A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Brian Vincent Sullivan O’Connell, s.m.

Brian O'Connell

Part of the eulogy of Fr Brian Wysocki sm, delivered at Brian O’Connell’s Requiem Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral on 17 January:

[Click here for a tribute to Fr Bryan Montgomery]

[Click here for a tribute to Bishop Soane Foliaki]

 One of the characteristics of Brian’s life was an ability to “help out”. He could fill any gap, not in the sense of being a long-suffering martyr but with great joy and charm. He would celebrate any parish Mass or supply for some other pastoral need with great promptness. Brian was an engaging preacher and teacher. He was always willing to spend time aiding a colleague, pupil or parishioner in need of help. The circumstances of his being sent to Whangarei in 1972 were unusual. A member of the staff was taken ill just after the start of the school year. Brian was sent as his replacement. Having arrived, it was obvious that he was going to enjoy himself. It was infectious. Another aspect of his ability to “fill-in” was also shown in an incident which took place in Whangarei a couple of years later. One Saturday, a local cricket team was short of a player. The word had got round that Fr O’Connell had some talent in this line. Yes, he was willing to help out. On his own admission he was a bit rusty but the team was so desperate for anyone who could stand up straight that he was a welcome recruit. Brian then proceeded to score a century – with headlines in the local newspaper. The following week, the team was very keen to recruit him again. He made himself unavailable. Privately, he admitted that his glowing local reputation with the willow would only suffer if he tempted providence by making a second appearance.

Brian had many interests. He was a great lover of the outdoors, a keen film buff, a lover of all types of music from Beethoven to the Beatles, a student of art, he could strum a tune on the guitar and lead any sing-song. Above all he had a talent for friendship. The number of people present in this Cathedral today attests to that fact.

In 2003, Brian experienced a mysterious illness which baffled the medical fraternity. After some time, he seemed to get well again. The cause and type of the illness remained a mystery. With the wisdom of hindsight, it was probably the first symptoms of the infirmity which was ultimately to claim his life.

Brian was a great enthusiast. He loved a celebration or a night out. On occasions he was not looking in the rear-vision mirror and some important preparatory details might be neglected – with disastrous or amusing results. When he was at St Mary of the Angels, the Marist community decided to take Fr Gerry Mills, the Parish Priest, out to dinner for his birthday. Brian was to bring the Community Credit Card. He forgot it. After the meal had been eaten, the Community realised the plight they were in. They emptied their pockets but they could not muster enough cash to give a beggar a modest hand-out. There was only one thing for it. Fr.Mills had to pay for the birthday meal himself! He never let Brian forget that.

Being the Editor of a periodical such as the Marist Messenger does not merely mean living in the rarefied literary atmosphere where everyone knows the value of apostrophes, commas and subordinate clauses. It also means dealing with self-righteous people who pen scathing letters to the Editor because some articles published do not confirm their view of the church or the world. Then there was the frequent experience of dealing with people who promise articles and fail to meet deadlines, to the subsequent frustration of the Editor. In this particular regard all I can add is “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”. All of this met with Brian’s no fuss and no-nonsense approach. Perhaps a word of thanks here to those who carried the burden of the Messenger in these last months during Brian’s final illness. I do not know the names of many of these people but I ought to acknowledge the work of the Marists of Hobson Street, also of Kevin Head and Rowan Donoghue as well as Jo Oliver and Glen McCullough who saw that high standards were maintained and each monthly edition was with the printer on time.

Brian’s devotion to the written word was seen most forcibly in his final debilitating illness of motor neuron disease. He met this with characteristic courage and good humour. When he was unable to speak, walk or eat normally, he still retained the ability for a long time to read and write. About a month ago on a visit, I found that he had his nose in the Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I wonder if he finished that book. On visits to him until recently, the whiteboard was always handy and there were prompt written answers to any questions. Sometimes his reaction of approval and encouragement was summed up with a thumbs up. Some months ago, I preached at a funeral at the Home of Compassion. Brian was present and thought that my efforts deserved some encouragement. I went to see him a short time later and I got the thumbs up – a non-verbal, “well done”.

Brian, we your family, friends and Marist confreres are gathered here to pray for you. May the Lord who called you to ministry remember your generous and long-standing response. May the Queen of the Society of Mary whose gracious choice rested on you, welcome her faithful son. All of us have been edified by your faith. hope and charity in the circumstances of your illness and death. You had incredible talents and goodness, and like the rest of us, a few blind spots. In sorrow, trust and love we consign you to the merciful judgement of God and of your life we say “Well done.”

Born in Christchurch on 22 February 1944, Brian O’Connell made his first profession in the Society of Mary on 13 January 1966, and was ordained to the priesthood on 27 June 1970. His appointments were as follows:

1971-1972 St John’s College, Hastings

1972-1975 Pompallier College, Whangarei

1976-1977 Full-time studies (Victoria University)

1977-1980 St John’s College, Hastings

1981-1984 Chanel College, Samoa

1985-1990 St Bede’s College, Christchurch (Superior 1987-1990)

1991-1992 Manurewa Parish, Assistant

1993-1994 Futuna, Wellington

1995-1998 St Mary of the Angels, Wellington

1999-2002 Thames

2003-2004 Cerdon, Newtown

2005-July 2013 Pa Maria, Wellington, Editor of the Marist Messenger

July 2013 Home of Compassion, Silverstream

Died 13 January 2014

Father Brian O’Connell’s burial in the Marist plot at Makara Cemetery. Photo: Sr Rosalie O’Malley CSN

Father Brian O’Connell’s burial in the Marist plot at Makara Cemetery.
Photo: Sr Rosalie O’Malley CSN

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