Br. John McMahon, FSC
“They that instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.” This quote is from the Daniel reading from today’s liturgy and a favorite of our religious community … core to our way of life as teaching Brothers. Brother Antony Cyril O’Connor, “Shine as a star for all eternity with your Brothers and students and family, gone before you.”
Anthony, called at birth Michael O’Connor, was born in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport and the ocean are themes running through his life. His nephew, Patrick Keeley, has called him “A Man for All Seasons” … a great image to remember as we hear about his life. I would also offer the image of “A Sea Captain.”
Anthony went to De La Salle Academy in Newport, but transferred to the Junior Novitiate. This is not in any material I have on him, but Patrick again knows this as fact and adds that Antony was allowed to leave the Juniorate to take a trip with his parents to visit family spots in Ireland, presumably ‘by ship over the ocean.’ He was evidently already homesick for more water than the Hudson River offered him.
Notice that I am saying An- tony. There is no “H” in the spelling of his name. Evidently, when he received his religious name at the beginning of the novitiate in September 1940, he didn’t like Tony, so his family always called him Brother Antony, switching from the family nickname of Buddy or Bud … Patrick again!
Brother Antony taught in many of our high schools in the New York Metropolitan area: Bishop Loughlin, St Bernard’s, St Augustine’s, even on Long Island and in upper New York, in Troy and Buffalo. Most of the time it was for one year, a couple times it was for three years. After he got his feet wet in the high school circuit, I guess he got a yearning for the ocean again. Tony spent two assignments in the Philippines, got an MA in English the first time and a Doctorate in English the second time. He then spent the rest of his ministry in colleges, again back and forth ‘across the ocean.’ He spent time in Cambridge, England and in Bethlehem, Palestine, as well as here in the States at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico; Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee; Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois; and at The Catholic University in Washington, DC, where he taught our student Brothers. Over the years, he also spent some personal time in New Zealand and in a remote and under-populated part of Finland. His final eighteen years in ministry were in his beloved Newport at Salve Regina University ‘by the ocean.’
Antony was one of the co-founders of Bethlehem University in Palestine, along with Brother Joseph Neary. Tony seemed to become quickly pro Palestinian, as do most of our Brothers ministering in the Holy Land. He felt sorry for the way the Christian Arabs were treated. As a co-founder, he must have had to absorb a lot about the culture quickly. Tony was not an extrovert. It must have been especially difficult for him. Brother Joseph, his compatriot, was an extrovert, so hopefully they worked well together. Tony ministered in Bethlehem for five years. One Holy Week several years ago, Tony was asked to give a talk to the Brothers about the Holy Land. He gave a scholarly talk based on his experience and knowledge of what was going on at the time. I experienced his passion for the topic and his knowledge. I also experienced him almost as ‘an actor.’ I had not experienced him in that way before. During the talk he looked over our heads, and at the end, he picked up his materials and left the room. There was no chance for questions or interaction. I mention this because that was his style. His presentation was scholarly in every way, except for his lack of personal interaction. My hunch is that he was always shy and did not like to linger to interact. Afterwards, living here in community with him, I experienced that he did not make small talk or look you in the eye. If this was true for him, teaching must have been very draining over the years, and the last person Antony wanted to talk about or draw attention to was his self. Antony was definitely a scholar. When asked by Patrick, also an English major, what was Tony’s favorite poetry, Tony said the Metaphysical poets. Tony was a voracious reader and on a variety of topics, as evidenced by the books in his personal library.
Antony was also an excellent writer. During his eighteen years at Salve Regina University in Newport, he not only taught, but also was an assistant to the President, writing many letters and other correspondence. I believe he worked for Sister Lucille and for Sister Therese Antoine. Patrick says that Tony was always looking for ‘more information’ from them, so he could write more clearly and completely. I wonder how much writing was done after he gazed out ‘over the ocean’ during the different seasons of those many different years?
