Priest recounts his blessings - Catholic Courier

Priest recounts his blessings

BRIGHTON — On June 25, the man who had spent so many years extending blessings to others at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish knelt in the sanctuary at the end of his final Sunday Mass to be silently blessed by scores of parishioners who stood in line, taking turns to place their hands on him and pray.

As Father John L. O’Connor told the story, tears came to his eyes.

“I had blessed them, and they were blessing me,” he said.

Yet, as anyone who’s been around him for a spell would notice, it didn’t take long for the priest to regain his composure. He began to make a joke about his beloved pet dog, Conor, noting that the dog doesn’t spell his name the same way his owner does.

“He’s kind of illiterate,” Father O’Connor said as the dog sat at his feet in his former office at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Father O’Connor added that he enjoyed serving as the church’s pastor from 1980 to June of this year. Unfortunately, he said, he has been diagnosed with bone cancer and could no longer shoulder the burden of administering a parish. However, he said he has been responding well to treatment and is currently residing in his own home in Keuka Park. He’s also lending his sacramental services to St. Michael’s Church in Penn Yan, he said.

Father O’Connor grew up attending Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece, and noted that he was first inspired to become a priest after learning as a child that his cousin had been ordained to the priesthood. Father O’Connor said that he was always “mesmerized” by the almost magical idea of ordination, once he had heard it was something his cousin had experienced.

“It was kind of an emotional attraction, a feeling,” he said. He added that he attended Nazareth Hall and then St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester, and was ordained June 1, 1963, by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Father O’Connor’s first assignment came as an assistant pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Elmira Heights. In 1965, he became assistant pastor at St. Michael Parish in Newark, where he served until 1970 when he became assistant pastor at St. Pius Tenth in Chili. He worked there until 1975 when he was named assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Webster, a position he held until he went to Our Lady of Lourdes.

In addition to serving as parish priest, Father O’Connor also served as a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain from 1965-90 and is a retired lieutenant colonel. He also organized clergy conferences on behalf of the Diocese of Rochester for more than a decade, he said. Of the priestly duties he has performed over the years, Father O’Connor said he has most enjoyed those that called him to minister to people.

“I like the hands-on work with people — dealing with the sick, baptisms, weddings,” he said. He added that he also enjoyed getting to know generations of parish families.

“I’ve sometimes baptized these kids that are (today) almost ready to be married,” he said.

He also noted that he particularly enjoyed preparing homilies. It’s a talent appreciated by Our Lady of Lourdes’ director of religious education, Suzanne Regan, who said Father O’Connor is particularly adept at speaking movingly about the deceased at funerals.

“I’ve never heard the same homily twice,” she said. “They’re so tailored to the person and so beautiful.”

She also said the priest always attended plays and other functions of the diocesan school located at the parish, and was instrumental in establishing a memorial garden that commemorates the parish’s deceased members. She added that Father O’Connor even helped reduce the parish’s maintenance costs by doing everything from cutting the grass on parish grounds to cleaning the rectory.

“If you went over there at six o’clock on a Saturday morning, he was down there mopping the floors in the basement and cleaning the bathrooms,” she said.

Overall, Regan said she was impressed by Father O’Connor’s diligence in fulfilling his vocation by serving the parish.

“His determination to keep his parish in the best possible spiritual mode was unflinching,” she said.

Keeping the parish’s sick in their best possible spirits also motivated the former pastor, who noted he enjoyed visiting the ill.

“I just knew they needed my energy and support,” he said. “I wasn’t wrapped up in the medical, just the person.”

The priest also was obviously proud of his Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners, listing a number of things they did during his tenure, including “twinning” with an impoverished parish in Tanzania. The Tanzanian parish has received tens of thousands of dollars from Our Lady of Lourdes since 1992, and twice has been visited by Father O’Connor, once on his own and once with a group of parishioners. The former pastor noted that Our Lady of Lourdes has been raising about $35,000 a year for its sister parish.

“It’s one of the best things we’ve done as a parish,” he said.

And the priesthood is one of the best things somebody interested in a service-oriented career can do, he added.

“When you’re helping people in the priesthood, you’re helping them in this life and the following life,” he said. “It’s helping people to the 100th power.”

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