On Saturday 10th February, the feast of Saint Scholastica, the monastic community at Glenstal remembers Br Michael O’Connor OSB on the tenth anniversary of his death.
James (Seamus) John O’Connor was born in Dublin on 5th February 1927. His father died in 1928, leaving his wife to raise their daughter and three sons. After school with the Christian Brothers in Francis Street, close to St Patrick’s Cathedral, Seamus went to work in the White Swan Laundry which remained a reference-point for his whole life. Referred to Glenstal by the Augustinian friars in John’s Lane, Dublin, he entered the monastery on 5th May 1951, receiving the name Michael. He was professed on 10th May 1953.
For much of Brother Michael’s life in the monastery, he was the community tailor and in charge of the then linen-room, as well as assistant infirmarian. He also spent some years as kitchener. He is best remembered, however, for his gifts of hospitality and friendship. While these found ample expression during his long tenure as guestmaster, he also made many friends in the locality. An important aspect of his ministry was his care for the Boy Scouts who up to the 1980s held regular summer camps on the back avenue. This dedication was recognised by several honours from the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the so-called Baden Powell Scouts, before the merger of the two associations.
Unforgotten is Brother Michael’s exemplary and patient care of Father Thomas Scott and especially of Father Winoc Mertens, whom he attended day-and-night from the latter’s stroke in late 1970 until his death in July 1978.
Possessed of keen psychological insight, Brother Michael could sum up a person at a glance and instinctively know how to behave. This did not mean that he was in any way subservient or a flatterer, and he was more than capable of a well-honed, apposite, remark. He was never short of a word and had a bank of anecdotes, starting from his childhood in the Liberties in Dublin, through his time in what he called the ‘landry’, to the monastery and, in later years, his trips to Germany and beyond with his good friend Father Franz Behler. Brother Michael was always close to his family and was particularly proud of the achievements of his nephews and nieces.
In poor health for some time, he died in the Regional Hospital in Limerick on 10th February 2014. Having celebrated his Golden Jubilee with not a little pomp in 2003 and his Diamond Jubilee more soberly in 2018, he would have been disappointed that the huge crowds that would have undoubtedly attended his funeral were prevented from doing so by one of the worst hurricanes the country had seen for more than 70 years.
May he rest in peace.