Friday, May 23, 2014

Father Lloyd O'Neill

Father Lloyd O'Neill, parish priest of the Halifax archdiocese, died on Monday, May 19 and was buried this morning from St. Agnes parish, the last parish in which he served as pastor.

The full obituary can be read here.

Father Lloyd was my parish priest for 8 years at St. Theresa's Parish in Halifax. A kinder more attentive man I don't think you could find anywhere. He always had time for everyone, particularly those who were suffering.

What I didn't know was the extent of his work with the police and the forces. From his second year as a priest, Father Lloyd gave himself not just to parish work but to work with the forces, the RCMP, and the Halifax police as chaplain for 48 years in total.

He was the one on call during the Westray mine disaster and he was the priest at the forefront of the Swiss Air disaster, comforting the first responders, and tending to the distraught families of the victims.

The homily was given by Bishop Martin Currie, who shared many years of friendship with Father Lloyd commencing with their years at St. Francis Xavier University in the early 60's. As Bishop Currie said, Father Lloyd became a priest just as the church was undergoing huge changes after Vatican II, yet he kept focused on what he believed was his calling from God  - to be a shepherd to the flock.

One story that brought laughter and tears was the recounting of the first time Father Lloyd had been called in to a hostage-taking. The police had surrounded the house in which a man, armed with a knife, held a young woman hostage. He did not respond to the police, and it was hoped that he might respond to a priest. Father Lloyd stood beside the door, talking to the man, who eventually opened the door. Whereupon Father Lloyd grabbed him even as he held the knife, and tackled him to the ground, rolling him into submission. The police were horrified, this was not the usual tactic for taking a prisoner. But it worked and Father Lloyd still took delight in recounting the story years later.

There were also several occasions on which Father Lloyd talked someone out of jumping off the bridge into the harbour. He accompanied the police as they met with families after car accidents, he was a man unafraid to be right there in the mess of life.

He was a little unconventional; a very kind man but with a focus and he had a temper. He did not care much for bishops, preferring the simple approach of being there one-on-one with all the little people.

It certainly worked, because St. Agnes was not big enough for the funeral and the mass was televised to St. Theresa's Church, which was also packed with those who knew him and loved him. 

As Archbishop Mancini said "not even the pope gets two churches!"

Someone said to me that the only sadness she felt was that Father Lloyd died alone. He had said Mass on Sunday evening, and was to take his sister to Sydney on Monday, but he didn't show up. He was found in his apartment sitting in his chair with his boots on. He had said he always wanted to die with his boots on. 

The last homily I heard Father Lloyd preach was about two weeks ago at a morning mass at St. Theresa's church. His homilies were never long, and he never read them, he simply spoke from his heart. That day, he only had a couple of sentences to share. He told us all to simply take time to gaze upon the crucifix and think of just how much Jesus has done for us. He could often be found in the adoration chapel, doing just that.

I don't find it sad that he died without anyone there. I know that there were angels by his side, leading him into heaven and perhaps even Mother Mary was in attendance. I am convinced that the sound of joyful refrains as he entered into paradise were out of this world.  Thank you Father Lloyd for your life of service to Christ.

His funeral card simply says "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me."  Matthew 23:40

1 comment:

Andrew Miller said...

With Jesus Christ as Our Savior, we must "think on [our] sins" in this life and strive to be kind to all.

As Oscar Wilde wrote,, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

In the end, karma prevails.