Born in a small Irish town straddling the border of Tipperary and Waterford, the young John Joseph O'Connor was educated on the Continent by the Benedictines at Douai before being ordained a Catholic priest in March 1895. While his whole life was to be spent as a parish priest, he became known for possessing one of the finest intellects in early-twentieth-century Europe. Friend and confidant of statesmen, writers, and artists, his own literary output was prolific. His ability to distinguish between the genuine and false, in people as well as works of art, led to him assembling an art collection whose sale funded almost half the cost of building his first church. He built up a further valuable collection of art and antiques, but did not have to resort to its sale to build his second, and quite controversial, church. Controversy was something Mgr O'Connor never shied away from. He was loved and revered by his parishioners, most of whom were totally unaware of his close friendship with so many eminent figures beyond the confines of his parish. One of these, G. K. Chesterton, is now being proposed for beatification, and it was he who turned his friend into his fictional priest-detective, Father Brown, who knew more about the underworld than the criminals themselves. And it was Mgr O'Connor who was to guide Chesterton along the path to Catholicism and receive him into the Church. Mgr O'Connor commissioned the Stations of the Cross and other sculptures for his Bradford parish from Eric Gill, but he had a much deeper involvement with the Ditchling group of Arts and Crafts workshops. He not only translated the French philosophy of Jacques Maritain for them but also collaborated with Gill on the publication of Song of Songs and Song of the Soul with their highly controversial and sexually explicit engravings. This, his only, biography aims to introduce the shadowy figure who slipped in and out of so many different worlds to a larger public who never suspected he had so many fingers in so many pies.
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