- December 1977 (Creation)
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Born: 25 July 1896, Rugby, Warwickshire, England
Entered: 08 September 1913, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1928, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 15 August 1932
Died: 14 October 1982, Borgo Santo Spirito, Rome, Italy
Transcribed : HIB to ASL 05/04/1931
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1921 at Valkenburg Netherlands (GER) studying
by 1924 in Australia - Regency
◆ Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University online :
O'Connell, Daniel Joseph Kelly (1896–1982)
by Nick Lomb
Nick Lomb, 'O'Connell, Daniel Joseph Kelly (1896–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oconnell-daniel-joseph-kelly-15389/text26596, published first in hardcopy 2012
astronomer; Catholic priest; seismologist
Died : 14 October 1982, Rome, Italy
Daniel Joseph Kelly O’Connell (1896-1982), Jesuit priest, astronomer and seismologist, was born on 25 July 1896 at Rugby, England, one of four children of Irish-born Daniel O’Connell (d.1905), Inland Revenue officer, and his English wife Rosa Susannah Helena, née Kelly (d.1907). Soon after the death of his mother, Daniel was sent to Clongowes Wood College, Dublin. At 17 he joined the Society of Jesus at Tullabeg and in 1915 entered his juniorate at Rathfarnham Castle. He majored in experimental physics and mathematics at University College, Dublin (B.Sc., 1919; M.Sc., 1920; D.Sc., 1949, National University of Ireland). Subsequently he studied philosophy at St Ignatius’ College, Valkenburg, the Netherlands, where he began watching variable stars, especially eclipsing binaries that were to become the main focus of his astronomical research.
O’Connell planned to attend the University of Cambridge but, due to a lung condition, he was advised to leave Britain. In 1922 he arrived at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, Sydney; he did his regency, taught physics and the next year became assistant-director at the college’s observatory. He returned to Ireland in 1926 to complete his theological studies at Milltown Park, Dublin. Ordained on 31 July 1928, he undertook his tertianship at St Bueno’s College, Wales. In 1931 he travelled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, to study at the Harvard College Observatory with Harlow Shapley.
Back at Riverview Observatory in 1933, O’Connell became director in 1938. At the observatory his research included seismology and the measurement of time with various kinds of clocks, as well as astronomy in the field of variable stars using the newly developed technique of photographic photometry. In 1935 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales; he served on the RSNSW council (1946-49) and as vice-president (1950-52), and became an honorary member in 1953. He was chairman from 1946 of the board of visitors of Sydney Observatory. One of the friendships he established while in Australia was with (Sir) Richard Woolley, director of Mount Stromlo Observatory. O’Connell presented radio talks, including a series of three titled ‘According to Hoyle’ on the Australian Broadcasting Commission station 2BL-2NC in March and April 1952.
That year O’Connell was called to Rome as director of the Vatican Observatory. On 26 July he left Australia, arriving in time for the Rome meeting of the International Astronomical Union. He continued his work on eclipsing binary stars, again using photoelectric photometry. A leading expert in the field, he was president (1955-61) of the commission on photometric double stars of the IAU. He published The Green Flash and Other Low Sun Phenomena (1958), which included colour photographs proving that the phenomenon, sometimes seen at sunrise or sunset, was real and not subjective.
At the Vatican Observatory O’Connell built up the staff and installed a 60/90-cm Schmidt telescope that became the observatory’s largest instrument. As objective prisms were available, the telescope was used for spectroscopy. With leading scientists he organised two study weeks—one on stellar populations in 1957 and another on nuclei of galaxies in 1970—and published the proceedings. He had personal friendships with three popes, especially Pope Pius XII. In 1970 he retired from his observatory post but continued as president (1968-72) of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
O’Connell died on 14 October 1982 at the headquarters of the Society of Jesus in Rome. He is remembered mainly for his work on eclipsing binary stars and the ‘O’Connell effect’ that relates to the rotation of the major axis of the elliptical orbit of a double star.
