Born: 22 May 1910, Waterford City, Waterford County
Entered: 01 September 1928, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 13 May 1942, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 03 February 1947, Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin
Died: 26 July 1967, St Anne's Hospital, Harare, Zimbabwe
Part of the Jesuit Novitiate, Mazowe, Mashonaland Central, Zimbabwe community at the time of death
Brother of Eddie O’Connor - RIP 1993 (their father Peter had been an Olympic triple jump champion)
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1951 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, Northern Rhodesia (POL Mi) working - third wave of Zambian Missioners
by 1962 at Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (ANG) Socius to Novice Master
◆ Companions in Mission1880- Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Obituaries :
He was born in 1910 at Waterford, Ireland, into a large family of nine children, son of Peter O'Connor, a local lawyer. Walter's elder brother Eddie had already entered the Society five years before that (1923) and Walter entered the Society in 1928. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and completed his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College. Ordained at Milltown Park in 1942, after tertianship he was appointed minister at Mungret College for a year and again as minister at Rathfarnham, the juniorate. He liked what was described as practical work and he was never short of ideas as to how this, that and the other might best be done – subjectively, and often opposed by others. Still his cheerfulness remained undiminished. He had a 'stick-to-it-attitude' in the projects he undertook. His zeal and enthusiasm were qualities that stayed with him all his life. While minister at Rathfarnham, he developed an apostolate in the promotion of the family rosary in Dublin. He collected and presented films and other aids for this apostolate.
As a scholastic at Clongowes during regency, he did much to build up the athletics, perhaps inspired by the fact that his father had been an Olympic triple-jump champion. His health was never very strong but his psychic energy was never low. He was passed by the doctors to travel to Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) as one of the nine Irish Jesuits who went there in 1950. As parish priest at Chikuni he entered into the new work with the same spirit that had always characterised him. A very familiar sight was Fr Walter on his heavy motor bike either coming or going on supply. He took a great interest in the condition of the lepers in the area and did much for them. His efforts to establish a leper settlement for them bore fruit after he had left the area.
Due to ill health, he returned to Ireland for three years during which he did retreat work and lectured about the Mission. This resulted in a number of benefactors who donated churches and other benefits to the mission.
He returned to Zambia in 1960 and moved to Harare (Zimbabwe) to assist the Master of Novices when the joint novitiate was set up. He gave retreats, established the Pioneers at Harare and developed a new apostolate for the consecration of families to the Sacred Heart. He was appointed Director of Vocations for the archdiocese of Harare and traveled a lot with Fr Regis Chigweduc on vocation promotion. Fr Regis paid tribute to Fr Walter at his funeral for his holiness and his work in promoting vocations; his zeal, energy and enthusiasm in everything.
On July 21st 1967 he was operated on at St Anne's Hospital in Harare but when opened up, inoperable cancer was found. He died five days later on the 26 July in the company of his brother, Fr Eddie and fellow Jesuits.
Tributes that came in after the funeral were many and sincere and they could be summed up by what a fellow Jesuit wrote about him, ‘He was always full of charity, cheerfulness and on fire with a zeal that consumed him; he was steeped in a spirit of prayer’.
Note from Eddie O’Connor Entry
Fr Ernest Mackey S.J. was a well known school retreat giver. The vocations of Fr Eddie 0'Connor and a few years later of Walter, his brother, were influenced by him. The father of the two brothers was Peter 0'Connor a local lawyer and former Olympic champion. The story has it that Peter, encountering Fr Mackey after Fr. Eddie had entered the Society, said
‘That man has taken one of my sons’. Fr Mackey's undaunted reply was, ‘And now, he is coming to take another (Walter)’.
His driving ability was not good, mainly because of failing eyesight. It is told that once when driving with his brother Walter, Walter suddenly shouted, ‘Look out for that cow’! ‘What cow’? says Fr Eddie. After that it was decided that he stop driving. How now to get around his far-flung parish? Easy. He got a horse and this worked extremely well. He became a familiar sight trotting near and far, in fact one of the local farmers used to refer to him as 'Galloping Jesus'.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 43rd Year No 1 1968
Fr Walter O’Connor SJ (1910-1967)
Fr. O'Connor died in St. Anne's Hospital at Salisbury on 26th July. He had gone to St. Anne's about ten days previously because he had been having grave trouble in swallowing and eating for some time and the doctors suspected an ulcer. When he was operated on, on the 21st July, cancer was discovered, and of an inoperable kind. He was then told that his days were numbered but in the next few days pneumonia developed. He was too weak to resist its virulence and his condition rapidly deteriorated. He died at 3.15 a.m. and was quite conscious till the moment of death and participated fully in the prayers that were being said by his brother, Fr. Edward, and by Frs. Ennis and Berrell of the English Mission.
