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Remembering Father Thomas O'Neill, S.J.

Remembering Father Thomas O’Neill

Fr. O’Neill became my F2D form-master (1957-1958) during the latter part of the academic year. (Fr. Doody was our F2D form-master during the first part of the academic year.) He was then very young and very energetic. (See attached photos.) He was extremely well-liked by all of our classmates. I remember we invited him on our class picnics and he always went with us. And he was a very fast walker, a lot faster than I. After Form 5, I lost touch with Fr. O’Neill. It was some time after 2002 when I was lucky to get hold of his phone number and home address in Singapore. I phoned him one day and talked to him for almost half an hour. He remembered both me and my elder brother Hin-Nang whom he also taught. We corresponded by mail. Eventually, he sent me his email address and I was then able to “talk to each other” through emails. He was very kind-hearted and was concerned about my health and constant muscle pain. He was a great encouragement to me.

During the last few years, I always sent him Christmas greeting cards on behalf of the 61 grads. He always sent Christmas cards in return to all of us. Unfortunately, I’ve lost most of my stuff when my computer crashed a year or so ago.

He always thought about his former students. I remember him telling me many years ago when Butt went to Singapore to conduct some concerts, he went to visit Butt after the concert was over. This was how Fr. O”Neill treasured knowing more about his former students.

I miss him greatly.

Wong Hin-Shing


Thank you for forwarding news of Father O'Neill's passing. I too remember him as a kind and gentle man, universally well-liked and respected. I will always be sensitive of my debt to him and to all my other teachers at WYK, and I hope that they will in some way sense that their efforts and dedication were not entirely in vain.

Bobby Chen


I had great fond memories of Father O'Neill who was my F4B Class-master. He went out to picinc with us a few times. He appreciated my class-work efforts. He was always so gentle, dedicated teacher and priest, handsome, educated, patient, and a great tenor. I wished to have known him better. I'm sure God is with him always.

York Lung from San Diego


I am sure all of us will miss Fr. O'Neill. Despite his short tenure at WYK, he was especially dear to our class of 1962, having served as the form master of Form 4A (1960-1961). I had planned on a reunion in Singapore so we could see both Fr. Tseng and Fr. O'Neill again. Now that's not going to happen. I will see if I can dig up an old photo of him taken at the HK airport after the 2002 reunion.

Victor


A sad news from Father Gerald Tseng, Father Thomas O'Neill died in Singapore. We all had a fond memory of him as he was the handsome Jesuit priest of our time.

James Li


I remember we were in F4B. That year we went to Tai Mo Shan. Fr. O'Neill was really walking very fast on a hot sunny day. We had a hard time to catch up with him. He went up to knock on the door of a military observatory post on the top of the hill and asked for water from a British soldier for one of our students. He was really a kind fellow. We all miss him. May he rest in peace.

Kar Wing (Ho)


Fr. Thomas O'Neill passed away on July 30, 2009 in Singapore,
where he had been directing retreats. The wake service were on
Saturday and Sunday, funeral mass and cremation on Monday,
August 3rd, Singapore time.

Augustine Yeung, Thomas Lee will remember him as our church choir master
when we were in P. 6 to F. 2 or so, when my voice changed from soprano to alto.
I can still sing many of the hymns, and several voice parts of the Ave Verum,
Languen tibus, O Lord I am not worthy, When all moral flesh keeps silence,
and of course, Christmas carols and Easter songs. We had special practices
for Christmas eves, Holy Saturdays and Easter Sundays, where I had the
adrenalin flows, and special treats of tea, cake and sandwich.

But my best treat was when the Vienna Choir came to town in 1962
or 1963. They were looking for a special hall for rehearsal, and they picked
the hall of Wah Yan Kowloon. As church choir members, Fr. O'Neill
invited us to listen to the rehearsal. To this day, I still seem to hear
German soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf crescendoing to the high notes
of Voices of Spring that still echo in the auditorium whenever I walked
into the hall in my recent visits.

In 1963 or 1964, Fr.O'Neill was reassigned to Singapore, where he worked
in the St. Ignatius Church and then later, the Jesuit retreat house.
He visited California in 1998. I remember he stayed at our
alumnus Dunson Cheng's house in Glendale. I picked him up and drove
him to Huntington Beach to meet Thomas Lee where we had lunch.
Then he told me he had a stroke when he was leading a pilgrimage
to Eastern Europe the year before. On the way, I sang some of the
old hymns he taught us. But he did not remember "Languen
Tibus", one of my favorites.