D. Strong, The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-1998 (1999)
Irish Astronomical Journal, vol 15, no 4, 1982, p 347
D. O’Connell personal file (Society of Jesus, Australian Province Archives, Melbourne)
◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Daniel O'Connell's secondary education was at Clongowes College, Dublin. He entered the Society at Tullabeg, Ireland, 8 September 1913, and juniorate followed at Rathfarnham, 1915-20. He received his diploma in experimental physics and a Master of Science in mathematics at the University of Dublin, and later a doctorate in science from the Irish National University At this time he came under the influence of William O'Leary, the Irish Jesuit astronomer and seismologist, who at that time was director of Rathfarnham Castle Observatory in Dublin.
O’Connell then studied philosophy at Valkenburg, 1920-22, and did further tertiary studies in science, gaining first class honors in most subjects. It was while in Holland that he also pursued spare time astronomical studies under world famous Jesuit scientists like Michael Esch, expert on variable stars, Xavier Kugler, world authority on Assyriology and Babylonian astronomy; and Theodor Wulf world ranking physicist.
Regency followed as assistant director of the Riverview observatory, 1922-26, as well as physics master and second division prefect. At this time he undertook to advance the local study of solar radiation.
He went to theology at Milltown Park, Dublin 1926-29, and to tertianship at St Beuno's, Wales.
O'Connell studied from 1931-33 at Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was subsequently to have studied with the famous Sir Arthur Eddington. However, because of a lung condition, he returned to Australia, and then worked first as assistant director and later as director of the Riverview observatory 1933-52. Then he was appointed moderator of the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, Rome, 1953-70. He lived in the Jesuit Curia, Rome, and from 1974 was due president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
During the years that O'Connell was at Harvard, the observatory was at the centre of major developments in astronomical research and especially those that were to lead within
the next few decades to the notion of the expanding universe of galaxies. He was thus associated with such eminent astronomers as Harlow Shapley, Cecilia Payne Gaposhkin, and others. His principal occupation at Harvard, and a pursuit which continued for the rest of his life, was the study of variable stars; but he also became known as a keen card player, especially bridge.
On his way back to Australia he visited Mount Wilson and Lick observatories in California, and then went to Japan, China, Java and the Philippines, where he visited leading observatories and advanced his practical studies.
While at the Riverview Observatory, working under William O'Leary, and in addition to his study of variable stars, he developed a keen interest in seismology and in the measurement of time with various types of clocks. This latter focus led him into a lifelong interest in the calendar and calendar reform, a study that served him well in later decades since he was asked to advise popes on both calendar reform and the cycle of ecclesiastical feasts.
In 1935 he initiated the “Riverview Observatory Publications” which enjoyed international reputation. Later, he founded the “Reprint Series” and the “Geophysical Papers” that became also well known. In the field of astronomy, O'Connell worked on eclipsing stars and Cepheid variables For the latter he used photo-electric equipment. About 15 ,000 plates on variable stars were on file at the observatory.
In the field of seismology the observatory's programme included the regional study of earthquake waves and the relationship between earthquake waves and the interior of the earth
During World War II, O'Connell collaborated with the United States government in the location of earthquakes in the Pacific zone in relation to war strategy. This work continued after the war. Each week a cabled report was sent to the United States from Riverview. The Imperial War Graves Commission also consulted him concerning possible earthquake damage to war cemetery sites in the Pacific area.
In his role as director of the Vatican Observatory, he began a career of unique service to the Church that spanned the reign of three popes, and saw immense developments in astronomical research from the initial concept of various stellar populations to an expanding universe containing active galactic nuclei and quasars. On a few occasions he organised study weeks of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, at which these subjects were discussed, e.g. Stellar Populations in 1957, and Nuclei of Galaxies in 1970. As a result of these study weeks, two books were published, both edited by O'Connell, and they became classics of astronomical literature. From 1955-61 he was president of the Commission on Double Stars of the International Astronomical Union.
Of his many contacts with popes he served, his relationship with Pius XII was especially close. He frequently advised the Pope, himself a very keen and diligent student of the natural sciences, on topics of current scientific research. In was under Pius XII that the major modern research tool of the Vatican Observatory, the Schmidt telescope, planned under his predecessors but completed under O'Connell, was inaugurated and blessed. Pius XII often visited the observatory, and on one occasion viewed the launching of the Russian Sputnik.
