Br Brendan O'Neill RIP
Brendan (Eugene) O'Neill OFM of the English Province and latterly of the Immaculate Conception Custody in Great Britain died on Sunday 8th September 2019 at the age of 92 in Worthing Hospital, Sussex. He had spent nearly two years in the care of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters at Littlehampton.
Friars who visited Canterbury or stayed there will remember his cheerful greetings and chat about Friars, the Study Centre students and local residents.
He came from Cromane and Killorgan, Kerry, but, after the Second World War, was working in a sugar beet processing facility near Ipswich, Suffolk, when he joined the Friars Minor at East Bergholt in 1951.
He was assigned to Buckingham where the Friars ran a school as a minor seminary. He also drove a minibus for a local grammar school known as the Latin School.
In the early 1980's he was invited to move to Canterbury, Kent, as the groundsman of the Franciscan Study Centre - a job he did very happily and thoroughly for the rest of his active life.
In May 2017, the Community there celebrated his ninetieth birthday laying on a buffet for his family members who came from Ireland for the occasion.
His funeral was at the Friary Church, Woodford Green, on September 16th 2019, with burial in the Friars' plot at St Patrick's Cemetery, Leytonstone, East London.
Br Chris Dyczek OFM
FATHER MICHAEL COPPS’ HOMILY
The picture on your service sheet shows no sign that Brendan was a Franciscan Friar. However, with his cap on as he went out to the field or garden is how many of us remember him.
St Francis in the early days of the Order did attract one priest, Sylvester, but the rest were laymen. They worked in the trade that they had learnt. In offering himself to the Order, Brendan wrote, “I had not a lot of education but I’m good at farm work.” As it turned out, for most of the time he worked on the land.
Pope Francis in Laudato Si said that after the Fall, man was to till the land and keep it. The land is a gift from God to be worked and preserved. St Francis wanted his Order to be one of mixed life; some brothers and some priests living and working together. I think this combination keeps Franciscan priests from being too clerical and closer to the people.
Brendan was baptised Eugene, born in 1927 in Beaufort, Co Kerry, Ireland. The family were poor but when Brendan was a teenager, his father bought him a bicycle for £3. He rode to Killarney and visited the Friary. He rang the bell and a Friar answered and Brendan asked for a Mass to be said. He was given a receipt for his offering but later found that he still had the half crown in his pocket. He visited the Friary again and asked if he could join. The Guardian said he thought the Third Order would be best for him. Ireland’s loss became England’s gain.
He had been working for farmers in Kerry and in 1948 he moved to England. He came across a church that needed looking after and thought he could do something to put it right. St Francis in his vocation worked to rebuild tumble-down churches. Brendan asked the Parish Priest of the place if he could recommend an Order: he said the Franciscans. He applied to the Friars in England and made a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
His devotion to Our Lady is a theme running through his life. When he was baptised he was laid on Our Lady’s altar, he constantly prayed the rosary and he died on Our Lady’s birthday. She came up trumps for him and he was received into the Order at East Bergholt, Suffolk. Thus started his period of formation leading to his profession of vows.
After that, the chronicle of his life is a bit vague but he was in Woodford Green, Essex, as a handyman. Then he was asked to go to Forest Gate, East London, as cook. He said that he did not even know how to turn on the gas! The brother whom he was to replace asked him to look after the pots while he went into church to pray. When he returned, Brendan asked what was in the pots? “We’ve got a right one here!” was the remark.
At Forest Gate Brendan cooked for a community of forty Friars and as far as we know, they died of natural causes! However, the kitchen was not his scene. He wrote to the Provincial saying that he wanted an outside job where he could meet people. In the letter, he also hoped that ‘Man City’ Football Club would do well.
He went to Clevedon, Somerset, where there was a large garden that supplied the Friary kitchen and in 1965, he was moved to Buckingham. This was a very special time in his life. The Friars had moved from St Bernadine’s College and were now in a house next to a new church that had been a dairy. Brendan painted this church and one at Brackley that was in the parish. He found employment in a number of gardening and groundsman jobs at the County School, the Latin School and at Buckingham University that was located in the Friars’ former college. His pay as a gardener for Buckinghamshire County Council was 8 shillings and five eights of a penny an hour! He also helped any old people who struggled to look after their gardens.
His Guardian, Father Gordon Clifford, wrote, “He always did a good turn for everyone and was willing to oblige anyone when the opportunity came his way.” In the morning and evening he drove a minibus from the surrounding villages into Buckingham for school. He was so trusted as a groundsman that the village of Maids Morton trusted him with their cricket pitch. He was known as the - ‘Flying Friar’ - whizzing round the town on his moped.
His love of nature is illustrated by a little fioretti story. A little bird used to accompany him when he was working in the Latin school garden. On a frosty morning the bird looked at the hard ground and then up at Brendan. Brendan took the hint and dug over a bit of ground to help.
When he left Buckingham there were great tributes to him in the local papers. There he lived a Franciscan community life, and worked at his trade and fostered community and friendship among people. He went from Buckingham to the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury. There were grounds to tend. He carried on his help of the elderly in their gardens and transporting them to medical appointments. Then he started to slow down in activity but his prayer blossomed.
From his special seat at the Study Centre daily Mass he always had a bidding prayer with a number of people included. He would often tell you that youwere at the top of his list for prayer. His list was very fluid because the order kept changing. There is so much that we can pray for.
When preparing for this funeral, I remembered that the Holy Spirit often gives you a reading on the day that fits perfectly. Today St Paul said, “There should be prayers offered for everyone.” So the best way to follow his advice is to pray for the people you meet or who come to mind. His Guardian, Seamus Mulholland, wrote of his prayer that he was impressed with the “hours and hours and intensity of his prayers.” He also mentioned that on Good Friday, though disabled, he insisted on going on his knees to kiss the feet of the crucified Lord. I got the impression that Brendan loved to tidy up and make the earth look good. He loved meeting people, and so despite his ailments, including a very serious burn on his head, he had a good life. He enjoyed sharing people’s company and so we commend him to God and the Company in heaven. Amen.
16th September 2019