Biographies

Father John J. O'Brien, MM

Born: February 19, 1916
Ordained: June 12, 1948
Died: March 13, 1984

Father John Joseph O’Brien, Bolivia Region, died March 13, 1984 at the Bolivia-Belga Heart Clinic in Cochabamba.

Born in the Washington Heights section of New York City on February 19, 1916, Jack was the son of Susan McAnney and John J. O’Brien, parents who imbued him not only with deep faith but also with a strong practical sense – both of which were the hallmark of Jack.

Religion and History, dominant interests throughout all his missionary life, were evidenced in his education. After beginning studies at the Incarnation Parish School, he finished grammar school at St. Rose of Lima, where he took honors in Religion. When he was graduated from All Hallows High School he took honors in American History. At that time Jack thought seriously of entering religious life as a Christian Brother. In his own words, he ‘compromised a bit’ and registered at the Brothers’ Manhattan College in Riverdale where, on the advice of his practical father, he entered the Business School. After one year of college, Jack tired of studies and entered the business world at the New York Sun on the staff of the financial editor. While successful in his newspaper career, a restlessness grew with the years, precipitated, as he said, by the death of his mother. In discovering that he wanted more from life, his religious vocation enlivened and culminated in his entry to St. Charles College in Baltimore in 1939. Four years later he completed his Philosophy studies at his home diocesan seminary of St. Joseph, Dunwoodie, N.Y.

Jack wrote: “New York has always been my home and I love both the city and the New York Archdiocese.” He felt drawn, however, to “sections of the world that have not been so blessed.” He entered Maryknoll September 1, 1943, with a deep consciousness of his obligation as a Catholic and as a U.S. citizen, to prepare himself to be part of those who would be called to heal the world after the trauma of the Second World War.

During his time of formation with Maryknoll, Jack was seen as generous and practical, a seminarian who got along well with everyone and who played no favorites. He was ordained June 12, 1948 and assigned to Bolivia, where he served the people of God all his priestly career. During his 36 years with the Bolivia Region he was twice elected to the Regional Council and once as delegate to the General Chapter of the Society. Jack’s success, however, was seen more in his creativity in communications rather than in administration. While dedicated to parish life, the work which most deeply involved him was that of communications where he helped Bolivia become a leader and example to so many other mission regions.

In Cochabamba a Wake Service was held in the Chapel at the Institute through the afternoon of March 13th. This was followed by a 5:30 p.m. Mass for the Maryknoll Family and members of the Institute, celebrated by Father William Boteler, Regional Superior. Because of his many friends and the press of mourners, an additional Vesper Service was held that evening. Father Gerald Ziegengeist conducted the service. The following afternoon Bishop Charles Brown celebrated the Funeral Mass at the Cathedral and burial followed in the Cochabamba Cemetery. On March 16, a Memorial Mass was celebrated at the Center with Father Leo Sommer as Principal Celebrant, Homily by Father Eugene Toland and Biography read by Father Joseph Picardi.

The passage of Jack to the Maryknoll Family in Heaven calls to us, his family on earth, to remember in gratitude his life, his legacy to us in faith. The strong compassionate face and twinkling eye are forever etched in our hearts and minds. Of deeper recall, however, will be his active knowledge and interest in the global work of Maryknoll and mission; not only his beloved Bolivia but also throughout the world. His frank and insightful criticism was always tempered by his deep love of Maryknoll and of each individual Maryknoller. By phone patch, by note card, and in person, Jack was constantly in touch with superiors, friends and family. His faith, his loving concern, his practical sense, are with us still – calling to this, the best of Maryknoll.