A commercial on one television station is: “Characters Welcomed.” Well, here are some of the hobbies and interests that helped to make Tony, a welcomed character! Besides traveling a lot, back and forth ‘across the ocean,’ a ‘foot locker’ always preceded his arrival. His family always knew he was coming when the trunk arrived at his sister’s house. When he moved from New Mexico back to the East Coast, he rode the whole distance on a 50cc Honda Motorbike. I understand that is a very small vehicle for such a distance. He stopped in New York City to see his publisher (according to Patrick) and someone ran over his motorcycle. That was that! Tony also had a dog several times during his career. We certainly remember how he walked Mark Ciano’s dog each lunchtime here at the Center and was brokenhearted when the dog died. Tony had a telescope in his window to watch the stars. I was never quite sure if he also kept tabs on folks coming and going around here as well. Certainly his books and classical music were an important part of his leisure time. When he led prayer in the chapel, he played classical music. Sometimes it seemed like a whole symphony. His friend, Brother Peter Clifford, used to leave the chapel and get a cup of coffee while the music played on and on. In his earlier days, Tony could be seen with a pipe in his mouth … and holes in his back pocket. The absent minded professor used to put the pipe in his back pocket, forgetting it was lighted. He also couldn’t find it many times. It was in the same place, the pocket!
The hobby that was really an art form for Tony was his ship building. Here, he was like a Sea Captain! He birthed each ship. No kit for Tony. He would get copies of the architect’s plans and scale them down to size. He would make every part by hand and paint everything himself. This Sea Captain’s ships were always chosen because of a personal interest: one connected to the English author Joseph Conrad or an early ship from Galilee, like one Jesus would have traveled in or the USS Holland 1897, a submarine for which one of our Brothers had some responsibility. If you have ever been to our “Night Under the Stars” Gala, Tony’s ships were usually part of the auction. I hope all this shows Brother Antony O’Connor, as a “Man for All Seasons” and a “Sea Captain,” extraordinaire.
Antony was always close with his family. He and his deceased sister, Ellen Nora, were very connected, even at a distance through their letter writing. Antony would always return where she was, after his parents, Norah and Michael, died. Today Antony’s brother-in-law, Joseph Keeley is here with us. Anthony’s nephew Patrick Keeley is also present with his wife Marianne and their daughter Sharon and her husband Scott. Their son, Joshua is not with us today because of distance, as are Antony’s nephew Michael and his wife Jeanine and their three daughters. Patrick, thank you for the time we spent together talking about Brother Antony and the evidence of your care and love for him over the years. Where would I be today without you?
Finally, I must thank the staff at Briarcliff Manor Nursing Home where Brother Antony made his home for the last five years. I hope it is not as difficult for the patient, as it is for the care givers and the family of a patient with Alzheimer’s. We were always pleased with Briarcliff and their patience and care of Antony. This week I saw the love they have for their patients as different staff members came to us with tears in their eyes to express their sympathy and to thank us for their being able to care for Antony. They also need our prayers.
Antony would be embarrassed that I spoke so much about him today. I finish here with a poem that I had to memorize in grammar school. I knew it would come in handy someday.
“Sea Fever” by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Be with God, Antony, our brother, and be at peace! Pray for us!
Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of
Br. Antony O’Connor, FSC
Born Michael B. O’Connor in Newport, RI, on May 28, 1923
Entered the Barrytown, NY, Novitiate on June 25, 1940
Received the Religious Habit and Name,Brother Antony Cyril on September 7, 1940
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Oakdale, NY, on August 2, 1948
Brother Antony died at Briarcliff Manor Nursing Home, Johnston, RI on January 24, 2013
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Viewing from 3:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Christian Brothers Center Community (Blue Room)
635 Ocean Road
Narragansett, RI 02882-1314
Monday, January 28, 2013
Mass of Christian Burial at 9:00 am
Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel
Christian Brothers Center
Burial in Brothers’ cemetery following
SUFFRAGES FOR OUR DECEASED BROTHER ANTONY
District: 100 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass
Brother Antony passed away peacefully during the morning after a lengthy illness. May he rest in peace.
Tour of Duty
Bishop Loughlin High School
New York, NY
St. Bernard’s High School
St. Augustine High School
La Salle Academy
De La Salle College
St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute
St. Augustine High School
Santa Fe, NM
College of Santa Fe
The Catholic University
De La Salle House
Christian Brothers College
Study Grant at L.I.U.
La Salle Military Academy
De La Salle University
Salve Regina University
Christian Brothers Center
Christian Brothers Center
Christian Brothers Center
Briarcliff Nursing Home