That seems to be the way with some of Jesuit fathers. They do
not realize the full impact of their influence on us.

Below is the obituary from the Singapore Diocese.

www.veritas.org.sg/webann_detail.php?AnnID=447

James


Dear All,

Fr. O'neill was my form-master at 2D. His manner was exceptionally gentle and calm. There was such kind of peaceful feeling whenever he was around. He was such a inspiring gentleman! I can remember him so well as it was only yesterday!

I am sure he has lived a contented and happy life!

Regards

Kung


Harry Aitken wrote (Aug 2):

Thank you for forwarding the sad news of Fr. O'Neill's passing away.

Although Fr. O'Neill did not teach me at Wah Yan, he was very much
involved with the Debating Society, of which I was a member.

I have fond memories of him, and I am greatly saddened by the news.


Chan Yiu-Man (Aug 3) wrote:

Ah, yes. Fr O'Neill was my form master in F. 2D. I believe at that
time he just arrived at WYK. I always remember him more than a
classroom teacher. He is a musician who plays well on the piano.
Besides, his mannerism stands out vividly on my mind. He has an air
of dignity around him which inspires me a lot.

He will be remembered. May he rest in peace.


Dear Paul,

Thank you for the information which had circulated among the '61-ers for a few days before my return to Vancouver yesterday evening after a three-day trip to the interior of BC. My memory of Fr O'Neill is not substantial. He took over the class mastership of F2D for half a year after Fr Doody. I was struck by his extraordinarily handsome appearance which was matched only by his gentleness. I thought some George Montgomery had decided to join the preisthood.
Your quoting of Morrissey and your own reminiscences give a fuller picture of the man. It must have been exciting times naturalising the liturgies and he must be quite a linguist to do that. Your anecdote about $10 reads like a parable and just shows how other-worldly he was. All in all, I got a picture of a young dedicated priest who worked within the intellectual movement that emanated from the Vatican in his time to spread Catholicism more effectively, and who found his calling. That might be one reason for his happiness. I'm sure you would like Fr O'Neill to be more widely appreciated, therefore I take the liberty of forwarding this to some friends, one of them in Singapore and attended his mass shortly before his death.

Thanks again,

Fong-ying

Let me add 2 more anecdotes told to me by my choir members to illustrate his later life. Of late, it seemed that his memory had failed him a bit and he was not very good with names of his parishers, but he could remember our faces.
1 My church friend, Lucy ,said that once (not too long before his passing) she brought him to one of the neighbourhood gatherings of church groups. At the end of the gathering, when she told him to wait for her at the lift (it was a condo that they held the meeting at), he was just sitting there, without moving. My friend then came back for him from the lift. He got up and followed my friend to the lift right away, but when they reached the door of the lift, he cried, "But, Lucy, my shoes!" He was without them.
2 My other friend, Dolly, told us that once she offered to buy Fr O'Neill a pair of shoes because she could tell that they were no longer in good condition. He said, "No need. Father Woods is dying and when he dies, I'll have his shoes." This echoes his 'ten dollar' story. And he was a happy man.
One good thing is that he worked until the last moment and went to join the chorus of heaven quietly and comfortably. God must have rewarded him with a peaceful delivery to the other world. You know, the word 'delivery' always puts me into deep thought. When we came to this world, we were 'delivered' by a doctor or a midwife. When we leave,
in what way will God 'deliver' us? Has it got anything to do with what we have done?
In Fr O'Neill's case, it was Thursday and he was seen all right in the morning. He was supposed to appear in the place of gathering to rehearse a church wedding to be held on Saturday. He was not there. Nobody suspected anything as they thought he must be tired and resting in his room (silly of them because Fr O'Neill never missed any rehearsal). Dinner came and he was still missing, so they went to his room in the preists' quarters. There they found him leaving us to join the kingdom of God."

(Forwarded by Fong-ying Yu of Vancouver)


Fr O'Neill was one of the kindest men that I had ever known, although he was frank enough to turn me away from the junior choir on the first practice session, as he told me straight in the face that I could not sing; and he was correct, for I have been told the same thing umpteen times by persons who know me well.

Fr O'Neill taught us music in Primary Six. At that time he was trying hard to learn Cantonese and I was trying hard to learn English. It was great fun to hear him say "leung hoe-jeeSS" for "two dimes." Well, that struck home to me the importance of of word declensions in his language, namely, English. May he rest in peace.

Norman So

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