Seamus O’Neill, CM, SVC 1950-66
1918 - 2004
When I got to know Seamus forty years ago, I had no idea that we would form such a firm and lasting friendship; he was nearly twenty years my senior and I did not anticipate the closeness that would develop between us. But a few things about Seamus surprised me; the first was how good and effective a teacher he was. Both in the Primary school and in college, Seamus was an excellent teacher and his pupils and students appreciated this. At first I had not taken him seriously enough because I thought he was too conservative. But when I saw that he knew the Scriptures and especially the Old Testament so much better than I did, I stopped worrying about his conservatism. But his teaching ability was not the quality that most attracted me; I had gradually got to know someone who was gentle and gracious and a wonderfully caring priest. After sharing a number of holidays, we formed a deep friendship for which I am grateful and always will be. Another endearing quality was his humour but it was his unfailing goodness and kindness that were his most notable qualities. At the time of his death I asked some people about him and found that the most frequently used epithet for him was “gracious”. No doubt, much of this admiration came from the extraordinary faith and devotion to prayer that marked his life. I remember realising at some stage that part of my own prayer was for a share in his devotion to it.
I knew little of Seamus’ health problems. But after he had told me about his early pneumonia and fear of colds, I remember once going to visit him in his room when he was complaining of a bad chest. I found him barely visible behind a veil of smoke from his pipe; he saw the humour in the situation.
Seamus’ gentle and saintly qualities are less surprising when one remembers his family. He was the eighth of ten children, three boys and seven girls. Six of those girls became nuns. He is survived by three sisters: Eileen, Sr Bernadette of the Carmelite Convent in Tallow, Co Waterford; Ethna, Mrs Curtis in Kilcurry, Co Louth; and Nora, Sr Therese of the Convent of Mercy in Downpatrick. Seamus was very attached to all his family and very appreciative of all he had received from them. They were the object of many of his prayers. This reflects the deep family and religious spirit that must have been in his parents and that shone in Seamus all the thirty plus years that I knew him. It was to be seen in his faithfulness to the breviary and rosary and his unfailing devotion to the process of getting to know his Lord. And Seamus frequently acknowledged that debt he owed to his family. It would have been easy to think of his devotion as over-pious but this would be to forget his knowledge of the Scriptures and how well based his devotion was. He was one who thought and prayed about his faith as few of us have.
Not only was Seamus an effective teacher but also one beloved by his students and pupils. I know former students who still speak of him with gratitude and affection. Though he was often diffident about his own ability - and would often prefer to ask someone else to do the job in hand, he would be successful when he carried it out himself. His students and pupils saw that this humble and shy man had a lot to offer them. A mutual friend to whom Seamus was once a supervisor said the following about him: “Fr Seamus was a priest who lived all the ample resonance contained in that designation. As supervisor he was gentle and gracious (his words of encouragement and affirmation and continued fidelity to his student helped her in life). His humility and desire that others receive the limelight hid his academic scholarship and learning.
As a priest he spoke by example of a deep inner life and an honouring of the need to nurture the soul. As a friend he loved unconditionally, without judgement he honoured difference. I always felt called by Seamus to be the best I could become. His life of selfless gift leaves me and many others with a rich treasure of memories that sustains us.”
Seamus and I shared a number of holidays in Spain and Italy and it was then that I began to appreciate both his humour and the wonderful company he could be. I found that he was not only friendly and appreciative of other people but that his consciousness of his priesthood was unceasing. He lived the dictum that there is no holiday in the spiritual life. For him people were seen first as children of God and he frequently commended them to God. His prayer was as practical and natural to him as breathing and he was always concerned for people’s relationship with their maker. Indeed. even while on holiday he was not beyond a little evangelisation. No doubt this too was something he had learned as a child and had developed all of his life.
In those holidays we also shared our love of Scrabble and because I had played the game before he did I was a little taken aback at how often he beat me. It was on one of the holidays too that I first learned about his interest in painting and drawing and saw that though self-taught he was surprisingly proficient at it. He once borrowed a bird book from me and I was astonished at how accurately he could reproduce drawings of the larger birds. Much later, when he was resident in the Sacred Heart Home, I saw that he had continued this interest and improved his skill.
There was one interest of Seamus that I was unable to share. He had a great love of the Irish language and many wonderful memories of the Donegal Gaeltacht and the people he met there. He often spoke with great enthusiasm of the beauty of the language and though he had misgivings about the teaching of the language in schools, he never lost his love for it. It was typical of him that many of the passages he remembered and shared were from prayers. Two of his loves seemed to grow in his last days as he read these prayers and gave me a commentary on them.
Tom Woods CM
SEAMUS O’NEILL CM
Born: Lurgan, 19 November 1918
Entered the CM: 7 September 1938
Final Vows: 8 September 1940
Ordained Priest: 26 May 1945 at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin
1945-’50 St Patrick’s, Drumcondra
1950-’66 St Vincent’s, Castleknock
1966-’70 St Paul’s, Raheny
1970-’84 St Patrick’s, Drumcondra
1984-’88 DePaul House, Celbridge
1988-’90 193 Richmond Road, Fairview
1990-’94 Iona Drive, Glasnevin
1994-’99 St Patrick’s, Drumcondra
1999-2004 St Paul’s, Raheny (Sacred Heart Residence)
Died 4 September 2004