Given by Br. Dennis Lee, FSC – Oct. 25, 2010
They say that repetition is the best teacher. By such standards, Brother Brendan Michael O’Neill must have been a great teacher. All of us sitting here can remember some of Mike’s oft-spoken expressions. One is quite apropros at this moment: “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” A Mike O’Neill truism, and today we celebrate that Mike has gotten to go where he has been preparing to go for some 89+ years.
Our gospel this afternoon contains those mighty words of Jesus Himself to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life.” Michael firmly believed that he would cross over to the fullness of life upon the death of his body. We are confident that Mike is enjoying heaven already.
So, where did it all begin? Michael Joseph O’Neill was born 89 years ago to Thomas and Delia O’Neill, two emigrants from Ireland who would give birth to six sons and a daughter and raise the family on the isle of Manhattan. Last night, several of us Brothers learned that Brendan Michael, aka Michael Joseph, was also known as Buddy in his family. How great that Buddy’s sister-in-law, Mary Lou, and her two daughters, Mary Beth and Tara, are able to be with us today, in the union of his two families.
Proud of his Holy Name NYC roots, Mike would enter the juniorate in Barrytown in 1936, and he would spend the next 74 years with the Brothers. His educational background was math and physics, and he taught science and math – as well as Religion – in Troy, Pawtucket, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Newport. He was also a prefect at Lincoln Hall along the way. However, when we think of Mike O’Neill’s career, prior to his retirement here in Rhode Island and New Jersey, we must think Bishop Loughlin. Forty of Mike’s near ninety years were spent on Clermont Avenue.
I spent 12 of those 40 years with Mike. It was there that I personally met and knew a man of God. Six of us newer Brothers moved in to the Loughlin community in 1984 and were greeted by four veterans: Raph Cecchini, John Herz, Charlie Felix and Mike. Mike was not without his quirks. Although we would eventually find out that Mike liked to talk and sing little ditties, we didn’t know that on the first night. That night, Mike was in the shower singing, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.” I won’t say who we thought was half-crazy.
Mike had his little sayings: “You hope and I’ll pray”; “Strap Nicky Boss, Strap Nicky”; “Keep bouncing the ball”; and as a good Irishman, he would daily send a “bundle to Britain”, to name a few. However, his most common saying continues to live on. Bro. Jerome Sullivan, AV for DENA, has a grand nephew who is a student at CBA, Lincroft, and this teen regularly visits the Brothers of DLSH. Jerry met up with the nephew last week and the nephew greeted Jerry with the very words that our Buddy used when he said hello to each of us: “Happy days.”
Mike made days happier for so many with his simple acts of kindness. Bryan Maguire, who is here today, has written a beautiful testimony which I hope you will take with you from the rear of the church after our Mass today. He writes in part, “One day in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Star in Narragansett, after getting a diagnosis of what turned out to be Stage 4 stomach cancer, I met Bro. Michael. He was very kind and soft, like an Irish rain in Dingle. He welcomed me and said, ‘I will pray for you.’ He then took my hand in both of his hands and looked me straight in the eye. I felt a great love and peace.”
Mike did know some occasional physical suffering along the way, but, way back in 1973, he went through a particularly tough period. At that time, Mike had a serious bout with cancer, in which the doctors were planning to have his jaw bone replaced by part of his rib. Fortunately, this was not the Garden of Eden, and some weeks of radiation cured the cancer. Mike always considered these 37 subsequent years as a gift. And with this gift, Mike has outlasted precisely 100 Brothers who have been buried in the cemetery here since 1973.
Mike was a holy man with a genuine faith. His love for his birth mother was deep but so too was his devotion to the Blessed Mother. Mike was quite content with a weekly trek to Washington Heights to visit his sister Nan and his brother Pat, but he had one longer journey that captured him. Mejugorje was the one destination that he spoke of forever before journeying there and which he spoke of long after the experience ended. His devotion to the rosary was only enhanced by his Mejugorje experience. As important to him as Mary was, he was enthralled by our Lord himself. Mike lived the words we have heard this afternoon from Paul. He walked with faith. He did all to please God. He knew this earthly dwelling was not made to last forever. In fact, one of our Brothers visited Mike two weeks ago and he was in his usual position near the chapel. Mike threw his head back to the chapel and said, “I’m waiting for my friend to call for me.” Today, we celebrate the man who was ready for his friend’s call when it arrived on the morning of October 21, 2010.
How fitting that the call came on the day designated as the International Lasallian Day of Prayer for Peace. Mike lived a peaceful life of much harmony. In my 12 years of living with Mike, I never heard him speak negatively about anyone. He carried himself consistently as positive, upbeat, and happy. Brother Michael Finnegan at De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, told me that Mike was a pleasure to have as part of the community there. Happy days!
We all hold our memories of Mike. Short sleeve shirts in winter. His name brand clothing line: Haband. Kit Kat candy bars. Talk radio playing 24-7. And when next I worry about not having adequate suit cases, I will remember Mike’s collection of brown bags that got him wherever he had to go. During our social this evening, let us be sure to share all the other memories of Mike.
Kindness begets kindness. Valerie McCormick’s daily kindness to Michael in this very chapel was mutually reciprocated. And as kind as Mike was in this world, he always awaited heaven. As Paul has shared with us today, “We would much rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Our Buddy Mike is where he has longed to be, and we are confident that he is reunited with his parents and his siblings, especially Nan, Pat and Brendan; and with his Brothers, especially Raph, Charlie and Luddy. We rest assured that he is now enjoying the happiest of days.
Shortly we will sing our Institute’s song of honor of our Founder. Mike, your life has given honor to our Founder and our Institute. May you rest in peace. AMEN .
Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of
Br. Michael J. O’Neill, FSC
Born Michael Joseph O’Neill on June 15, 1921
Entered the Barrytown, NY Novitiate on June 30, 1939
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Brendan Michael on September 9, 1939
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Barrytown, NY, on July 20, 1946
Brother Michael died at at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft, NJ on October 21, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Viewing from 2:00 – 3:00 pm
De La Salle Hall
810 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738-1608
Monday, October 25, 2010
Viewing from 3:00 – 4:30 pm
Mass of Christian Burial at 4:30pm
Christian Brothers Center Chapel
635 Ocean Road
Narragansett, RI 02882-1314
SUFFRAGES FOR OUR DECEASED BROTHER MICHAEL
District: 100 masses
De La Salle Hall community: 30 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass
Brother Michael passed away peacefully at De La Salle Hall after two days in hospice care. May he rest in peace.
Tour of Duty
La Salle Institute
St. Raphael Academy
De La Salle
Bishop Loughlin H S
De La Salle
Bishop Loughlin H S
Christian Brothers Center
Christian Brothers Center
De La Salle Hall