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Faithful remember Fr. Cornelius O’Brien in prayer

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, the priests and faithful of the diocese gathered to pray for the soul of Father Cornelius O’Brien during a memorial Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington Sept. 27. Father James R. Gould, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton, served as homilist. 

Father O’Brien, former pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church, died in Ireland Sept. 7 at age 87. Father O’Brien’s funeral Mass was offered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Kealkill, County Cork Sept. 10. He was interred at Kilmacomogue Cemetery in Bantry.

Father Gould described Father O’Brien as a model for priests who followed in the footsteps of three heroes of the faith — Peter, Paul and Mary. Like Paul, Father O’Brien was an evangelist and like Mary, he was receptive to whatever the Lord had planned for his life. Like Peter, he was a man of faith with a love for Christ. “(Father O’Brien would say,) You need to know Peter. You need to know what it is to lead but also fail. You need to know what it is to be restored,” he said. 

Father Gould said that now that the ministry of Father O’Brien has ended, he hopes other young men will fill his shoes in “the greatest fraternity the world has ever known.” In his remarks following Mass, Bishop Burbidge echoed that call. 

“We do honor Father O’Brien here with a renewed commitment to pray for all our priests and our seminarians and, as Father Gould said, to pray that more young men in this diocese would pray and respond to God’s call to serve him and his church as a priest,” he said. “How blessed we were today to gather as God’s holy family as we commend Father O’Brien to God’s infinite love and divine mercy.”

Maggie Ciskanik and her brother, Frank O’Reilly, both parishioners of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, served as readers for the Mass. Their father, Dr. Sean O’Reilly, and Father Brien were fellow Irishmen and good friends who supported Christendom College in Front Royal, where Father O’Brien was the school’s first chaplain. 

Related story:Fr. Cornelius O'Brien dies at 87

Ciskanik remembers Father O’Brien coming over almost every Sunday for dinner at their house and serving as her confessor since she was 14-years-old. She saw him for the last time in January during a trip to Ireland. 

“There are two men in life who taught me to love truth,” she said. “One was my father and the second was Father O'Brien. (Truth) first in the person of Jesus and then in everything else.”

Father O’Brien was born Jan. 16, 1932, in Goulanes, Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. He attended St. Patrick Seminary in Carlow, Ireland, and was ordained by Bishop Thomas Keogh June 5, 1955. He was a priest in the Diocese of Alexandria, La., before being invited by Bishop Thomas J. Welsh in 1975 to the Diocese of Arlington.

He served as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington (1975-79), assistant director of the Notre Dame Institute (1976-1979), parochial vicar at St. Agnes Church in Arlington (1979-80), associate pastor of St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria (1980-83), pastor of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly (1983-99), and pastor of St. James (1999-2006). Following his retirement, he returned to his home in Cork County, Ireland. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019