He offered consolation after her brother died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He served as her son Patrick’s confirmation sponsor. He helped secure tickets so she and her husband could see the pope.
Needless to say, Father Eugene O’Hara, OFM Cap, has been a key figure in Barbara Willers’ life. And yet, she said she’s just one of many Catholics in the Trumansburg area to have benefitted from the Capuchin priest’s caring ways over the past decade.
“He’s meant a great deal to everyone — the elderly, the couples. He’s always been there for them. He knows everybody by name, even down to the babies,” said Willers, who serves as religious-education director for St. James Parish.
Father O’Hara celebrated the final Mass of his 10-year pastorate on July 29. He has taken on a new assignment at a Capuchin residence in Seminole, Fla., and plans to provide sacramental assistance in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
Father O’Hara, a Capuchin for more than 50 years, belongs to the Province of St. Mary, based downstate in White Plains. Capuchin Father William Winters, pastor of St. Francis Solanus in Interlaken and Holy Cross in Ovid, said a friar’s parish assignment is normally capped at two three-year terms — making Father O’Hara’s 10 years an unusually long stint.
His replacement at St. James Parish is Capuchin Father John Tokaz, who is coming from a longtime chaplaincy at St. Joseph’s College in Portland, Maine. Father Tokaz will begin Aug. 31 in Trumansburg.
Throughout his pastorate Father O’Hara also was the superior of St. Fidelis Friary in Interlaken, on the western shore of Cayuga Lake. Father Winters, who has served in Interlaken and Ovid for four years, is succeeding Father O’Hara in the role of superior.
Priests from St. Fidelis began staffing St. James Parish in 1994. Father O’Hara came on board in 1996 following the death of Capuchin Father John O’Hare.
“I am always in awe of his Masses. He has wonderful homilies,” Willers said of Father O’Hara. “He had a lot of people come to daily Mass, people coming from all over.”
Willers said that after her brother, Thomas Duffy, was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Father O’Hara journeyed to Rochester for a memorial service. More recently, Father O’Hara beseeched a higher-up in Rome so that Willers could be in an audience for Pope Benedict XVI. She and her husband, Rick, did so this past February.
“I ended up shaking hands with Pope Benedict and he (Father O’Hara) made it happen for us,” she said.
Willers acknowledged that Father O’Hara’s announcement earlier this year about his reassignment was met with considerable sadness at St. James.
“There were a lot of tears in the church,” she said.
His farewell in the northern Tompkins County parish took place the weekend of July 8-9, with a small reception held after each Mass. In keeping with his humble nature, “he didn’t want a big party,” Willers said. She added that she got a strong response to a going-away collection she organized so Father O’Hara could purchase a laptop computer.
Father Winters remarked that Father O’Hara has left a very positive mark on St. James Parish.
“A word that comes to mind is genial. Genial and thoughtful,” he said. “He was very steady — a calming sort of influence. He was certainly a skilled administrator, who also had the personal touch.”