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Fr Tom O’Neill SJ

toneill_01Fr Tom O’Neill (centre in photo), who died on 30 July, had spent all his priestly life in the Far East, including ten years in Hong Kong and Manila, and the last forty in Singapore. He was a fine musician, and had specialised in matters liturgical, both in editing and teaching (at the Pastoral Institute, Manila), and then in the pastoral work of the Jesuit parish in Singapore. A correspondent in Hong Kong gathered the reactions to his death of men whom Tom had taught in the 1960s in Wah Yan.  They remembered him vividly, and as one of them put it: “That seems to be the way with some Jesuit fathers. They do not realize the full impact of their influence on us.”

REMEMBERING TOM

We  will remember him as our church choir master when we were in P. 6, 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.

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Fr. O’Neill became my F2D form-master (1957-1958) during the latter 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 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. 

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I remember Fr O’Neill 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.

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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.

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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. 

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Fr. O’Neill was my form-master at 2D. His manner was exceptionally gentle and calm. There was such a 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!

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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 was a musician who played well on the piano. Besides, his mannerism stands out vividly on my mind. He had an air of dignity around him which inspired me a lot. 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.

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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.

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My 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.” He was a happy man.

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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.