Magennis, Peter Elias (1869–1937), priest and nationalist, was born 1 June 1869 near Tandragee, Co. Armagh, son of Thomas Magennis, labourer, and Bridget Magennis (née Boyle). He was educated at St Malachy's College, Belfast, and was awarded his BA by the RUI. He joined the Calced Carmelite order in November 1887 and was ordained (22 September 1894) in All Hallows College, Dublin. After teaching for two years (one of them as principal) in Dominick St. school in Dublin, he was transferred to Knocktopher, Co. Kilkenny, where he worked energetically to provide better learning facilities. He established a scapular confraternity there and remained a lifelong propagandist for devotion to the brown scapular, writing at least three pamphlets on the topic (1914, 1923, 1928). His skills and enthusiasm brought him to the attention of the provincial, Thomas Davis, who decided to employ his talents in Australia. On his arrival in Australia (1898) Magennis made a lasting impression; he oversaw the construction of a new church in Hamley Bridge and was appointed prior of Gawler (1899). The order's difficult financial situation in Ireland ensured a short stay in Australia. He returned home to become master of novices in Terenure College, deploying his discipline and ardour for the benefit of new recruits. In 1908, however, he moved again, this time to Rome as assistant general of the general chapter, a high-ranking position within the order. His primary duty was to advise the general and other members of the curia on matters pertaining to all English-speaking sections (Ireland, Australia, and America).
An ardent nationalist, he was active in the home rule movement and used his early trips to America in 1910–11 to publicise this cause. On his resignation as assistant general in 1915, he moved to New York, working on Manhattan's East Side, where he became more actively involved in Irish nationalist organisations. Abandoning his support for constitutional nationalism, he embraced the physical-force movement. In 1917 he became the president of the Friends of Irish Freedom (FIF), helping to stage demonstrations and fund-raising events, including the second Irish Race Convention in May 1918. The priory he presided over became a centre of political activity as well as a shelter for prominent nationalist visitors – many activists arriving in New York spent their first night there. Among the men with whom he formed lasting friendships were Liam Mellows (qv), Harry Boland (qv), Éamon de Valera (qv), and Seán T. O'Kelly (qv); he officiated at O'Kelly's second marriage. Cardinal John Farley (qv), archbishop of New York, rebuked Magennis for his overt political activities but had little power to hinder him.
At the general chapter held in Rome in October 1919, Magennis achieved the distinction of being the first Irishman elected superior general of the Carmelite order. This necessitated a return to Rome and his resignation from the presidency of the FIF. He was reelected superior general in 1925, relinquishing the post in 1931 despite pressure to remain for a third term. While in Rome he was largely responsible for the building of St Albert's International College and the Philosophical College of Pius XI. Never afraid to air his political views, he used his position in Rome to try to influence the Vatican authorities, and was in favour of a Vatican mission to Ireland during the civil war period. He was a strong opponent of the treaty and returned to Ireland for Harry Boland's funeral in August 1922. During this visit he met several members of the provisional government and leading republicans in an attempt to broker a deal. It was thought that he was due to meet Michael Collins (qv) on 23 August 1922, the day after Collins was killed at Beal na mBláth. Deeply affected by the execution on 8 December 1922 of his friend Liam Mellows, he wrote: ‘I knew those fellows [the provisional government] were contemptible curs, but it never occurred to me they were such vampires’ (Keogh, 97) and publicly spoke out against the government's treatment of anti-treaty prisoners.
He returned to Ireland on a permanent basis in the early 1930s and spent the remainder of his life living and working in the Whitefriar St. Carmelite church. He became an important supporter of the Legion of Mary, acting as spiritual director to several praesidia. His publications on religious topics included the Life of St Albert, Carmelite (1929) and other biographical pamphlets, but he also wrote short story collections, For old times’ sake (1931) and Corn and cockle (1932). He died 26 August 1937 in Dublin after a short illness.