After Fr. Walter's death numerous letters of sympathy were received by the members of his family and especially by his sister, Mother O'Connor, R.S.C.J. In these letters there is presented a portrait of Walter contributed to by those who knew him well. In one of the letters a Jesuit confrere has written “Fr. Walter was one of those rare people, in a worldly age, who was a professional man of God - whose main interest always was, not studies or writing or teaching or any of our other concerns but simply the Kingdom of God”. Another Jesuit has written of him, “I can truly say that I regarded him as one of the best Jesuits I ever knew, and I am, thank God, nearly fifty years in the Society. He was always full of charity, cheerfulness, on fire with a zeal that consumed him and steeped in a spirit of prayer. I always found that even a few minutes talk with him was a tonic, and invariably the conversation would very soon turn to something concerned with God's interests. I knew well, too, that he got plenty of ‘knocks’ some of them very hard. I could never discover any vestige of bitterness on these occasions”. From these excerpts and others, Walter O'Connor emerges as a man of God, a man of zeal, and like all zealous men he had to meet the problems of clash and conflict but never lost his own integrity which was protected by his spirit of charity.
Walter was born at Waterford in May 1910, the fourth of a family of nine children. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at Waterpark and completed his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College. He entered the Society in 1928 and followed the usual course. While teaching in Clongowes as a scholastic he did much to build up the athletics. After Tertianship he was minister in Mungret for a year after which he went to Rathfarnham as minister. He liked what is described as practical work and he was never short of ideas as to how this, that, and the other might best be done, Walter's ideas of the “best” ways were often more subjectively influenced than objectively and in this he found that others could hold different views. But his cheerfulness was not diminished. He was persistent and had what across the Atlantic is called “sticktuitiveness”. He was always interested in getting a “good bargain” and took delight in pointing out the technical and practical advantages of what he was able to come by as a bargain. Again, he found that others did not quite see things the same way and their ability to unveil the disadvantages was sometimes stimulated as a counter to Walter's enthusiasm. And he was an enthusiast. His persistence and enthusiasm produced advantages for his brethren and one of them was the first swimming pool in a house of formation in the Province, at Rathfarnham. While he was minister there he developed an apostolate in hte promotion of the family rosary in Dublin. With his usual zeal and enthusiasm he collected and presented films and other aids to fos ter this apostolate and his energy in its promotion provoked others to develop the new ways of fostering exercises of religious devotions. His health was never very strong but his psychic energy level was never low.
In 1950 despite his weak health he was passed by the doctors for work in the new mission in Zambia. After his arrival he was made “parish priest” at Chikuni. He entered into the new work with the same spirit that had always characterized him and around Chikuni there appeared many shrines of Our Lady as the fruit of his ideas and zeal. He took a great interest in the condition of the lepers in that area and did much for them. His efforts to establish a special settlement for them bore fruit after he had left the area and the nucleus of it might be said to have been in the special outdoor Mass-shrine which Walter built and where he often said Mass for the lepers.
Walter as usual lived on his nervous energy and his health was again weakened. All his life in the Society this lack of good health was a harassment to him and the tempo and intensity of his personal life are hardly without some relationship to the physical disabilities he suffered. He returned to Ireland from the Missions because of this ill-health. From 1956 till 1959, when he again went back to Zambia, he taught in Bolton Street Technical School (as it was then named). It was the same Walter who again showed his zeal and enthusiasm in his work for the students there. In addition, he did retreat work and much lecturing on the Mission and its needs and through his efforts a number of benefactors were found to donate churches and other benefits to the Mission.
When he returned to the work in Zambia he was appointed to Kasiya to assist in the work of the Parish. Later he moved to Lusaka for work at Chilimbana and Munali where there is one of the largest and best secondary schools in the country (often classed as the rival of Canisius College!). Walter's health did not improve and when the joint novitiate was set up at Salisbury he was sent there to assist the Master of Novices in 1960. In addition to the work of socius he gave many retreats in Southern Rhodesia, including Long Retreats. He established the Pioneers at Sailisbury and developed a new apostolate of the consecration of families to the Sacred Heart. But the great work in which he was engaged at the time of his death was the fostering of vocations among the Africans. This work meant so much to him that in his dying hours many of his prayers were for its success. He was appointed Vocations Director for the archdiocese. He worked with Fr. Regis, an African priest, and they went all over the country on lecture tours, visiting practically all the mission schools. Walter used his previous knowledge and experience and collected films and other visual aids which he employed with benefit in the vocations work in the mission schools. Fr. Regis who accompanied him paid a warm tribute at the funeral to Walter's holiness, zeal, energy and enthusiasm in the work of promoting vocations. Fr. Wallace of the English Mission has written “Walter will have all the outlets for zeal he could ever have desired on earth, and much more. He had that something in his soul that found expression in his energy and urgent manner, he will certainly be another who will spend his Heaven on earth doing good. And what I said about his being nearer to us, I don't at all regard as a pious wish, but as solid fact to be perceived by faith”. Letters from Jesuits in Sailisbury testify that “Walter approached his operation with complete calm and a happiness to accept God's will whatever it might prove to be. He knew the operation would be a severe strain on his system which he might not survive; he did not want the family to be caused anxiety by knowing beforehand that he had to undergo this. His courage, his devoted acceptance of God's Will, and his energetic coping with the consequences of this in his own life are, as they have been before, most impressive and I am sure he will be deeply satisfied to have this last challenge and to be given the chance to go to God - one might say with full knowledge and consent, knowing what is happening and able to offer one's life to God with full deliberation and even timing”.
