Tribute to Fr John O’Connor on the occasion of his 25th Jubilee of Ordination
on behalf of the Parishioners of Our Lady Of Victories
11 December 2010
Ever since I have known John I have had a running battle with him over the length of his sermons! Even the Pope agrees with me that about 7 minutes is the limit of human endurance of a passive listening audience, as we all are every Sunday. John listened to my arguments thoughtfully and before long, you may have noticed, his sermons were shorter but we had two or three of them over the course of the Mass. We have never resolved the debate – it is an ongoing one and, I think, gives each of us rather more pleasure than it deserves. I hope John is wondering as he listens now, whether he can endure more than 7 minutes of this.
Some of you will know that I have been on the other side of the world these last few weeks and only arrived back this morning. Earlier this week, a representative of the Parish Council asked me to speak at this function on behalf of all parishioners. This is a tremendous honour and one I value, and I have thought really hard about what I should say, in between engagements and sitting around airports or trying to keep warm as yet another blizzard ripped through Amsterdam. John will only have one 25th jubilee of his ordination and I, and I am sure all of you, want what I say to be memorable for him.
John has many facets to his character that are observable and there will be many more known only to himself. As I thought about John the priest and the man, a number of descriptions of him came to mind:
· He is, first and foremost, a holy man. His life revolves around prayer and the sacraments and we all need to know if we do not already do so, that there is nothing more important to him than this. Try asking John about the heating or lights in the church just before Mass and you are likely to get short shift. While meeting and greeting people entering the church, he is preparing himself for his most important ministry – celebrating the Eucharist – and this is something one interrupts with mundane issues at one’s peril
· He is a faithful man, a follower of Jesus, loyal to the Pope and his Bishop and unswerving in his commitment to the Catholic Church.
· He is a forbearing man. John has endured harsh criticism at times, such as adverse reactions to his promotion of church teaching on funeral rites, or reactions to the way he carries out his chaplaincy functions, but always he endures this with remarkable fortitude, seeks to see where he could have done things differently without wavering from the truth and most remarkable of all, remains pleasant and personable to his severest critics. That is something I truly admire and probably explains why I could never do what he does!
· He is a creative man. The restoration of our church is the best example of this, John having the vision and creativity to work with Charles Thomas, the original architect, to have Our Lady of Victories achieve its full potential and a post Vatican 2 church.
· He is a playful man. He enjoys company, social gathering and the odd glass of milk. He likes to rag people a little – when we were on Pilgrimage in Italy earlier this year we struck a cold patch of weather. I bought what I thought was a really nice scarf to help me keep warm. John looked at it, admired it and then asked whether the shop sold men’s scarves too!
· He is a demanding man, sometimes working himself and others to the point of exhaustion. He is an active, engaged, involved, energetic Parish Priest. How lucky we are to have him.
· John is an educated man. His continuing education and in particular his liturgical studies are a source of strength in our parish. While his absences are sometimes a cause for comment there is no doubt that we all benefit from his ongoing education and study. Just consider the effortless ease with which he has led us to a true understanding and acceptance of the “new words” and chants of the Mass. Our Parish is in the front line of liturgical development in the Diocese and we have our Parish Priest to thank for that.
I have long believed that Fr John is a man of our times in the Catholic Church, and a man for the future. He has a restless sort of urgency about him and this stirs passions and can lead to conflict and disagreement in those who see things differently. But those who take the time to listen and to know him better discover a rare quality – a true man of principle who knows and appreciates the teachings of the Church and wants us to understand them too.
John, you guide us and, from time to time, you chide us, but of one thing I am very certain – that you love us, the parishioners of Our Lady of Victories, and for this we are profoundly grateful. We rejoice with you in this milestone of your ministry. We remember with gratitude also, Evelyn and Con, your parents whose faith and generosity predisposed you to your vocation as a priest. We hope we only lose you to promotion!
On that subject, a Rabbi talking once to a man like you was curious about promotion in the Catholic Church. What is your next step, he asked the priest. I suppose I could become a Monsignor. And what after that? Well, perhaps a Bishop. And next? Well the next step is a Cardinal. Is there a step after that asked the Rabbi? Well, yes, I could be Pope. And what comes after that? Good heavens man, said the priest, do you think I could become God? Well, said the Rabbi, one of our boys did.
Hang in there John!