By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
A cherished Christmas present Joseph F. O’Connor Jr. received in childhood from his uncle, the late Father John P. O’Connor, was a crèche the priest carved from wood but did not assemble. Instead, his uncle drew him assembly instructions, which he gift-wrapped along with the unfinished crèche, and a container of glue.
That same Christmas, Father O’Connor gave his three nieces – Joseph’s sisters – oil paints, clay and stick nativity figurines, which he had also carved from wood. Joseph built the manger then helped his sisters apply the clay and paint to the unfinished figurines.
“He would go out of his way to help somebody else learn,” Joseph O’Connor said of his uncle. “He loved to see people being constructive.”
Father John P. O’Connor, a retired priest of the Archdiocese and former pastor of St. Benedict and St. Francis Xavier parishes in Philadelphia, died July 26, 2009, at St. Francis Country House in Darby, Delaware County, where he had been in residence. He was 90 years old.
John Patrick O’Connor was born Jan. 13, 1919, in Mahanoy City, Pa., the eldest of three children of the late George J. and Anna C. (Doyle) O’Connor.
In childhood, John played “church” with his younger brothers but always with the caveat that he was the priest and they were the altar boys.
Young John grew up to be a respected priest and “a happy old man,” said his nephew Joseph O’Connor, who is now 46 years old and a member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Milmont Park.
“He always smoked a pipe,” Joseph O’Connor added. “As children, we used to run around chasing his smoke rings.”
He attended St. Canicus Parochial School, Mahanoy City, and Mahanoy City High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. During his first year at St. Canicus and again at St. Charles Seminary, young John so exceled in placement tests that he advanced to the next grade before beginning the grade he was originally assigned.
Father O’Connor was ordained a priest Feb. 24, 1945, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia by Auxiliary Bishop Hugh L. Lamb.
“He was a very zealous priest,” said Father Connell J. Maguire, 91, a seminary classmate. “He worked very hard and was very thoughtful and very kind.”
Father Maguire said he and Father O’Connor quickly struck up a friendship at St. Charles discussing theological questions outside the classroom and competing against each other on the seminary’s tennis court.
Outside the seminary, Connell Maguire’s parents also befriended John O’Connor, forging a familial bond with the seminarian, whose parents died when he was young. “He sort of made our home his headquarters,” Father Maguire said.
John O’Connor’s academic astuteness was apparent at St. Charles. “It was a tradition that at the end of sixth year you wrote an essay on the issues of Church and state,” said Father Maguire. “He was the winner. I just got honorable mention.”
Father O’Connor’s prayer prowess was also apparent throughout his priesthood as he promoted the rosary and took the time to teach others how to pray it.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone said he appreciated the kindness of Father O’Connor whose first assignment was as curate at what was then the DeSimone family’s parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bridgeport.
The year was 1945, and Louis DeSimone had just returned from overseas where he had been serving the country as an Army sergeant during World War II. After Louis told the priest he planned to enter the seminary, Father O’Connor presented him with a four-volume set of “Summa Theologica” by St. Thomas Aquinas. “He said, ‘Read this and you’ll be fine,'” Bishop DeSimone recalled.
Assignments also included: St. Bernadette, Drexel Hill; St. Timothy, St. John the Baptist, St. Benedict, St. Francis of Xavier, Stella Maris and St. Katherine of Siena, all in Philadelphia; and St. Isaac Jogues, Wayne.
Father O’Connor was pastor of St. Benedict Parish in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1978 and of St. Francis Xavier Parish in the Fairmount section of the city from 1978 to 1984.He retired in 1997.
“He was a good priest,” said Father Maguire. “I remember the people at one of his parishes called him ‘Good Father O’Connor.’ It was a well-earned title.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated Father O’Connor’s funeral Mass Wednesday, July 29, at Our Lady of Peace Church, Milmont Park, Delaware County.
Concelebrants included Father Louis J. Kolenkiewicz, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, and Father Charles Zlock, an associate to the Archdiocese’s Vicar for Clergy who was also the homilist.
In his homily, Father Zlock said that in all of Father O’Connor’s assignments he was “a dispenser of grace.”
In addition to his parents, Father O’Connor was preceded in death by his two brothers, George and Joseph, and a sister-in-law, Mary O’Connor, Joseph’s wife.
In addition to his nephew Joseph O’Connor, survivors include three nieces; three additional nephews; 10 grandnieces and nephews; a great-grandniece and a great-grandnephew; a sister-in-law, Elizabeth O’Connor; and a cousin, Katherine Brocker.
Interment was at Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, Delaware County.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.