When Fr. O'Connor was dead four different obituary notices, as well as the official one, appeared in the daily newspaper. They were tributes to his memory from people who knew him well. This is a quotation from one of them, “In memory of a wonderful person, a good friend, and an inspiration to all who knew him. Remembered with love and affection by ... (the signatures follow”). One of his former Rectors has written “He was my Minister at ... and I have the happiest memories of him. We worked very well and harmoniously together. He was a great help and always cheerful. Everywhere he went he did good work in spite of delicate health. He was a splendid missioner. Nothing would have pleased him better than to work for his converts to the end”.
Walter O'Connor was buried at Chishawasha - “where many of our missionaries from the pioneer times are buried ... this is what Walter wanted” - after Requiem Mass in Salisbury Cathedral. The Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Eddie O'Connor, Fr, O'Loghlen, Fr. Ennis, Fr, McKeown and Fr. James Wallace. The Archbishop of Salisbury presided and performed the absolutions at the coffin. There was a very large congregation and imong them all the novices from Silveira House. The prayers at the graveside were recited by Fr. Eddie O'Connor assisted by Fr. Meagher, Vicar General of Monze, who was representing the Bishop, Very Rev. Dr. James Corboy. In many of the letters from priests the quotation “Well done, good and faithful servant” was used as their theme. May he rest in peace.
Interfuse No 125 : Autumn 2005
MISSIONED TO ZAMBIA : WALTER M O’CONNOR
Taken from some 50 “portraits” submitted by Tom McGivern, who works in the Archives of the Province of Zambia Malawi.
Fr. Walter was born in Waterford in May, 1910, and was ordained in Milltown Park in May, 1942. The M in his name stands for Mary and he had a great devotion to Our Lady. He used to say that he would die in May as well, and would laughingly add, “If I am alive on June 1st, you'll know I'll be with you for another year!” His wish to die in May was not granted, for it was on the 26th July 1967 that he died in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the early age of 57. He was born into a large family of nine children, the son of Peter O'Connor, a local lawyer. He entered the Society in 1928 (His elder brother, Eddie, had already entered the Society five years before that in 1923). He was educated by the Christian Brothers and completed his secondary education at Clongowes Wood College. Ordained at Milltown Park in 1942, after Tertianship he was appointed Minister at Mungret College for a year and again as Minister at Rathfarnham, the Juniorate.
He liked what was described as practical work and he was never short of ideas as to how this, that or the other might best be done....subjectively, and often opposed by others. Still his cheerfulness remained undiminished. He had a 'stick-to-it iveness' which saw projects to the end. Zeal and enthusiasm were qualities that stayed with him all his life. While Minister at Rathfarnham, he developed an apostolate in the promotion of the family rosary in Dublin. He collected and presented films and other aids for this apostolate. As a scholastic at Clongowes during regency, he did much to build up the athletics, perhaps inspired by the fact that his father had been an Olympic triple jump champion. His health was never very strong but his psychic energy was never low. He was passed by the doctors to travel to Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) as one of he nine Irish Jesuits who went there in 1950. As parish priest at Chikuni he entered into the new work with the same spirit that had always characterized him. Fr Walter was a very familiar sight on his heavy motor bike, either coming or going on “supply”. He took a great interest in the condition of the lepers in the area, and did much for them. His efforts to establish a leper settlement for them bore fruit after he had left the area.
Due to ill health, he returned to Ireland for three years, but did retreat work and lectured about the mission, which resulted in a number of benefactors donating churches and other benefits. He returned to Zambia in 1960 and moved to Harare (Zimbabwe) to assist the Master of Novices when the joint novitiate was set up. He gave retreats, established the Pioneers at Harare, and developed a new apostolate of consecration of families to the Sacred Heart. He was appointed Director of Vocations for the archdiocese and travelled a lot with Fr. Regis Chigweduc on vocation promotion. Fr. Regis paid tribute to Fr. Walter at his funeral for his holiness, zeal, energy and enthusiasm in the work of promoting vocations. On July 21st 1967, he was operated on at St.Anne's hospital in Harare, and inoperable cancer was found. He died five days later on July the 26th in the company of his brother, Fr. Eddie, and fellow Jesuits.
Tributes that came in after the funeral were many and sincere. They could be summed up by what a fellow Jesuit wrote about him, “He was always full of charity, cheerfulness, on fire with zeal that consumed him, and steeped in a spirit of prayer”.