Friday 15 December 2017

Fr Fergal O'Connor

Finola Bruton

ANYBODY who met Fr Fergal O'Connor loved him. He was a priest of the Order of Preachers and he fulfilled this mission with zeal and compassion. He had the genuine ability to take the significant issues in people's lives and help those in difficulty to effectively analyse their problems. Most important of all, he helped people to help themselves to solve their own problems perm

ANYBODY who met Fr Fergal O'Connor loved him. He was a priest of the Order of Preachers and he fulfilled this mission with zeal and compassion. He had the genuine ability to take the significant issues in people's lives and help those in difficulty to effectively analyse their problems. Most important of all, he helped people to help themselves to solve their own problems permanently.

Born and reared in Kerry, Fergal O'Connor excelled in life as a Dominican priest and as an academic philosopher. He was a successful writer and as a broadcaster become an Irish household name. His steeliness demonstrated itself in that he showed immense moral courage in his defence of the Catholic church over the last 20 years when it became popular to see only the shortcomings of the church.

His many gifts as an educator included his instinctive ability to treat people equally regardless of their age, background or life experience. My immediate memory of him is that he was always surrounded by a group of people - usually young people - listening to him and helping him help others. He was a skilled lecturer and when he argued the various positions and theses of political philosophers - such as Machiavelli, Rousseau, Plato or Hobbes - he put it up to students to push themselves to their intellectual limit in order to bring balance to the debate.

He opened a hostel for homeless girls in Sherrard Street in Dublin in the Sixties which was supported by student volunteers. He devoted a lot of his time to it and brought in many voluntary workers from a variety of backgrounds. He trained me as a counsellor to help him in his work.

He established Ally in the late Sixties, which was run in the Dominican Friary, and it supported single pregnant women who had to leave home. Irish host families participated in the scheme and took in young women and minded them in the latter part of their pregnancy. Ally would interview and liaise with families and get counselling for the women. Ally and the hostel were entirely separate organisations. About two-thirds of women gave their babies up for adoption. He organised flag days for Ally and the hostel for homeless girls. He applied his persuasive skills to get volunteers to help.

He appeared many times on the Late Late Show. He always prepared himself very well for them. He eventually withdrew from the limelight as it hampered his work. A lot of liberals would have claimed him as one of their own but he was not an extremist and he argued that we should extract ourselves from the prejudices of our age and view problems as objectively as possible. He tried therefore to extract the problems of the day from their prejudices and cultural conditioning and instead encouraged people to step outside of their box - and this was, in his view, the ultimate failure of liberalism.

He gave numerous talks on marriage, relationships and sexuality. He worked to the end and helped people of many backgrounds.

He was a brilliant observer of human nature andencouraged people to maximise their talents and placed a high value on those who were concerned for the plight of others.

His legacy is that he put the needs of other people before his own. He had remarkable compassion and was a living saint. He inspired every community he worked in, from his priestly colleagues, his students, his counsellors, to the people in need of help.

Fr O'Connor was modest and generous with his time and he almost got younger as he got older, notwithstanding being affected by arthritis from his early 20s. He rarely complained about this suffering, which worsened as he got older. Until the day before he died he was quietly helping people from the Dominican Friary.

He believed that the greatest calling of his life was to be a priest. He was first and foremost a priest. His absence has left a void in our lives. Like Plato, he was always searching for the good in people in life.

Fr O'Connor is survived by his Dominican community in Dorset Street, his sister, niece and two nephews.

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