O’LEARY, Peter Michael (1850-1929)

Born on June 23rd 1850 in Quebec City, Peter Michael O’Leary was the son of Maurice O’Leary, inspector of markets and city assessor, and of Rose O’Donnell.

O’Leary completed his classical studies at the Laval Model School and at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, where he taught until 1876. He then returned to Quebec City and completed his theological studies at the Grand Séminaire while teaching at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. He was ordained a priest in 1879.

He worked in several parishes as a curate or priest throughout his career, namely Saint-Romuald, Saint-Joseph-de-Lévis, Saint-Colomb-de-Sillery (Saint-Michel-de-Sillery), Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval, Saint-Sylvestre and Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault.

In between postings, O’Leary taught English, calligraphy, drawing, and bookkeeping at the Petit Seminaire.

O’Leary was recognized for his war involvement overseas. During the Boer War in 1899, he was the first Canadian Catholic priest to take part in the war effort, joining the first Canadian contingent. He was present on the front during the battles of Paardeberg and Driefontein. Witnesses claimed he provided assistance to all dead and dying soldiers regardless of their religious affiliation. A campaign to raise a commemorative fund for O’Leary in recognition of his efforts abroad was publicized in newspapers across Canada. On his return, he was welcomed as a war hero and celebrity at large public events throughout the country. In 1901, he was named chaplain and honourary captain of the eighth regiment of the Royal Rifles of Canada. He accompanied the troops abroad during World War I as a military chaplain. He was promoted Major in 1914, and Lieutenant-Colonel soon after.

O’Leary was also interested in history and geography, and took part in many conservation projects. In the 1890s, he restored hundreds of maps and drawings in the archives of the Séminaire de Québec. In 1905, he was hired by the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa, compiling inventories and copying manuscripts in Canada and abroad. He oversaw the restoration of the Duberger model in 1909-1910, a scale model of Quebec City dating from the early nineteenth century. He was also in charge of the museum of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec and was elected president of this organization in 1921. Moreover, O’Leary was a member of the Geographic Commission of the Province of Quebec.

He is the author of the Guide to the Model of Quebec made by Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Duberger (1918).

He died in Quebec City on December 22nd 1929. He is buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery, Quebec.

– Patrick Donovan, June 2015

Peter Michael O'Leary
Peter Michael O'Leary


  • DAGNEAU, G.-H. Révélations sur les trois frères O’Leary de Québec. Quebec: La société historique du Québec, Les Éditions La Liberté, 1998.
  • McGOWAN, Mark G. “Rendering Unto Caesar : Catholics, the State, and the Idea of a Christian Canada.” Historical Papers: Canadian Society of Church History, 2011.
  • MORGAN, Henry James. The Canadian Men and Women of the Time. 2e édition. Toronto: William Briggs, 1912. p.112.
  • “L’Abbé Peter O’Leary.” Histoire du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière : le second demi-siècle 1877-1927. Quebec: Charrier & Dugal, 1947. p.465.