By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 17, 2016
ATLANTA—Priests, along with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, entered the Cathedral of Christ the King to the organ music of the hopeful “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” as they said farewell to Father Edward O’Connor.
Joining them in the stone Gothic church on Peachtree Road for the final goodbye were scores of friends and family members.
Fifty-six years a priest, Father O’Connor was a native son of Ireland who many said never lost his sense of humor. He was 81.
Indeed, Father Richard Morrow remembered his friend “Eddie” as a person who could light up a room.
“Everybody has their story about Eddie. He was so funny but never at the expense of another person’s reputation,” he said at the funeral Mass on Friday, Nov. 11.
One time, he recalled, Father O’Connor used a paper bag, with holes punched out for eyes and a nose as a prop. He playfully threatened parishioners he’d be forced to wear the disguise to priest gatherings if the parish didn’t fulfill a financial obligation.
That playfulness extended to otherwise dry parish bulletins, where his good-natured jokes made the handouts so popular his parishes had to order more so they could be shared with members’ neighbors, he said.
And he was a man of a confident faith, as he “walked” with believers and showed “his sincere love and his desire to help,” said Father Morrow. Father O’Connor’s breviary was always worn because he was so faithful to its daily devotions, he said. A breviary is a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours, daily psalms, prayers and written reflections.
About his sensitivity to others, Theresa Kinzly, a longtime friend, remembered how he counseled her then 11-year-old daughter whose friend died of leukemia. Kinzly’s upset daughter sat on a couch in his home and had a heart-to-heart discussion with the priest.
“He described for her what he thought heaven looked like,” she said, adding her daughter was so moved she asked to be confirmed at that moment.
Gaelic football star
Father O’Connor died Monday, Nov. 7. Born in Roscommon, Ireland, he attended seminary at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland. He was ordained a priest on June 19, 1960, at St. Patrick’s College by Dublin Archbishop John McQuaid.
His nephew, Michael O’Connor, told the congregation his uncle is still remembered despite living in America for so many years. He was a standout in Gaelic football, playing in the equivalent of the Super Bowl as a teenager, he said. “To us, he was a legacy among our houses. He was such a humble man, a beautiful man. In every aspect of life, he always saw the good side,” the nephew said.
Father O’Connor arrived in Atlanta in 1960 where his first introduction was to serve as parochial vicar of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and later at St. John the Evangelist, Hapeville, and Sts. Peter and Paul, Decatur. He taught Catholic high school students.
But his priesthood was primarily devoted to the role of pastor in rural and city parishes as the archdiocese grew. His pastorates included St. Peter, LaGrange; St. Mary, Rome; Holy Cross, Atlanta; and St. Michael, Gainesville. In August 1985, he was given the task of founding a new parish, St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, which he guided through its foundational years and the building and dedication of its first church. Later he became the pastor of Holy Trinity, Peachtree City, and Queen of Angels, Thomson. In retirement, Father O’Connor lived at St. George Village in Roswell, where he continued to minister to neighbors and other residents, and served as a supply priest in parishes when possible. In recent years, he was a chaplain for the Serra Club.
A vigil service led by Bishop Luis R. Zarama was held at the cathedral on Thursday evening, Nov. 10, where his body lay in repose overnight. Following the funeral Mass, burial took place at Arlington Memorial Park, Sandy Springs, with the rite celebrated by Archbishop Gregory.
Friendships last a lifetime
Several parishioners from Holy Cross Church came to the Mass to pay their respects. Father O’Connor was the spiritual leader there over 40 years ago. They remembered how he kept in touch with his former parish by attending the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Mike Hardin said it was always great to welcome him on his annual visit.
“He never forgot a friend. Many, many times, he wouldn’t want to come. But we’d say, ‘You need to come to cheer us up,’” Hardin said.
And Jane Hayes had Father O’Connor as a religion teacher at the now-closed St. Joseph High School, where he served in the early 1960s, but also as a pastor. “He really wanted to make you laugh,” she said.
Hayes made a point when she worked in Augusta to stop at his parish in Thomson. He’d invite her to his home for tea and to talk.
“He just always remembered you. It made you go out of your way to see him,” Hayes said. “He was a genuine person. When he came into a room, everyone was smiling.”
Contributions in memory of Father Edward O’Connor may be made to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home, 760 Pollard Blvd., SW, Atlanta, GA 30315 or Sophia Academy, 2880 Dresden Drive, Atlanta, GA 30341.