Father Ned O’Brien SAC R.I.P. – Reflections On his Life

Our dear confrere Ned O’Brien died very peacefully on December 11th at 11.25 pm in Acorn Lodge Nursing Home, Cashel. Ned had been in Acorn Lodge since April of this year and was cared for with great care and devotion by Mary O’Connor and all the staff. Martin Mareja and Ned’s devoted nieces Mimi Cashman and Noelle McCarthy were with him when he died. May his good and faithful soul rest with the Lord of all life.
Fr Ned was born on 6th August 1932; made his First Consecration on 8th September 1952; was ordained on 16th June 1957.

Concelebrated Funeral Mass, Fr Ned O’Brien, SAC, 16th December 2019.

Welcome to you all, welcome to our home and to our community chapel, we gather here as a community to pray three times every day and to celebrate Mass, and Fr Ned assiduously prayed here over the years, so it is very fitting that we celebrate his funeral Mass in this holy place.

We come to say our farewells to Fr Ned, to celebrate his life and to give thanks for it, but in particular to celebrate the Mass for him, the Mass which is the sacrifice of our salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, because the Mass was central to Ned’s life as a priest. For this reason, I chose the Gospel reading we heard proclaimed this morning, it is not a usual reading for a funeral Mass but it is very apt for Fr Ned’s funeral.

Fr Ned was first and foremost a man of faith, a priest with a tremendous faith, I know him since 1973, and that stands out. The readings for our Mass today were chosen as they convey aspects of his faith experience.

The first reading read by Mimi Cashman, Fr Ned’s niece, is from the Book of Job (Job 19, 23-27) from the Old Testament and refers to a particular moment in his experience of God. Job was a man who suffered and greatly, he lost his children and all his possessions and the Book of Job is a great study on a faith put to the test in a serious manner. Job engages in great debates with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar who visited him in order to offer him consolation and support, and their debates are on matters of faith and of suffering. The reading today is of a breakthrough moment when Job can proclaim with conviction that he has arrived at personal truth and certainty that God, his Redeemer, lives, and he goes on to give a beautiful affirmation of what life with God consists of: it is being close to Him; it is looking on God, seeing Him with his eyes and, most importantly for Ned, finding God ‘not aloof’, but a God who is close, so close that He is the God in whom we live and move and have our being. Fr Ned struggled at times during his life, however his belief did not waver, he struggled, and I would say at times he was anguished as he pondered the big questions of human existence – just like Job and his friends did; and like them Fr Ned would argue and discuss the issues, but he, like Job, had the conviction that his Redeemer, Jesus Christ, lives. It was a source of joy for us who knew Fr Ned and lived with him to witness the peace that he was given in the final years of his life, it was a grace.

Fr Eamonn Monson, our former Provincial, reminded me of Fr Ned’s great theme of ‘Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet and King’ and of the challenge in Christian life to follow Jesus Christ in these roles and mission. The phrase itself is not found as a phrase in Sacred Scripture but there are many references throughout Scripture to all three roles, and in holding dear this enunciation of the ministry of Jesus we can see what Fr Ned’s own conviction was. The second reading was read by Noelle McCarthy, niece of Fr Ned, and is taken from the First Letter of St Peter (ch. 2, 4-5, 9-10), and elaborates on how we can live this triple ministry.

Jesus was priest; priest to offer sacrifice to God. And we too are called to consecrate and dedicate all to God, it is not ‘sacrifice’ in the sense of depriving oneself of something, but is really a recognition that all comes from God and of blessing all that we are and have, and to live with awareness that it is all a gift, a holy gift and in this way we are asking God to make us increasingly aware that he is blessing and transforming all continuously.

Jesus was prophet; a teacher, a preacher, one who announced the Good News, and he did this by talking and telling and announcing the message of God. We know from the Gospels just how Jesus did this, and Fr Ned certainly lived this, he was a great talker, and his chats, his arguments and discussions were frequently on matters of faith; and his preaching and his homilies were always prepared so carefully and meticulously because he was aware that he was proclaiming the Word of God. He saw his teaching and chaplaincy roles as a way of announcing the Good News, he spent some years in Stillorgan Vocational School, in Liberties Vocational School, Bull Alley Street, and then in Cathal Brugha Street College of Catering; he also loved to prepare and give classes to our students and novices in Dublin and he is remembered for this. And, we too, like Fr Ned, are called to proclaim, to preach, to teach and to share our own beliefs and our faith with those with whom we come in contact in daily life.

Jesus was king; and we might ask what kind of king was he? Certainly not a king in the sense that we understand it today, but in the sense that the Kingdom of God envelopes the universe, it was all created by God and God dwells in all. Jesus affirmed this by teaching that the Kingdom of God is here, all around, and he lived out of and in this truth, and in his way of life he showed how to live.

We too, like Fr Ned, are called to live our vocation as set out by St Peter, to realise that we are a ‘royal priesthood, a holy nation, a consecrated people set apart to sing the praises of God who has called us out of darkness and to live in his wonderful light’; and this, of course, is to live according to the Gospel.

The Gospel passage chosen for this Mass is that of the Institution of the Eucharist from the Gospel of St Luke (Lk. 22, 7-20); it is not usually a Gospel proclaimed at a funeral Mass, but chosen because the Eucharist, the Mass, was central to Fr Ned’s life as a priest. It is the great mystery of our faith, how the self-giving of Jesus Christ in his passion and death is re-enacted in each and every Mass. Fr Ned pondered on how life, new life and rebirth could come through self-giving and death, and his sensitive soul sensed the anguish of Jesus Christ as he faced his Passion. Yet, in each Mass he felt that he entered into the mystery of God, and that sustained him.

