A visionary Jesuit minister dedicated to bringing Christ’s message to life
Charles O’Connor SJ : December 12th, 1920 - February 3rd, 2014
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land led by Fr Charlie O’Connor was not just a physical journey, but a spiritual and transcendent one. “You were standing in the very synagogue at Capernaum where Christ began his public ministry, listening to Christ’s own words, and it was as if you had travelled in time. We experienced events of 2,000 years ago coming to life,” one participant said. “He insisted the true significance of the Last Supper lay in the symbolism of the washing of feet.” As his life drew to a close, Charlie O’Connor was aware fellow Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio had been elected Pope and began his papacy by washing the feet of a Muslim woman in prison.
Fr O’Connor, known as Charlie, who has died at 93, began leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land in 1979, aided by friend and co-worker Catherine McCann, a retired physiotherapist and counsellor. Together they brought 40 groups of about 30 people on pilgrimages until 2007. Participants recall his Eucharist celebrations in places mentioned in the gospels.
Born in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, in 1920, he was educated at Christian Brothers College, Cork. He took his first vows as a Jesuit in 1940. He studied arts at UCD, did some teaching and was ordained in 1952. In 1954 he was posted to teach in Zambia, where he took his final vows in 1955. What he gave to and learned from Zambia would stay with him, and when he returned to Ireland in 1970 he was a man exhilarated by the changes brought about by the second Vatican Council.
From 1971 he was based in Dublin and his ministry took two main themes. One, conducting retreats for lay and clergy. The other, bringing the Christian message to life by showing people the ground on which Christ walked, inviting them to stand in his footsteps. He also co-founded the Milltown Park Prayer Group in Dublin in 1971 .
In 2000 , The Furrow published O’Connor’s Millenial Dream , which he said came to him while staying in the Poor Clare convent in Jerusalem.
Gathering of all faiths
In it he described a great gathering of all faiths with their leaders. He saw Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics participating together in the Eucharist, women-deacons, priests who left the ministry being welcomed back, and women being admitted to full membership of Dominican, Jesuit, Carmelite and other orders. At a later “Super-Synod” of all the churches and leaders of other faiths the Pope apologised to Jews, the churches of the East, Muslims, the reformed churches, and others faiths for the hurt done to them. Then the convent bell sounded and he woke up.
In 2007 he retired to Cherryfield Lodge in Milltown, Dublin. In his final years Catherine McCann cared for him with great dedication. He outlived his sister Peg O’Connor.