Irish hero of the week: Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty

The history of the Emerald Isle is one that has had many people who deserve to be remembered as an Irish hero, including Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

Our Irish hero of the week for this week is Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty who has been referred to as the Irish Schindler. He was an Irish priest who committed some genuinely heroic acts during WW2, saving thousands of lives from the Nazis. Despite these accolades, this remarkable Irish cleric is not well known to most people, which is a shame as he is an Irish hero that deserves to be honoured.

In this article, we will tell you precisely who Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was and what he did that makes him an Irish hero.

Who was Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty?

Our hero this week was born in County Cork and followed a religious life.

Hugh O’ Flaherty was born in County Cork on the 28 February 1898 and was raised in County Kerry in Killarney. In 1918 he decided his vocation was to follow the religious life. So he enrolled at Mungret College, which was a Jesuit college in County Limerick, that prepared young men for missionary priesthood. 

In 1922, he was posted to Rome to finish his religious studies and was finally ordained on 20 December 1925. He then began to work as a Vatican diplomat in Egypt, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Czechoslovakia. In 1934, he was appointed a papal chamberlain with the title monsignor.

During the early years of WW2, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty toured many prisoners-of-war camps in Italy. He tried to find out about any prisoners who had been reported missing in action. If he happened to find any of them alive, then he would reassure their families through the Radio Vatican. 

Many of these prisoners remembered the kindness that was shown to them by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and, when they were released but again became in danger of recapture, many fled to Rome and asked him personally for his help.

Why Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a hero?

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty moved in important circles.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty felt so strongly about helping save people from the Nazis that he did not wait for permission from his superiors as he was supposed to. Instead, he recruited the help of two other priests from New Zealand, Fathers Owen Snedden and John Flanagan. 

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was steadfast in his stance against the evils of the Nazis that contrasted sharply with the position taken by Pope Pius XII, known to have sitten on the fence as the Nazis overran Europe.

With the aid of his two fellow priests and others, Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty was successful in concealing over 4,000 escapees who were mainly made up of allied soldiers and Jews who he managed to hide in locations such as flats, farms, and convents.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a hero throughout the Nazi regime.

He was so successful, in fact, at his attempts of saving people from the Nazis, that he inevitably attracted the interest of the infamous Nazi commander, Herbert Kappler, who became obsessed with capturing the defiant Irish priest thwarting his efforts. 

Despite many assassination attempts, the SS were unsuccessful in stopping Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty. As he was a priest, they could not simply arrest him inside the Vatican. So, to counter this, the Nazis drew a white line between the colonnades of the Vatican and to step past it would mean arrest and most likely torture and execution for Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty’s exceptional level of ingenuity came into play as he donned many disguises to evade Nazi suspicions, such as a coalman and even a nun! Despite the constant threat to his life, he never ceased or let up at all in his attempts to continue hiding and saving people from the Nazis.

The legacy of Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty

A statue dedicated to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty can be found in his home county.
Credit: @prajeethnair / Instagram

The legacy of Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty is, without a doubt, one of bravery and defiance in the face of evil. He also became famous for his quote ‘God has no country’ which sums up his belief that everyone deserved to be looked after and saved. There is a statue of him in Killarney where he grew up, which honours him still to this day. 

Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty certainly played his part. At considerable personal risk, he saved thousands of allied soldiers from the Nazis and hundreds of Jews from death camps.

Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty’s story shows the difference just one person can make and the good they can achieve. He is the true embodiment of an Irish hero and a man who should never be forgotten to the pages of history.

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