Father George O'Brien, beloved professor and University chaplain, passed away on Feb. 22, 2019. Father O’Brien was a long-time faculty member in the English department and served as our University Chaplain for many years.
At the Memorial Mass held March 9 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, where he served as priest in residence, Mount Saint Mary's President Emerita Jacqueline Powers Doud delivered this eulogy:
Good Morning! Thank you for being here to celebrate the life and the ministry of our beloved friend Fr. George O’Brien.
Bishop Sylvester! How fitting and how fortunate it to have you preside at this liturgy. Not only were you and George longtime friends, classmates, and colleagues, but you were ordained together; you were both chaplains at Mount Saint Mary’s University and, in turn, were both recipients of the University’s highest honor, the Carondelet Medal.
Knowing how much George disdained eulogies, especially the prospect of one for himself, and how much he recoiled from any adulation thrust upon him, I have decided, on behalf of all of us, to write a letter to George. The only part he might find objectionable is that it would be read to the hundreds who have come to honor him.
We owe our first debt of gratitude to William and Clara O’Brien for bringing you into this world on September 17, 1931, in Long Beach, CA. As their only and deeply cherished child, your parents enrolled you in St. Anthony’s schools after which time you chose to enter St. John’s Seminary, and were ordained a diocesan priest on May 3, 1957, at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
Recognizing your talent early on, as an exemplary educator, the archdiocese tapped you to teach in its high schools and to serve a couple stints as high school principal in both Los Angeles and Torrance.
Your thirst for education led you to pursue and achieve a doctorate from UCLA and spend the next 42 years serving the students of Mount Saint Mary’s University. You spent sabbaticals and summers becoming proficient in areas such as college writing, cognitive psychology, political communication and journalistic ethics. You researched news media at several news agencies in order to update and design the journalism curriculum at the Mount. We recall that you also had a perpetual interest in mythology in society, in literature, and of course, in religion.”
Needless to say, you served in every possible leadership and supportive faculty role throughout these four decades. We observed you as a compulsive punctual – which we took as an indicator of your regard for others.
But more important than all of these pursuits, was your unrivaled devotion to students. Students were at the center of your agenda – all of them, not only while at the Mount but long into their professional lives. You engaged each student one by one to do her best. You invited them back to learning when discouragement, illness or obstacles interrupted their college journey. You believed in their potential even when they did not believe in their own.
Above all you respected them. Respecting them did mean requiring less; it meant requiring more. It was no wonder then that you were the recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award year after year after year.
You earned the affection of everyone on campus from barista to board chair. You had the unique gift of knowing something personal, yet never intrusive, about each person. In your four decades as faculty member, department chair, and chaplain, we never heard one complaint from you about the Mount…only gratitude that you could serve in this community.
At graduation we awaited your final 10 word blessing which consistently drew an outsized applause. As our chaplain for decades, we all loved the brevity and substance of your homilies. They often included literary allusions from the likes of James Joyce or Seamus Heaney. These literary and liturgical gems became moments to remember and to live by. Thank you, George, for setting this example.
Your sense of humor was gentle, subtle, and droll. When Bob and I last visited, you had just returned from a medical appointment, and pointed that you observed the doctor carrying your medical folder that read: George O’Brien, SOB……short of breath!
Fast forward to the last six years where you inspired us with your courageous battle with illness. On February 22nd, armed with grit and gratitude, you descended from your room for a final meal on the last night of your life.
Unable to speak, your disease having taken its toll, your own last supper was a Eucharistic moment. Gathered at table with your brother priests, in true George fashion, you extended your frail arms to Fr. Ed and gave him two thumbs thanking him for his faithful and generous care within your home here at Good Shepherd. And, for the gentle, unassuming, extraordinary care given you by Bro. James, your love and gratitude to him was nothing less than that of father to son. And, I am sure there are no words to describe your 70 year friendship with Colm O’Ryan – your true Anam Cara- soul mate. As Colm said, you two never had a “row.”
This letter does not begin to tell the stories of our individual friendships with you and the special moments we shared from the time we met you until your dying day. Whether parish priest, professor, counselor, colleague, chaplain or friend; whether we knew as Fr. O’Brien, Fr. George, George or George Patrick, you have shown us what “goodness” is. You were also a deeply private man and none of us claimed to know everything about you, but what we did know, we loved deeply. We hold all of these precious memories in prayerful gratitude. May the wind be always at your back and may God hold YOU in the hollow of his hand.
From all of us