FATHER PAUL O'BRIEN
Paul O'Brien was born on 18 November 1955 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England.
He was educated at Downside School, Somerset and the Gregorian University, Rome. He was ordained a Carmelite priest at The Friars, Aylesford on 19 July 1981. His first post was in a Carmelite parish in Florence, Italy. Later, he became chaplain to Bellevue Hospital, New York, America before serving as a Curate in Saint Columba’s Church, Annan till 1986, Saint Peter in Chains till 1990, Saint Mary's Church, Saltcoats till 1991 and Saint Margaret's Church, Ayr till January 1995. He then rejoined a Carmelite community in Aberystwyth, Wales.
Father Paul was tragically killed in a fire in La Salette Shrine, 947 Park Street, Attleboro near Boston, Massachusetts, America on 5 November 1999. His Requiem Mass was celebrated at The Friars on 26 November 1999.
Father Wilfrid McGreal, O Carm wrote the following obituary.
I first met Paul OBrien on New Years Day 1974. He came to Allington Castle, near Maidstone, Kent, which was then run by the Carmelite Friars as a retreat and youth pastoral centre. He was attending a conference open to young men and women interested in the priesthood and religious life. Paul had not long left Downside and was exploring his future and as a result of his meeting with the Carmelite Friars at Allington and his subsequent stay at our Priory in Bamburg, Paul decided to enter the novitiate at Aylesford Priory in the autumn of 1974. Paul came from a naval background and was born in Hampshire in 1955. His father was to combine a career in the Navy with one in teaching and ended his working life as a deputy head. His mother took a keen interest in local affairs and was a councillor for some years. Paul OBrien was one of a group of gifted young men who joined the British Province of Carmelites in the mid 1970s. One of his near contemporaries was the present Prior General, Father Joe Chalmers. Paul was a warm and attractive personality; he always had the ability to smile in a reassuring and welcoming way. He had a gift for languages, a flair for music and a love for the visual arts. After his Profession Paul went to Rome to live at the Carmelite International Study Centre and attended lectures at the Gregorian University. He enjoyed the international flavour of the College and with his gift for languages he was able to relate to his confreres who came from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. After his ordination he spent some time in the Carmelite Priory in Florence. The Priory is better known as the Carmine and contains some wonderful paintings by artists like the Carmelite, Fra Lippo Lippi. It was a superb place for someone of Pauls temperament and he was also involved in a new parish on the edge of Florence where he enjoyed working with the young people. On a couple of occasions whilst Paul was in Florence I was able to spend holidays in Carmine and found in Paul a helpful guide and mentor to the whole Renaissance experience. After Florence Paul spent some time working with his Carmelite confreres in New York where he was very much involved in inner city and hospital ministry. When he returned to Britain in the mid-1980s he was seconded for a while to work in the Diocese of Galloway and whilst there he helped people in the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster. Paul was appointed to our community in Aberystwyth in the early 1990s. That Community looks after a parish that covers hundreds of square miles with a number of Mass centres, a University Chaplaincy and involvement with schools. Paul was part of the parish team and was also a great friend to Saint Padarns School. However, he continued his interest in art by writing regular articles in the parish magazine and opened up the meaning of the great painters for the parishioners. Visits to Italy were always a great bonus for him. At the beginning of September he left Aberystwyth for the U.S.A. to begin a sabbatical year. The first part was to have been a renewal course at La Salette Centre at Attleboro, Massachusetts to be followed by a spell at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Washington D.C. Sadly Paul was only a few weeks into his sabbatical when he met a tragic death in a fire at La Salette. Although he worked in many different countries, Paul was quintessentially an Englishman and whilst he always retained something of the student from the early 1970s, he had strong and traditional ideas about many things. He was often teased in Community for his admiration of Mrs Thatcher, which did not mean he was not a good friend to those in need and he certainly believed in society and community. Pauls father, Danny OBrien, died some years ago, but his mother, Molly, still lives in Waterlooville and we are all conscious of her deep sorrow and grief at this time. Pauls funeral will take place at Aylesford Priory as soon as it is possible to arrange.
Piet Wijngaard, O Carm, Prior Provincial delivered the following homily during the Requiem Mass.
