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'62 華仁仔 | 6th Aug 2009, 15:08 PM | 想當年

PictureThis is an excerpt from an obituary in Singapore:

Father Tom O'Neill, S.J. passed away peacefully on 30 July 2009

Fr O'Neill was born on 30 January 1924, entered the Society of Jesus on 6 September 1941 and was ordained on 29 July 1955. He took his final vows on 2 February 1959. 

For the 2002 reunion, James Li was in charge of arranging Fr. O'Neill's and Fr. Tseng's trip from Singapore to Hong Kong.  James hosted a dinner party at Times Square for all the Wah Yan Jesuits after the Singapore visitors arrived. [click 閱讀全文 below left to see the whole article].

I was sitting next to Fr. O'Neill and I noticed he declined wine and suspected that he might be exhausted from the flight.  He told me that when he was ordained, he made a vow to his bishop that he would abstain from alcohol.  For those of you who know the Irish well, this is indeed a very serious sacrifice to make.  In fact, before I posted the picture of the airport lunch, I double checked to make sure his glass was filled with water, not red wine and it sure was water.

 

Fr. O'Neill and Fr. Tseng stayed on for a couple of days more on WYK campus after the 2002 reunion activities.  James Li was to take them to the airport for the flight home.  James called me the day before to see if I could be the backup driver as he expected to be tied up in court the next day.  James would take the Airport Express from Central and meet us at the check-in counter. 

 

At the Wah Yan Kowloon campus, Fr. George Zee and Norman So (then Principal, recently retired) were there to send them off.  We took turns taking pictures before driving off.  During the ride to the airport they told me that they were very pleased with the way we turned out considering that both of them lack the proper credentials to teach.  I assured them that students learnt more from the persona of the teachers than from the textbooks and they did a marvelous job with us.  What humble men!

 

James was there at the check-in counter to greet us and helped them check-in.  As I recall they were traveling light with only hand luggage.  The Jesuits really live a simple life with little worldly possessions.  Paul Lee's description of how Fr. O'Neill was given a lot of money (US$10) by his superior when he traveled to North America in 1998 was a lesson in itself to us.  LESS IS MORE.  During the reunion of 2002, we had a campus visit and Fr. Zee especially arranged for us to get to the rooftop via the living quarters of the Jesuits.  The upper floor was the forbidden zone for us when we were kids.  What struck me was how rundown the place was with give away furniture and bookshelves full of books.  No TV.  They indeed live a simple life and practice “less is more.”

 

I want to share a personal observation with all of you.  After entering the terminal, Fr. O'Neill put on a long scarf to ward off the cold.  He tied the ends into a loose knot as anybody would do.  As he approached the counter, he just casually flipped the knot over his shoulder to get it out of the way.  You can see the way he wore his scarf in the pictures at the restaurant and at the counter and the departure area.  A simple scarf and yet he could wear it with such style.  Fr. O'Neill was a simple man and a gentle man.  He exemplified all that is good and set high standards for us to aspire.

 

During our airport lunch in 2002, Fr. O'Neill mentioned that he was working on rebuilding his parish church in Singapore.  James and I had reservations if he should take up such a big project at this stage of his life.  Fr. O'Neill just assured us that it would be done with God's help.  In Morrissey's book on JESUITS published in 2008, it was written on page 725:

 “...The old church had proved too small for the crowds.  It was knocked down and replaced by the present building which held 1,000 people.  The new church is characterized by a large enclosed gathering area, separated by a glass wall and doors from the church proper, where people meet and are welcomed by the outreached hand of a statue of St. Ignatius.  Tom spoke of the generosity of the Chinese, including his Wah Yan class of 1961 that brought him to Vancouver for their annual gathering.  He described his life as a happy one, with congenial work. …” 

I am sure he meant WYK62.  I am glad that his project was completed and God just called his servant home.

 

During our last regular meeting on July 17th, we were discussing how Fr. Chan would send people late for school to walk around the grass soccer field and to the dreaded detention class at the end of the day.  One guy said he held the dubious honor of being the only one ever sent to detention by Fr. O'Neill.  This was 2 weeks before the sad news.  I forgot who it was but was glad that Silas Yeung confessed last night in detail to everyone in an email.  I will repeat it here in its entirety.

 Dear all,

Let me share a little memory of our beloved priest and form master, Fr. O'Neill.I was truly very naughty and a bit haughty when in Form 2D, and Fr. O'Neill was too gentle and kind. I remember I deliberately let open a book on the desk during dictation, without any need and intention of copying; and he walked past my seat several times before finally said to me quietly,  "Detention class, Silas."

Rest him in peace. 

To conclude, I have to thank James Li for giving me the opportunity to spend a couple of hours more with 2 of my form masters and snapped a few more pictures which I shall treasure.  The lunch at the Hereford Beefstouw restaurant at the airport was very good too.