Paul VI viewed the landing of the first man on the Moon with O'Connell over a specially installed television, and he advised the Pope on the technical details of the mission.
In the pursuit of his scientific research, O'Connell became a close friend and collaborator of an international community of astronomers. As director of the Riverview Observatory he went to Europe in 1948 to attend the first post-war meeting of the International Astronomical Union held at Zurich, and on that occasion visited many European observatories. His visit to Utrecht was noteworthy, for there he established a lifelong friendship with Professor Marcel Minnaert who later encouraged him to issue the now famous book on the Green Flash, which, published in collaboration with Brother Karl Trench SJ, provides excellent documentation on optical effects that occur in the Earth's atmosphere when the sun is rising or setting.
However, O'Connell was best known in the international community of astronomers for his research on double stars. He discovered an effect, since known as the “O'Connell Effect”,
concerning the rotation of the line of the apsides (the major aids of the double star's ellipticalorbit). The discovery of this effect was typical of the scientific work of O'Connell. lt required a long period of painstaking observations and careful analyses over many years.
In addition to his membership in the academies and institutes already mentioned, O’Connell was a member of the National Research Council of Australia, and an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy He was also a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales, publishing three papers on earthquakes and the Galitzin seismograph. He served on council, 1946-49, and was vice-president, 1950-52. He became an honorary member of the Society in 1953.
O'Connell retired as director of the Vatican Observatory in 1970. He was president of the Pontifical Academy of Science, 1968-72. While he was an indefatigable worker and consequently very jealous of his time, he still treasured his friends immensely, and was always nurturing new friendships. Even during his last years, when he was largely bedridden, he developed new friendships among old and young alike. The students at Riverview remembered him for showing groups of boys the Moon, planets and the stars on clear nights and for his unfailing gracious word and cheery smile for staff and students.
Many were the nights that, under the then clear skies over Castel Gandolfo. O'Connell climbed the stairs to the telescope atop the papal palace passing die plaque inscribed “Deum Creatorurn Venite Adoremus. He was very intelligent, hardworking and always a gentleman genuine international Jesuit.
Note from Noel Burke-Gaffney entry
1950 He was appointed Director of the Observatory at Riverview after Daniel O’Connell was appointed to the Vatican Observatory
Note from William O’Leary Entry
He remained at Riverview until his death in 1939, directing the observatory until 1937 when Daniel O'Connell became director
Note from Edward Pigot Entry
His extremely high standards of scientific accuracy and integrity made it difficult for him to find an assistant he could work with, or who could work with him. George Downey, Robert McCarthy, and Wilfred Ryan, all failed to satisfy. However, when he met the young scholastic Daniel O'Connell he found a man after his own heart. When he found death approaching he was afraid, not of death, but because O’Connell was still only a theologian and not ready to take over the observatory. Happily, the Irish province was willing to release his other great friend, William O'Leary to fill the gap.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 23rd Year No 4 1948
Fr. Daniel O'Connell of the Vice-province visited Ireland after an absence of many years, early in September: He has had a very busy time since he left Australia : he did some astronomical work at Leyden before going to the Vatican Observatory where he spent 6 weeks ; he attended a Meeting at Zurich of the International Astronomical Union and then went on to Oslo for the Congress of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. He has been invited to lecture to the Irish Astronomical Society at Armagh and to be the guest of Dr. Lindsay, Director of the Armagh Observatory, who is a good friend of his since the Harvard days when they spent two years together at that Observatory. Fr. O'Connell is due to sail for the United States from Southampton on 6th November and will spend some months at Harvard Observatory before returning to Australia.
Irish Province News 24th Year No 1 1949
On 6th November Fr. Daniel O'Connell, of the Vice-province, who during his stay in Ireland gave evidence in Fr. Sullivan's cause, left Southampton for U.S.A. on 6th November.
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Photocopy of an extract from Annali Siculi Della Nuova Provincia, 1810, describing Irish Jesuit scholastics at Palermo in 1810. Photocopy given to Fr Fergal McGrath SJ (Irish Province Archivist until 1986) by Fr Daniel O'Connell SJ, Rome.
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