A County Donegal, Ireland native born in 1810, Daniel McSheaffrey served one term as a city councilman in 1851. He may be a relative of “Dennis McSheffery,” another County Donegal native (specifically the parish of Moville) who died in 1840 and is buried in Bartow County, but Daniel’s parentage is unknown.
Neither the 1840 nor the 1850 U.S. federal censuses list Daniel or any other McSheaffrey/McShaffrey/McSheffery in DeKalb County.
Franklin Garrett indicates that Catholic mass was occasionally given at Daniel’s residence in the 1840s, as “[t]he Catholic population of [Atlanta] had been growing steadily since 1845.” In February 1848, Daniel deeded approximately one acre of land at the corners of Hunter and Lloyd streets (now MLK Jr Drive and Central Avenue respectively) “to Ignatius Reynolds, Bishop of Charleston and the State of South Carolina, and to his successors in office for the use and benefit of the Roman Catholic Church” for $300. Atlanta’s first Catholic church was built on the land soon after, “a square-framed church . . . dedicated to the Virgin Mary and named the Immaculate Conception in her honor.” The building was “painted white, with a small porch, at either side of which were steps. This sanctuary had the effect of an arched alcove around which was painted, ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo.’ Behind the alter hung a picture titled ‘The Immaculate Conception.'”
In 1909, the Rev. Father James A. Doonan, an early Atlantan and president of Georgetown University in the 1880s, described the primitive conditions of that early church:
The little frame Church, neither in its interior or exterior, could lay claim to any beauty. Rudely constructed pews, untouched by paint, unrelieved by cushions, filled the main floor of the edifice; said being made of roughly planed pine boards having its only suggestion to the title of ornamentation in the frequently recurring pine knot-holes. One of these holes was responsible in after years for the suspension of a marriage ceremony. The groom on the occasion referred to, was, as is still the wont of grooms in similar cases, a victim of considerable nervousness; and as he extracted from his pocket the wedding ring, he fumbled it and let it fall. The eyes of the interested congregation watched it rolling in dangerous proximity to one of the pine knot-holes, through which before it could be rescued it fell, necessitating the retirement of the writer, then an acolyte, to crawl beneath the Church and recover the missing symbol of conjugal fidelity.
How meagre were the facilities for equipping even so modest a church as that first erected in Atlanta may be inferred from the fact that the first holy water font was fashioned by a tinsmith from a model cut in cardboard furnished from our home. Another incident illustrative of primitive conditions may be recalled. I was serving Mass in the little church, young Father O’Neill our pastor and our house guest being the celebrant, the congregation consisting exclusively of my mother; when the celebrant at the offertory removed the veil from the chalice, he discovered that there was no host upon the paten. Signaling to me, he bade me inform my mother of the fact. She in turn ordered me to hurry home and have my aunt bake a host for the need. This was done at the ironing board by the deft use of two flat irons, one inverted, its handle placed between two bricks set on their edge. A spoonful of flour paste dropped upon the heated iron was then baked by having the second iron superimposed. Ordinarily this process had to be repeated several times before a host of the required whiteness and unscorched could be trimmed for the Holy Sacrifice. Naturally both my aunt and myself were eager on this occasion to secure one such. Yet for myself I contrived to suppress all useless anxiety and futile hurry by the reflection, “Nothing can be done at the altar till I get back with the host.”
The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception—completed in 1873—stands on the lot today.
Daniel wrote his will in July 1853. He bequeathed $175 to Father Jeremiah O’Neill, Jr. for various uses largely concerning the Catholic Church. He also named his sister, Mary, and brothers, Owen and Michael, giving them his “Brick house on Whitehall Street” and a house and lot on Alabama Street. He signed with his “x” mark, and several other Irish Catholics witnessed the will, including Thomas Gorman and William Brennan, members of the Atlanta Irish Volunteers militia.
Daniel died in October 1855 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery. The McSheaffrey name and its variants disappear from city records after the 1856 death of Daniel’s brother, Michael.
“Atlanta Catholic Centennial.” Manuscript, Archdiocese of Atlanta, 1972.
Cooper, Walter G. Official History of Fulton County. Atlanta, GA: Walter W. Brown Pub. Co., 1934.
Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1820s–1870s. Vol. 1 of Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1969.
Mitchell, Stephens. “A Short History of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, Georgia.” Georgia Historical Bulletin 1, no. 1 (1927): 28–46.
Motes, Michael. “Immaculate Conception/Atlanta.” Georgia Bulletin 10, no. 24 (1972): 2.
“Roster of the Irish Volunteers for 1854.” Atlanta Historical Bulletin 2, no. 7 (1933): 43.