After communion Father Redemptus will speak about Father Pauls years in Rome, Vincent Bilotta on Pauls time at the Sabbath Centre, and Richmond Edwards on his recent visit with his wife Alison to the La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, USA, where Pauls course took place. I like to reflect on the years Paul and I lived in the same communities and reflect on the word of God. Words cant of course express adequately enough the sorrow and sadness felt at the sudden and tragic death of an only son, a brother, colleague or friend and that at such a young age. Yet, having known Paul, he doesnt want us to be unhappy. Over the years Paul helped many people in their hour of need. Im sure he is here now to support his mum Molly, and all of us. What Paul wants us to do is to celebrate his life. In September 1974, Paul came with nine other candidates here to Aylesford to begin their novitiate. I was their director and we got on very well. It was a great group. I can now say that, of all the noviciates I guided, I enjoyed Pauls most of all. Yes, even more than the subsequent group, even though they could boast that they had among their ranks a future Prior General! Father Joseph, or as you are known to us, Joe, Im deeply grateful that you have cancelled other important engagements in order to be with us here today. Pauls novitiate was a very talented group and, thank God, it was endowed with an enormous amount of humour. They were very creative, especially too musically. Paul was very much part of that too. He set several psalms to music and composed two of the hymns that we will be singing today - 'Mary Our Mother' and 'Flower of Carmel'. From that year came also the TV Programme 'Look Stranger'. Although some called it 'Alphies Half Hour', the novices had a big part in it. It was a great year and Paul loved it. I even managed to get him to go and get his hair cut short once! After the novitiate Paul went to Rome and walked through his studies. He was ordained to the priesthood here at Aylesford on 19th July 1981 and then, with some breaks in between, worked for a year in the Carmelite parish in Florence, for two years with our New York Carmelites, and then for nine years in the Diocese of Galloway, at the end of which Bishop Taylor felt that Paul should return to one of his own Carmelite communities. The then Provincial, again Father Joe here, appointed Paul to our community in Aberystwyth, where he joined us on 26 February 1995. Had Paul changed in those fourteen years of being away from the Province? Yes and no. He still had his long hair, his welcoming smile, good humour, doing the daily crossword and he was still very obliging. He told me that what he had missed most was community life. But quite clearly he had also become rather fond of his own company and his own room. In the noviciate he had told me that his hobbies were: philately, records, reading and writing. By the time he arrived in Aberystwyth he could add to those: teaching children, writing on art and watching videos. Recently Mr Angelo James, the Head of Saint Padarns, told me: It didnt make any difference whether the children were four or eleven years old, Father Paul had the knack of getting their full attention and, more importantly, of making himself understood. Often he would suddenly produce from his sleeve or from under his habit or alb a teddy bear or a puppet and have the children totally enthralled. Teddy bears were important to Paul, especially 'Stumpy'. When Paul went to hospital to get his appendix removed, he got his mother to promise that, if he died, Stumpy would be buried with him. That promise has been fulfilled. Paul loved art and his next article on it in the parish magazine, Cross Ties, was always something to look forward to. He told me that he used the videos to prepare his homilies and talks. His homilies could be brilliant, but at times also pretty off the mark. In them he loved to tell about his own experiences, which can of course be very apt. At one stage I said to him Paul, you remind me of the story of the Exodus: the more often it was told, the more extraordinary the events became! I said, I think it would be good idea, Paul, to have a bit less about yourself and a bit more about Jesus! Paul roared with laughter, but also obliged. In the novitiate he could eat anything and everything. By the time he had reached us in Aberystwyth he pecked at his food, except perhaps when it was either Indian or Chinese! Of course peoples reactions to Paul and the recollections of him were different. Because of his long hair, flamboyant outfits and dark glasses some saw him as an eccentric. As Father Joe has it in his new book on Centering Prayer, We are all human, not angels and yes also Paul had his faults. But on the positive side people told me they had experienced him as humorous, kind, artistic, amusing, bubbly, intelligent, humble, quiet, devout, pious, spiritual, a good priest, etc. But like most of us, if not like all of us, Paul was also fragile and that made him attractive too to many. Paul agreed that some updating in human development, theology and spirituality would be good. He left for The States in the middle of September. His sabbatical came to an untimely and tragic end in the early hours of Friday 5 November, exactly three weeks ago. Last Thursday Paul celebrated his forty-fourth birthday in heaven, together with his dad, Danny. We believe that life is a gift from God and Pauls tragic death reminds us of the words of Isaiah, Gods ways are not our ways, and Gods thoughts are not our thoughts, or in the words of Job, God has given, God has taken. Blessed be God! Of course at the moment it insight be hard, if not impossible, to accept those words. In this tragedy let us also remember and pray for the La Salette fathers and brothers as also for those who run the Sabbath Centre and for Pauls companions on this years course. They lost their home and centre. It would be similar to us losing our home here at The Friars. Sister Patricia from Northern Ireland, who was with Paul the first week he was in Attleboro, wrote: It was a dreadful shock to hear about the fire but worse to know that it claimed life. May God bring new life to many through this tragedy. Here I wish to thank Richmond and Alison Edwards for visiting the La Salette Shrine recently and for bringing back so many messages of sympathy and support from the people there. I thank Vincent Bilotta, the President of the Sabbath Centre, for being with us. And I thank Father Mario Esposito, the Provincial of the New York Province, and his secretary, Joan Fredericks, for making all the arrangements to have Pauls body returned to us. What characteristic sums up Paul best of all? In Aberystwyth of all the characteristics mentioned the most frequent one I heard was: Paul was gentle. We heard Jesus say: Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage. We have come together to pray that Paul may inherit the new earth and the new heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem, promised by the Lord. And Jesus said Happy those who mourn, they shall be comforted. Let us be comforted by the Lord, by one another and especially by our fond memories of Paul. In our second reading Saint Paul told us: With God on our side who can be against us? When God acquits could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us he rose from the dead, and there at Gods right hand lie stands and pleads for us. Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ. And in our first reading we heard: The virtuous person, though he die before his time, will find rest. What counts, the author tells us, is not how long we live of days, but how we live. And so he writes, He sought to please God, so God loved him....and has taken him up. In the words of Saint John of the Cross, In the evening of life we shall all of us be examined on love. Dear Paul, we thank you for your time with us, short though it was. We thank you for what you gave us we thank you for your love. Now rest in the eternal peace only your Creator and Redeemer can give you, and from now on, together with your dad, be a tower of strength to us all, but above all to your mum. Farewell. Amen.
The top photograph was taken at Father Paul's simple profession in 1975 and the bottom photo was taken about 1989.
The obituary and homily were taken from the website of The British Province of Carmelite Friars at www.carmelite.org and are reproduced with their kind permission.