July 2, 1902 (Boston, MA) – April 14, 1968 (New Canaan, CT); 65 years old
Local address: Holy Ghost Fathers, West Norwalk (1930 census)
Unknown enlistment date.
Service number is unknown
Unit: 28th Infantry Division
Born to Thomas J. or P. (1866-1937) and Amelia L. Shaughnessy O’Brien (1873-1960). One sister, Ellen M. O’Brien Harkins (1906-1973).
Ordained on September 17, 1932. Served as a chaplain in the Army during World War II and again from 1948 to 1952 in Berlin, Germany.
From The Catholic Transcript April 19, 1968
Funeral services took place this week in New Canaan and Waterbury for a priest serving in Connecticut. A Solemn Requiem Mass for Reverend John T. O’Brien, C.S.Sp., 65, retreat master at Holy Ghost Retreat House, New Canaan, was celebrated Thursday, April 18, at St. Aloysius Church, New Canaan, where he had also assisted the parish priests. Father O’Brien died suddenly on April 14 while preparing to say Mass. The celebrant of the Mass was Very Reverend Francis P. Trotter, C.S.Sp., provincial. A native of Boston, Father O’Brien was ordained in 1932. He taught at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, and served as an Army chaplain during and after World War II. He also did parish work in missions of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He had been in New Canaan since 1953. He leaves a sister, Mrs. John Harkins of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Burial was in the cemetery of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Norwalk.
From SWWW, Section 5
A Cornwells graduate, 1922-1926, he was professed at Ridgefield on August 15, 1927, studied philosophy and theology at Ferndale and was ordained there on September 15, 1932. After one year at Duquesne University, he went to St. John the Baptist parish in Dayton, Ohio in 1934 and two years later to St. Anthony’s, Natchitoches, Louisiana. In 1938, he became pastor of St. Peter Claver in Oklahoma. When World War Two began for the United States, he volunteered as an Army chaplain and saw service on the battlefield. Released from the service in 1946, he became dean of men at Duquesne, where the campus was crowded with former GIs. During the Berlin crisis, he was back in the Army as a chaplain in Germany, from 1948-1952. On his return, he became pastor of St. Magdalen’s, Tiverton, Rhode Island until 1961 when he was appointed bursar of the Riverside, California community. Coming back east two years later, he served as retreat master in the New Canaan retreat house in Connecticut. While preparing for Easter Mass, he died of a heart attack in the rectory of St. Aloysius Church. Interment took place at Ferndale. A highly respected priest, he served God by serving his fellow men in a very diversified career.
From “Our Province, Volume 37, No. 3, July 1968” by the Holy Ghost Fathers
Father O’Brien’s eulogy delivered by Rt. Rev. Francis X. McGuire
Pastor, St. Aloysius Church
New Canaan, Connecticut
April 18, 1968
The horse-drawn world to which Father O’Brien was born on July 2, 1902, knew as its Pope the Great Leo XIII and had as President, Teddy Roosevelt. Massachusetts was firmly in the grip of the Cabots and the Lodges, while the mayor of his native Boston was Patrick Collins.
At the time of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood on September 17, 1932, the Church was following the energetic leadership of Pope Pius XI. The country was hopelessly locked in the Great Depression, and the other Roosevelt was vigorously conducting the first of his four successful campaigns for the White House.
On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1968, the Space Age world from which Father O’Brien was suddenly summoned, is filled with many problems and trials, is experiencing, if not enjoying, great material prosperity, is seeking peace at large and an end to violence at home, and the Post Conciliar Church is directed by Pope Paul VI gloriously reigning.
Thus it was, that Father O’Brien lived in 3 different worlds — all of them real, and he was equally at ease and at home in all of them. He was not one to resist change just for the exercise, nor was he likely to accept change without challenging and testing it. To him, the new was not necessarily good any more than the old was necessarily bad. To demonstrate this point, the dignity, the attention, and the devotion with which for so many years he offered up the Holy sacrifice in Latin, he quickly translated into the celebration of the new vernacular liturgy, with the happy result that when he was saying Mass, either the old or the new form of the Mass, you knew it was a very serious affair with him. He realized he was addressing the Almighty — yet he did so with the respectful ease with which you would hold a tender conversation with a kind and trusted friend.
