The Princethorpe Community was saddened to learn of the death, in Ireland, of former Headmaster, Fr Dan O’Connor MSC, on 22 July 2020, the day after his seventy-eighth birthday.
‘Dan’, as he was universally and affectionately known, joined the teaching staff at Princethorpe in 1968. Memories centre around his abilities as an incredibly effective Mathematics teacher, a keen sportsman, and someone with a very firm sense of faith and vocation, who also embraced exceptional people skills. He had the ability to get on with anyone, was amazingly inclusive and had a warm and engaging personality, with a quick wit and an amusing turn of phrase.
Growing up in Co. Cork, Dan O’Connor attended Sacred Heart College, Carraig na bhFear, before joining the novitiate of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 1958, being ordained to the Priesthood at Moyne Park, Galway on 23rd July 1965, after which he completed a BA at University College, Cork in 1968.
At Princethorpe, Dan was a capable Head of Mathematics and his charges recall his willingness to spend as much time with them as they required, often well outside normal school hours. He sometimes feigned a lack of patience through great dramatic effect, by thumping the chalk on the board, often combined with a quick bark, much to the surprise and amusement of those in the classroom, as well as to the terror of those in the room next door!
His dedication to duty and selflessness continued when, on becoming Dean, with responsibility for boarders, he developed a relationship with the boarding community – numbering nearly two-hundred – based wholly on trust and mutual respect. Such was the strength of the relationship with the Spanish students, that they taught him O and A-level Spanish in their spare time. He built further on this success when he was thrust into the limelight assuming the headship of Princethorpe in 1984, a role which he willingly accepted even if he always gave the impression that he would have been happier on the back benches. He accomplished this task in a wonderfully professional way; his ability to establish trust and his motivational personality meant that everyone was willing to support and do their bit. Dan was unfailingly appreciative and wonderfully considerate. He trod a careful path which meant that, as a strong disciplinarian, everyone was somewhat frightened of him, yet the humility, fairness and kindness which shone through always triumphed.
Dan retained throughout his life a love of both football and hurling and in his time in England, he broadened his sporting interest to include rugby. Such was his power, strength and prowess that opposing teams avoided him as much as possible on the pitch! He was also able to give opponents a good run for their money on the squash courts.
Sadly, his role as Head was brought to a close almost overnight in 1986 when he found that he needed major heart surgery, handing the baton on to Fr Charles Sweeney MSC. Former staff speak of Dan’s sense of humour, when he spoke of spending time in hospital sharing a ward with the then head of Arnold Lodge School in Leamington - many wondered what their conversations might have been! And at another time when travelling to play the doctors at Binley Rugby Club, he had occasion to speak rather loudly to a certain northerner, asking him to 'remove his gum shield and I might understand you' to which the reply came, 'I do not have a gum shield in, Dan!'
Dan did not, however, confine himself to the role of educator at Princethorpe; his was a broader vision of service. Weekends and some early mornings would see him ministering in a variety of parishes within the Archdiocese where he was deeply loved and admired. Specifically, his relationship with the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association inspired and encouraged so many people, as did his presence at their many social gatherings.
Dan had an amazing ability to connect with people and was able to put anyone instantly at ease. He could break up a difficult silence with a witty retort, engage seriously when work was to be done and equally sensitively when the going was tough. He was scrupulously fair, rarely pulled rank, was amazingly level in judgement and displayed a facility of being close to people and assuring them that they alone mattered to him. This was very much revealed while he was Superior of the MSC house in Cork in the attention to detail he displayed in caring for sick and elderly members of the community and in his frequent visits to the sick of the parish; nothing was ever too much trouble for him.
Returning to further apostolates in Ireland in 1990, including Superior at Western Road and a member of the Provincial Leadership Team, Dan retired as Community Superior in Carraig na bhFear in 2015, eventually moving back to Western Road. Gradually his memory started to fail him, and his dementia got progressively worse. But he still had strong memories of events from the past and could pass very witty comments about someone from long ago, or equally on the exuberant pontificating of some member over supper! He moved to a nursing home in Ballincurrig in spring of this year, just before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, where he was cared for wonderfully up until the time of his death.
Dan was acutely aware of how precious the important people in his own life were to him. He valued family, friends and community and was a man of deep gratitude. In all of Dan's life, ministry and activity, he lived out the fullness of the MSC spirit - willing to serve generously, energetically and caringly; to be present and give fully of himself, but without seeking the limelight. In the eulogy at Fr Dan O’Connor’s Requiem Mass, Deputy Provincial, Fr John Fitzgerald MSC, spoke of Dan’s constant companionship, his exemplary care, kindness, appreciation of others and his wonderful laugh and great smile.
We send our heartfelt condolences to Fr Dan’s family and friends and to his MSC confreres, but give thanks for the richness which he brought to Princethorpe and to all his other ministries.
Fr Daniel O’Connor MSC 21 July 1942 – 22 July 2020
A Requiem Mass, also streamed live, was held on Friday 24 July at 11:00 at Sacred Heart Church in Cork, concelebrated by Fr John Finn MSC (Superior, Cork house) and Fr Carl Tranter MSC OP (Provincial Leader), followed by a private family burial at Christ the King churchyard, Knocknagree, Co. Cork.