Callanan, Laurence (1739/43–1818), OFM, priest, was born in Cork city in 1739 (according to his epitaph) or 1743 (according to his own calculation); the official dates of his birth and baptism have not been found. The only first name used in the records is Laurence or Lawrence, which may be his baptismal name rather than his religious one. His parents are unknown, but he was a near relative of Jeremiah J. Callanan (qv) and of Dean Henry Neville (qv) on his mother's side, who later represented the family. He attended the school run by Fr Colman Sarsfield, the parish priest of St Finbarr's; and when he decided to become a Franciscan, he went to Louvain (Leuven) in the Austrian Netherlands to study at St Anthony's College. Ordained a priest at Malines (Mechelen) in September 1765, he defended theses on moral theology concerning sin and censures in July 1768 for which he was awarded a doctorate in theology. After excessive study in Louvain, his health broke down in 1768. He recuperated for some weeks at the spa in Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) before returning to his native city. There he laboured for fifty years as confessor and preacher, an adviser to laity and clergy alike, to bishops and missionaries at home and abroad; he also served as director of ecclesiastical conferences in Cork city.
Callanan was appointed guardian of the Cork friary for the first time in Nov. 1773; reelected many times (with breaks), he held the post on and off for a total of twenty-nine years at least, a record for a Franciscan superior. He was elected minister provincial of the Irish Franciscans at the chapter held in July 1791, and remained in office for three years. It is likely that he was provincial again, possibly for three more years between the chapters of 1806 and 1815, a period for which no chapter bills have survived. After his election in 1791, he went on visitation to some Irish Franciscan houses on the Continent. He kept a journal which commented favourably on the state of religion, education, and hospitality on the Continent, but this has not been found; neither has his correspondence, which he himself may have destroyed to safeguard confidentiality. He returned to Ireland with a collection of books, to build up a good library in Cork in defence of faith and morals. He preached frequently about the bad influence of ‘indecent’ books, and set aside time to give special instruction to the youth and to visit schools.
Long before Callanan came to Cork, Honoria (Nano) Nagle (qv) had begun about 1752 to gather poor girls for instruction, helped by eager priests such as Patrick Doran (1729–71), SJ, and Francis Moylan (qv) (later bishop of Ardfert and of Cork). Having introduced the Ursuline Sisters into Cork, she founded in 1775 her own Society of Charitable Instruction. Callanan encouraged her courageous work in the years before catholic education was tolerated after 1782. Before Nano died in 1784, she placed her Sisters under the guidance of Dr Moylan (then bishop of Ardfert) and of her director, Callanan, who had always promoted their spiritual and temporal welfare. When Moylan became bishop of Cork in 1787, he wanted to obtain for Nano's Sisters papal approval and the stability of solemn vows; on his direction, Callanan drafted the rules and constitutions required by the Sisters, and in 1791 – at their request and with Moylan's approval – gave them a new name, Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM). They adopted the new rules in 1793. The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith insisted that only simple vows would be allowed unless the Sisters accepted the obligation of strict enclosure. Moylan had not wanted this, which would prevent their caring for the elderly and the sick; but the Sisters, realising that they were overstretched, eventually accepted. The bishop had to accede to a request from all six convents then in existence, and the decree of approbation was finally obtained from Rome in 1805.
Callanan continued his apostolate in Cork, remarkable for his moral guidance of others, his own piety, and the distribution of alms donated by the wealthy. In politics, he opposed penal restrictions as well as the proposed government veto on the appointment of Irish bishops, although he preached the gospel of obedience to the ruling powers, and signed the oath of allegiance introduced in 1774. Missionaries in foreign lands sought his help, including his episcopal Irish Franciscan confrères in Newfoundland. But he could not avoid being involved in the friars’ struggle with the successive bishops of Cork who tried to limit their apostolate unfairly, and even to prevent them from receiving novices. The humorous side of Callanan's character is revealed in the story about his great friend, the illustrious Capuchin Arthur O'Leary (qv). Briefly, O'Leary became deeply involved in a dangerous correspondence with an anonymous clergyman whom he believed wished to join the catholic church, only to discover in embarrassing circumstances that he had been corresponding with Callanan. Fr Laurence was nearing the end of his tether when he went begging around Cork in 1813 for financial help to build a much needed new friary, which was finished in June 1814. He grew progressively weaker and died 29 January 1818.