That priesthood to which John, the son of Thomas and Amelia O’Brien, was attracted, and to which he was admitted after serious, long, and proper preparation, was the priesthood described in the words of St. Paul as the being of “Ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God — and as the being of all things to all men.” This was the dimension of the true priesthood to which Father O’Brien aspired, and it ever remained the priesthood in which he served God and man for nearly 36 years. His early priestly assignments in the colored missions conducted by the Holy Ghost Congregation in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, brought him to grips with abject poverty, firsthand, generations before public concern was focused in that direction. At these stations, he served as the eager young priest tending the spiritual needs of his flock and standing ready to offer all available material assistance. Early did he master the profound expertise of the parish priesthood and all the diversity encompassed by it: baptizing, marrying couples, burying the dead, counseling the erring, comforting the sorrowful, consoling the bereaved, encouraging the weak, lifting up the fallen and pardoning the sinner. In all of this, he was every bit as much of a missioner as any of his confreres in the Congregation who, on their departure day at Ferndale, received the Apostolic Commission to serve under the shadows of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Although his duties to his Congregation did not make Father O’Brien an exile from the safe and sacred shores of the United States, his ready answer to his country’s call did, and as army chaplain with the 28th Infantry Division, he experienced heavy combat duty, during which he sustained a leg wound which restricted his movement, but not his activity, until last Sunday morning.
This phase of his priestly career was particularly appealing and challenging to Father O’Brien who, by both nature and grace, was a man among men. Readily he assumed the role of a soldier among soldiers, a Padre to the G.I.’s without discrimination or distinction of any kind. The wide range of calls and the countless opportunities of service presented by the military enabled him to rub shoulders with men from all walks of life and, as you might expect from one as talented, dedicated, and as genial as Father O’Brien, he made many friends with chaplains and soldiers of all religious denominations. Postwar ecumenism came easy to one who shared the foxhole and the bomb shelter with those who invoked the same God with different words and prayers; it might not have come as easy for one reared in Catholic Boston with its Yankee and Brahmin minority.
His military experience equipped the returning chaplain for his next assignment as Dean of Men at Duquesne University, the Holy Ghost College in Pittsburgh, on whose faculty he served during the early years of his priesthood. The school enrollment at the time was bulging with ex-G.I.’s and his experience and preparation fitted him eminently for the post that he filled with distinction and without fanfare until he re-enlisted as a chaplain during the Berlin crisis and was assigned to the occupation forces in Germany.
Upon his second return from service. Father O’Brien became pastor of St. Madeleine Sophie Parish in Tiverton, Rhode Island. In these modest, if not humble surroundings, he returned to his first love — priestly work at the parish level. This to him, was never a routine round of duties, because to him, these sacred duties and sacramental administrations were ever-new and moving spiritual encounters with his Savior.
When lingering ill health curtailed some of his pastoral activities, he drew the assignment as Retreat Master at the New Canaan Retreat House. As in all his other clerical assignments, he accepted this new challenge late in life in the same spirit and same full dedication he gave to all his earlier priestly work and, as in all his other work since he gave himself wholeheartedly to it and he was successful.
It was while at the last official post that he so liberally shared his sacred ministry with us at St. Aloysius Parish and endeared himself to the whole community — being at all times a help to the priests and a comfort and a delight to the parishioners who, both young and old, approached him without the slightest hesitation because of the genial kindness that ever was his. They took as much advantage of his availability and willingness as we priests presumed of his good nature. He assisted us over the past five years for weekend ministry, for supplemental weekday services, for Holy Days, and Lenten services, and readily supplied for Father Byrne or me, for days off and at vacation times. He more than once confided in us he did not know long his health would hold out and sought the opportunity of offering up as many Masses as possible and on those days when bination was necessary, he would press to be allowed to do double duty, and frequently, against our better judgment, we let him have his way.
His last public official act here was on Holy Thursday evening when he celebrated Mass and carried the Blessed Sacrament in solemn procession, a fitting close and finis, I must admit, to so brilliant and diversified a priestly career as his. I would presume to say that were it in his power to do so, he would not have written this final chapter differently.
In closing, I extend my sympathy to Father’s sister, his family, his friends, and especially to his colleagues in the Holy Ghost Congregation. For us all at St. Aloysius we thank Father Trotter, the Provincial, for permitting the funeral from our church — the scene of Father O’Brien’s last labors, and for the favor of permitting me the honor of delivering this eulogy. I would not overlook Father James McCaffrey either — for his willingness to share Father O’Brien with us, and his own help and kindness to us over the past six years.
Today, the remains of John T. O’Brien return to the Holy Soil of Ferndale where, as a willing and active youth, he came seeking wisdom, knowledge, and piety. How different this second coming! So sad indeed, but yet so triumphant and so complete. He goes to the Judgment of Christ, whose faithful and generous servant and minister he always was — to the Tribunal of God — the careful dispenser of whose mysteries he ever remained. Would to the same Christ and God, that when I approach the same judgment, my arms are as full of good works, and I have as little to answer for as the friendly and priestly, Father O’Brien.
Buried in Ferndale Cemetery, 32 Weed Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut. Photos by webmaster.