1851 – 1925 (November 12)
James Thomas O'Reilly was born on May 1, 1851 in Lansingburg, New York, to Edward O’Reilly and Maria McGrane. After receiving his early education from the Christian Brothers in Troy, he enrolled at Villanova College in September 1866. In January 1868, he entered the novitiate at Villanova, and professed simple vows on May 4, 1869. He made solemn profession on May 5, 1872, and following studies, was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Wood of Philadelphia on March 15, 1874 at the Overbrook Seminary.
After ordination, Father O'Reilly was served at Villanova as Professor, Procurator and depositarius. In addition, he served as pastor of Saint Denis' in Ardmore where he took up residence in February 1879. On August 14, he was appointed prior and pastor of Saint John in Schaghticoke, New York, where he served until July 26, 1886 when he appointed prior and pastor of Saint Mary's in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Father O'Reilly was pastor of Saint Mary's for 39 years and he served his people, community, Order, and church with outstanding devotion and distinction. A local paper, The Evening Tribune, paid tribute to him when, on November 12, 1925 it wrote that "In practically every one of his 39 years as head of Saint Mary's parish, some notable achievement stood out."
Among Father O'Reilly's numerous contributions were: the building of Saint Monica's church at Johnsonville, New York; Saint Monica's in Methuen; Saint Augustine's in Lawrence, and The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He also introduced the Xaverian Brothers into the Lawrence school and established parishes for the Greek, Melchite, Maronite, Portuguese, and Lithuanian people of the area. Father O'Reilly was also instrumental in bringing about a satisfactory settlement of the Textile Strike of 1922, which affected more than 20,000 workers.
In addition, he cooperated in inventing and patenting a sanctuary votive candleholder, which became popular in many churches. Father O'Reilly was considered to be an eloquent orator, and he demonstrated his versatility and knowledge on many occasions. Father O'Reilly was 74 when he died on November 12, 1925, after suffering from poor health from some months. A Solemn High Requiem Mass was celebrated at Saint Mary’s on Monday, November 16, 1925 with the Father Joseph Hickey, O.S.A., Assistant General as celebrant. In attendance were William Cardinal O’Connell, Archbishop of Boston, and Father Nicholas Vasey, O.S.A., Prior Provincial.
Father O’Reilly was buried in Saint Mary's Cemetery, Lawrence. The Business Administration Building at Merrimack College and a bridge connecting North Andover with Lawrence in Massachusetts, were named in his honor.