And yesterday, the 50th anniversary of his death, a monument to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was unveiled in his hometown, Killarney, Co Kerry, before a gathering that included international representatives.
However, the warmest applause came from several hundred local people when black and red cloaks were lifted to reveal a 2m bronze statue of the renowned humanitarian.
The sculpture by Valentia Island-based artist Alan Ryan Hall depicts the monsignor striding across St Peter’s Square.
His story is told as a backdrop to the sculpture, with replicas of the various honours he received.
Credited with saving more than 6,500 people from certain death, he became known as the Pimpernel of the Vatican and his achievements have inspired several books and films.
At the ceremony were family and friends, as well as international and local dignitaries, including assistant attache at the US Embassy George Sands, Canadian ambassador Loyola Hearn, British ambassador Dominick Chilcott, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown, and Nurit Tinari-Modai of the Israeli Embassy.
Representing the O’Flaherty family were a nephew and niece of the monsignor’s, former Supreme Judge Hugh O’Flaherty and Pearl Dineen.
Colonel Sam Derry was the monsignor’s second-in-command in the Rome escape line and his son William was present with his wife Marion.
Also there were Mo and David Sands, grandchildren of Henrietta Chevalier, who operated a safe house in Rome and who worked closely with the monsignor.
Hugh O’Flaherty said his uncle would have been astonished that people would have taken so much trouble to present such a wonderful monument in his home town.
He also said his uncle loved simple recognition, meeting people and being recognised. He also loved walking through Killarney and stopping for chats. “Recognition was important to him, in a simple way,’’ said Mr O’Flaherty.
The statue was unveiled at Mission Rd by Killarney mayor Paddy Courtney and a grove of trees has also been planted in the monsignor’s honour.
Chairman of the O’Flaherty Memorial Committee Jerry O’Grady said the unveiling was the culmination of five years of fund-raising. “We hope that the sculpture will tell the monsignor’s story in a meaningful way and inspire future generations to act selflessly and never turn their back on people who need help,’’ he added.
The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Week continues until Sunday and the O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award will be presented posthumously, on Saturday night, to Donal Walsh, the Tralee teenager who raised money for cancer treatment and worked to prevent suicide among young people.