Fr Ned was born in Cork on 6th August 1932, his parents were Edmond and Anne and he had three older sisters, Maura, Edna and Brenda, who all predeceased him. He made his first Consecration as a Pallottine on 8th September 1952 and was ordained on 16th June 1957, together with his class-mates, the late Frs Joe Harris, Andrew (Bunny) Quinn, Flor Carroll and Michael Kiely. His first appointment in 1957 was to Tanzania; he was appointed to Hastings in England in 1959 and while I was there twenty years later the De Marco family recounted how Fr Ned got ‘lodgings’ for his greyhound with them. In the 1960s he was Vocations Director in Ireland, then he went to the US on Promotion Work and on to parish work in Texas, and he moved around quite a bit with his task to promote our Pallottine Missions and this took him from Texas to Nevada, New York, Detroit and from these bases to many other parts of the US. He taught in Boston, in Rutland, Vermont, and in the Vocational School in Stillorgan, Dublin and in the late 1970s he was given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Louvain University, and from there he returned to London and then to his work in Bull Alley St and Cathal Brugha St. In 1992 he moved to the Provincial House in Dublin and was available for parish missions and retreat ministry.

He had a fall in the Provincial House in the autumn of 2015 and later moved to the community in Thurles where he settled readily and very happily. He was hospitalized in the South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, in March this year and was discharged to Acorn Lodge Nursing Home on April 1st.

On behalf of the Pallottines I thank Mary O’Connor and all the staff at Acorn Lodge for their kindness, care and concern for Fr Ned.

Thanks to Elainea Mulcaire, Joan Quigley, Mags Byrne and all the staff here in the College who cared for Fr Ned and who made sure that he was well looked after.

In particular I would like to thank Mimi and Mike, Noelle and John for all the devotion you showed to Ned, you “spoilt him”, and he was so thankful and so proud of his nieces whom he referred to as those “two great girls”.

We his community enjoyed Fr Ned and his company; he had many loves, the greyhounds, the horses, and above all music and a bit of craic, his love of music was abiding and it is great to see it living on in the younger generations of the family. It was very moving for Mimi, Noelle, Aileen and me to be in Fr Ned’s room last Wednesday night, in the hours before he died, when his great-grandnephew Colm played the banjo, Ned’s favourite instrument, for Ned a good way to go.

May his good and faithful soul rejoice eternally with the God of all life.

When I think of Fr. Ned, I think of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: Chapter 14:

“The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; so that alive or dead, we belong to the Lord.”

Fr. Ned’s life touched all of us as a community of Pallottines.  He was the person you would want to meet when you got back after a journey and who would shout -he usually shouted – ‘hi Lad your back…. Your back and I suppose you’re getting ready to go again.’

He loved being with the community, ‘having the craic’ as he would say himself, there was never a lull in the conversation. His last trip to be with the community was for the celebration of the five jubilarians here in Thurles in June.   As he headed back to the nursing home he said ‘I miss the lads and the craic”. But he was fortunate to have great carers and nurses in the Acorn Lodge and several times he said to me including my last recent visit when talking wasn’t easy for him, ‘The people here are wonderful’. 

Fr. Ned lived for the Lord and I would say spent most of his life searching deeply for the Lord in Scripture, searching in the writings of any author he thought was worth reading. His search was endless and his studies intense as were the many discussions and debates we had together over the porridge he prepared for the two of us, for a period of more than 16 years.  I became an authority on good porridge while my scripture was a little slower.  

His favourite theologian I would say was a Church of Scotland theologian, William Barclay who taught bible in Glasgow University. Barclay had many great quotations, two of which I mention here:

  1. There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.
  • The tragedy of life and of the world is not that men do not know God; the tragedy is that, knowing Him, they still insist on going their own way.

Adapting these thoughts to Ned’s life, I think we could change that first quotation to three great days in a person’s life– instead of two great days: the day we are born, the day we discover why, and the day we die. The last one may sound a little strange, but with the faith Fr. Ned held throughout his life, it is a logical consequence to add that bit. As I said goodbye to Ned for the last time I felt he knew, and without any fear that, that final great day was very near.

He knew why he was born and why he insisted in following God’s way.

A fellow Pallottine sent me a beautiful photo of the divinely colourful humming bird which he had just photographed outside his house. The photo was in honour of Ned, who was a dab hand with the Banjo, and who was always humming. He dedicated the magnificent picture of the humming bird with the accompanying words.  ‘I dedicate this to Ned, as he soars into the divine blue on his way to the harp and banjo section, of his celestial abode’. 

We can be confident that Ned no longer needs to study scripture to learn about God for he has found God in his full glory, and has become part of that glory which he and all of us hope to attain.       May he rest in Peace.

Fr. John Kelly, SAC.


The death has occurred of Fr. Edmond O’Brien SAC,
Pallottine Community, Thurles, Tipperary / Dundrum, Dublin / Midleton, Cork

Fr. Edmond of the Pallottine Community, Thurles and formerly of Dundrum, Dublin and The Rock, Midleton, Co. Cork. Fr. Edmond died peacefully at Acorn Lodge Nursing Home, Cashel. Remembered with gratitude, love and affection by his Pallottine Community, his nieces, nephews, and in particular his nieces Mimi Cashman and Noelle McCarthy, his grandnephews and nieces, great grandnephews and nieces and a wide circle of friends.

Lying in repose at The Pallottine College, Thurles on Sunday, December 15th, from 4.30pm to 7.30pm with Rosary and Prayers at 7.30pm. Funeral Mass on Monday, December 16th, in The Pallottine College, Thurles at 12 noon with burial immediately afterwards in The Pallottine Community Cemetery at St. Mary’s, Cabra, Thurles.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Psalm 27.”Date Published: Friday 13th December 2019Date of Death: Wednesday 11th December 2019