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'62 華仁仔 | 4th Aug 2009, 08:27 AM | 想當年

After hearing the sad news about Fr. O'Neill's passing, I tried to look up his biography but I cannot find a proper obituary.   So I look up the“Jesuit”book and put together this brief biographical datelines and some personal remembrances.[click 閱讀全文 below left to see the whole article].

   

Fr. Thomas O'Neill was born on January 30, 1924 in Mullingar, Ireland.  He entered the Society of Jesus on September 6, 1941.  He arrived Hong Kong on September '49 and studies Chinese for one year before teaching at WYHK from 1950 to 1951.  He returned to Ireland in 1951 to complete his theological studies and was ordained on July 29, 1955.  He returned to Hong Kong and taught at WYK from '58 to '61.  He was form-master of F2D during the first year and the form-master for F4A during his third year.  It was during these years that his bond with the class of  '62 was formed.  After WYK, he was transferred to the Provincial Seminary at Aberdeen, Hong Kong to teach liturgy and to develop new approaches to church worship as a response to Vatican II.  By 1965, he had become the leading Jesuit liturgist in Hong Kong and was involved in arranging English and Chinese dialogues in the vernacular Mass.   There was skepticism from the traditionalists but Fr. O'Neill felt that the new ways had allowed "the people to participate more fully in the ceremony.”Thousands of copies of his Chinese Mass Booklet were used in the mid-sixties.  In 1969, he briefly took over as Master of Novices in Cheung Chau.  But at this point, there were not many Jesuit novices.  He was transferred to the Pastoral Institute in Manila, Philippine and stayed there for twelve years, teaching and developing the new liturgy.

 

In 1981, he joined the Jesuit community at Kingsmead Hall, Singapore.  He enjoyed the work of teaching liturgy in the seminary, working with choir and performing pastoral work at St. Ignatius Church.  When Fr. Morrissey interviewed him in 2006 for his book, Fr. O'Neill spoke of "the generosity of the Chinese, including my Wah Yan class of 1961 that brought me to (Canada)." He described his life as a happy one, with congenial work. "The highlight of his career had been the privilege of working with brilliant professors of dogmatic and moral theology, training priests and nuns from all over the Far East and Australia in the post-Vatican II era of national liturgies, and the sense at the time of opening new vistas.”

 

On July 30, 2009, Fr. O'Neill did not feel well after teatime and passed away quietly soon after.

  

Here I put down some more personal remembrances.  During form 4 Fr. O'Neill taught us English and History.  During History he supplemented the textbook with some notes on Chinese History.  I was in shock when he said that "the death of Sun Yat Sen was a boon to the KMT.”I thought this could not possibly be correct since I was always taught that the KMT revered Sun Yat Sen.  Later on I realized that Fr. O'Neill was correct and I really knew very little about modern Chinese history.

 

We had lost touched with Fr. O'Neill for many years.  During his visit to Los Angeles in 1998, he told me the interesting story of how we got connected again. Fr. O'Neill saw a concert advertisement with Yondani Butt as the conductor.   He knew Butt Chak-Cheung and knew that he had made up his unique name Yondani.  So he wrote a note to Yondani and had a joyful reunion.  That was how our class got connected with Fr. O’Neill again.   In 1998, Dunson Cheng and Peter Sien conceived the idea of inviting Fr. O'Neill to visit the West Coast and the Wah Yan International Conference at Calgary, Canada. 

 

During Fr. O'Neill's stay at Los Angeles from July 24, '98 to July 28, I had many occasions to talk to him.   We all know that he was very kind and gentle.  He demonstrated this on one occasion when he was in a car with me and my wife.  After we passed through a church, Amy made the comment that since she was not baptized she will go to hell after she died.  Fr. O'Neill immediately protested and said that if you lived a good life, you would go to heaven.   Amy, using the logic of a scientist, asked, “In that case, why would you need to join the Church?"  Fr. O'Neill replied,” If you are baptized and belonged to the Church, then Jesus will be in your team and things will go easier.” 

 

After three days, I was supposed to hand Fr. O'Neill to Peter Sien who took care of the rest of the trip.  (He had written a full account of this some time ago.)  I took him to visit the mission at Santa Barbara.  I was a little uncertain about whether he should carry some money with him and broached the subject delicately.   He said he did not need any money because his superior had given him a lot of money before his trip.  His superior had given him ten dollars which he thought was a lot of money.  After a tour of the mission, he decided that he should break up the big note and bought some postcards.

 

I left Fr. O'Neill in perfectly good hands at Camarillo.  After I got home, I discovered that Fr. O'Neill had left his postcards and the nine dollar change in the side pocket of my car.  Since this was his total monetary possession, I felt compelled to Fed-Ex it to Raymond Lau in Vancouver.  I have never checked with Raymond whether the postcards and the nine dollars had found their rightful owner.  But even if it did not, I am sure Fr. O'Neill would not have minded.  I agree completely with his own assessment that he had a happy life.