Celebrating 50 Years of Devotion: Fr. Ed O’Connell

Fr Ed and parishioners

Photo:Fr Ed O'Connell

In a world that seems increasingly transient and fast-paced, it is inspiring to witness a journey of unwavering dedication and profound faith.

How does it feel to have completed 50 years?

At a more superficial level, there is the personal satisfaction of reaching this goal. But deeper, for me, is that for this anniversary, I was allowed to be in Peru with the various parish communities (The Risen Lord, Our Lady of the Missions and Holy Archangels) and pastoral works (Manuel Duato Special Needs School and Warmi Huasi, a small NGO working with children and adolescents at risk) that have been at the heart of my missionary life.

Just to hear them express their feelings about what my accompaniment has meant to them. A fellow Columban told me, “Just let them love you, let them say what it has meant to them, and be glad”. And so it was, their appreciation of my presence with them over the years filled me with contentment. It was like re-living the grace-filled moment of my ordination, as I felt not only the people’s love but also that of God.

What changes did you see in these years concerning faith in God?

Faith in God, in most cases, begins in and is passed on by the family circle, be it grandparents, parents or siblings. Whilst the Second Vatican Council brought about necessary and needed changes in the Church, somehow, the penny catechism was lost along the way and the basic doctrine of the Church seems not to be taught as before. The loss of faith from one generation to the next has been noticed and has accelerated in the past twenty years. Only a small number of families pass on the faith to their children.

On a more positive side, in South America, we have had leadership from the hierarchical Church, with meetings of the Latin American Church every 15 years or so to review and update pastoral options. From Medellin, Puebla, and Santo Domingo to Aparecida, the bishops, priests, religious and lay people kept abreast of the signs of the times. Important issues were faced: “Structural sin”, “option for the poor”, “option for the youth”, “women doubly exploited by lower wages and machismo”, and the “faces of Christ” in the indigenous and the migrants amongst the many vulnerable faces of Christ.

It is important to keep before us the person of Jesus Christ, his humility, his simple lifestyle, his commitment to “serve and not to be served” and his dedication to the Father’s will: the Kingdom of justice and truth at the service of the common good. That is the way forward; the structures of the Church will have to adapt or fall by the wayside. Our mission now is of being a “counter-culture” to extremes of popularism, wherever they come from and in whatever shape they take.

Fr Ed O'Connell

Fr Ed O'Connell. Photo: Fr Ed O'Connell

How important is leaving a Catholic Legacy?

We are the product of Catholic legacies. The faith passed on to us by our parents, nurtured in primary school (St. Joseph’s Putney Bridge Road) and secondary school (the Salesians in Battersea), and lived out in parish communities (Corpus Christi, Brixton and St. Chad’s South Norwood), and in the Young Christian Workers Movement.

The legacy we leave behind is in the people we have, in some way large or small, formed in the practice of the Christian faith. This may have happened in basic Christian communities, as in the parishes where I worked in Peru, which were broken down into chapel neighbourhood communities, with Bible reflection once a week on the Gospel reading of the following Sunday. As well as preparing communities for their participation in Sunday liturgies, it was also a time to reflect on what the Gospel message meant to each person in their home, neighbourhood and work situation.

Women, often with only a few years of primary school education, were encouraged to participate and, over time, they lost their timidity and became leaders of their communities, even celebrating a lay-led liturgy and giving the reflection after the Gospel. This was and is a living church that was formed to give witness to the values of God’s Kingdom, with an emphasis on justice.

Columban Fr Ed O'Connell recently returned to Britain after many years of mission in Peru.

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Comments (1)

  1. David Moloney:
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:30 AM

    Thanks for the article Fr Ed O'Connell, and your life of service. Your word 'accompaniment' describes something of the gratitude I have for priests. I'm researching YCW history here in Melbourne and wonder what, if you were so inclined, you might add regarding the YCW contribution to your faith? As you experienced it then, and as you look back on it now? In part, my study is looking at the nature of the relationship between spirituality/faith, and action. Best wishes.


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