish is to collect and preserve the history and cultural materials, which document the presence of the Irish community in Lowell. As the first immigrant group in a city that continues to celebrate its immigrant past, LowellIrish will serve as an advocate to support a better understanding of the historical, political, religious, and social function the Irish played in the formation of the city.
The validity of the story is questionable, but it’s worth
the telling.When Father John O’Brien
was assigned to Lowell, he found the fields quite barren.He arrived at the height of the Irish famine
immigration and the community was split quite literally between social and
economic groups.A lesser man would have
fled.When Father John left Ireland, he
knew he had an older sibling already working in the US, but the difference in
age and distance probably left gaps between the two brothers.It is told that on a steamer trip to Boston,
Father John spent part of the trip with another cleric.It wasn’t until Father John was at home at St
Patrick’s in Lowell and there was a knock upon the door he realized who his
traveling companion was- his own older brother, Father Timothy.
When he arrived in Lowell in 1852, Father Timothy O’Brien
probably knew his days were drawing to a close.He was aged and tired.He never
even was entered in the Diocesan records as a priest serving for Boston.His brother needed help.Father John was known for his outgoing
personality and strong will.Father
Timothy was the antithesis.He was often
ill, but still carried out his duties and then some.Father Timothy took it upon himself to travel
along the Merrimack River and say Mass for those who could not travel into
Lowell on Sundays.He would take the
carriage all the way to Nashua to say Mass in the homes of Catholics and then
return to Lowell.It was Fathers John,
Timothy, and Michael who quietly, in the early morning of July 4, 1853, laid
the cornerstone for the present St Patrick Church.
The O’Briens knew that education was needed to improve the
state of the Irish.Father Timothy
engaged the Sisters of Notre Dame to open a school for the girls of the Acre in
1852.He promised them a school house
and convent.When they arrived, they had
neither.Being a man of his word,
eventually, he gave the money from his own personal account to build the
schoolhouse.Unfortunately, he died
before it was completed.
He did more than provide material goods for the
Sisters.He was also their spiritual
director.It was Father Timothy who
personally protected the Sisters during the anti-Catholic visits of certain
committees who attempted to force their way into the convent and school in 1854
and 1855.He put himself between the
Sisters and the men who were forcing their way into the convent.The Sisters’ diaries say it was after this
event he began his final illness.In
October of 1855 he went to the Sisters chapel for Benediction of the Blessed
Sacrament and exhorted them to remain close to the Blessed Virgin.A few days later, he was hearing confessions
and kept excusing himself.Finally, he
could not return and took to his bed.Two of the Sisters went to see him to ask his final blessing.
O'Brien monument in 1890
His body lay in state in the church that was only a year
old.Priests from near and far donned
their black vestments and took their turns at the altars saying Masses for the
deceased while the body lay in repose.Both the Sisters diaries and local papers spoke of his goodness and how
those who attended the funeral openly wept.
His body was carried down the front steps and entombed in
the front yard of the church.Within a
year the parish erected a granite monument to his memory.It would also be the resting place of his
bother and nephew, Father John and Father Michael O’Brien.
Note- The present O’Brien
monument in front of the church was placed there in the 1950s.The pastor at that time decided it was not
acceptable and had it dismantled.Parishioners begged him not to do so, but he did not comply.People begged to bring a piece home; the
pastor had it ground into rubble and hauled away.