Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick O'Neill (1886–1968)

by Kathleen Dunlop Kane

This article was published:

Patrick O'Neill (1886-1968), Christian Brother and schoolteacher, was born on 2 September 1886 at Drumwood, County Tipperary, Ireland, one of eleven children of Owen O'Neill, farmer, and his wife Winifred, née English. Patrick attended a nearby National school. On 29 June 1901 he entered the novitiate of St Mary's Provincialate of the Christian Brothers, Marino, Dublin, and took the religious name of Gildas. He taught for almost four years at St Aloysius', Dundalk, St Vincent's Orphanage, Glasnevin, and Our Lady's Mount, Cork.

Fulfilling a private vow that, if he became a Brother, he would volunteer for the mission field, O'Neill sailed for Australia, reaching Melbourne in the Omrah in August 1906. He taught at St Peter and Paul's School, South Melbourne, until the end of that year before being sent to St Francis's School, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. As a junior Christian Brother, he was transferred from place to place as the need arose. After terms at Ballarat and at a 'practising school' at Burwood, Sydney, he was appointed superior at Balmain in 1913. In his five years there he overcame considerable financial difficulties to renovate the buildings and grounds. He was known as 'a strong teacher'.

O'Neill was next based at Christian Brothers' College, Wakefield Street, Adelaide, where he suffered a detached retina. Following a period of rest at St Mary's Provincialate, Strathfield, Sydney, he was regarded as sufficiently fit in 1921 to be made superior of St Vincent de Paul's Boys Catholic Orphanage, South Melbourne. On 21 June 1926 he bent down to get some money from a drawer in his office at the orphanage. On straightening up, he found that he had completely lost his sight. He retired from St Vincent's in January 1927. Three months afterwards, he travelled to Lourdes, France, hoping for a miraculous cure. He 'became patiently resigned to the will of God'.

That year O'Neill joined the Catholic Braille Writers' Association (later the Villa Maria Society for the Blind), St Kilda, Melbourne. Members transcribed religious books into braille, befriended the blind, and escorted them on their trips to the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1931 O'Neill became president of the association; he was to hold office until his death. Under his vigorous full-time leadership the Villa Maria Hostel for the Blind was opened at Prahran in 1938, the Villa Madonna Hostel for the Blind was established at Windsor in 1948 and St Paul's School for Blind Boys was founded at Kew in 1957.

Often referred to as 'the Blind Brother', O'Neill was a good and courageous man. In 1957 he was appointed M.B.E. Well groomed and courteous, he made his way alone around Melbourne, using public transport. He had remarkable business acumen and 'could charm a bird off a tree', both considerable advantages in his expansion of the Villa Maria Society. O'Neill died on 14 October 1968 at Windsor and was buried at Edmund Rice College, Bundoora. A nursing home, Villa O'Neill, built at Prahran in 1972, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. D. Kane, The Origin and Growth of the Villa Maria Society for the Blind (Melb, 1975)
  • D. N. Gallagher (ed), Christian Brothers' High School, Thames Street, Balmain (Syd, 1987)
  • P. L. Reynolds, On Balmain Hill (Syd, 1988)
  • Southern Cross (Melbourne), 12 Jan 1951, pp 7, 9
  • Christian Brothers Archives, Parkville, Melbourne
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kathleen Dunlop Kane, 'O'Neill, Patrick (1886–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gildas, Brother

2 September, 1886
Drumwood, Tipperary, Ireland


14 October, 1968 (aged 82)
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.