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Retired, but always on-call

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, June 3, 2012

Father James O'Brien is pastor emeritus of St. Eugene Parish, 7958 W. Foster Ave. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father James O’Brien, pastor emeritus of St. Eugene Parish, served in the marriage tribunal for 14 years, retired from active ministry in 2006. Attended Quigley and Mundelein and was ordained May 3, 1960.

What were your feelings on priests’ retirement at age 70?  “I felt it would be good to get someone in with new ideas. While I thought I was doing a fine job, I might be missing something. I had no mixed feelings. People asked, ‘What will you do when you retire?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m going to play priest.’ They’d laugh. ‘I’m going to say Mass, hear confessions, do weddings, funerals, whatever I can do.’  That’s what retirement’s been for the most part. I thoroughly enjoy it.” It fits his favorite Scripture verse, “Father, I want all those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory ...” John 17:24

Youth: “We lived in a two-flat on the Northwest Side. I grew up in Our Lady of the Angels Parish. Graduated from the school in 1948. Bishop Ed Conway was a classmate. Five out of the class became religious. My folks married in December 1933, and I was born December 1934. I have a younger brother and a sister.

My father worked as a secretary at Quigley and attended night law school at DePaul. He eventually went into law practice with an Illinois Catholic Conference attorney. My father’s legal business really became priests and priests’ families. In the course of a week there might be one or two priests in our house or their father or mother there for a will or income tax, that kind of thing. They all knew him from Quigley, so he became a purchaser of property for the archdiocese. But I don’t ever remember my parents saying, ‘Jimmy, you should be a priest.’ I think it was all there with the clergy coming and going.”

Life on the move: His first assignment was St. John Berchmans on the North Side, 1960-1964, and then a phone call told him he was moving to Oak Lawn and St. Catherine of Alexandria. “I didn’t know where Oak Lawn was!” During his eight years there, he began working at the tribunal one day a week and then moved to St. Patricia in Hickory Hills. A year away at Catholic University of America earned him a bachelor degree in Canon Law and full time ministry at the marriage tribunal with residency in Skokie. “I worked all the jobs at the tribunal in the years I was there. And I’m still helping out one day a week.”

When he returned from sabbatical, he moved into St. Juliana, until a phone call came that he was named pastor of St. Eugene Parish — his first and only pastorate. “Bishop Tim Lyne, a close family friend, installed me on St. Patrick’s Day, 1991.”  Retirement came in 2006 but this January Cardinal George asked him to be temporary administrator of Our Lady Mother of the Church. “I’ve been helping out there since I retired. It’s literally next door to St. Monica where I live. A new pastor will be named soon.” He serves on the Presbyteral Council, representing senior priests, and is liaison from the Presbyteral Council to the Pastoral Council.

2012 International Eucharistic Congress: He was asked to be the cardinal’s delegate. “I’m not sure what it means, but I’m going. There’s a bishops meeting here that week. I’ve hosted pilgrimages to Fatima, Lourdes and the Holy Land, but this is different. The focus will be on the Eucharist and the presence of Our Lord.”

Leisure: “Years ago it was tennis. As a youth at Our Lady of the Angels a bunch of us would walk the half-mile to Garfield Park to the tennis courts. We had wonderful times. Photography, as much as I have the time, is my hobby now. I can make my own DVDs and put the cam-corder stuff on them. I’m interested in electronics, buying parts and pieces to do things, but not into the wizardry. I only have time these days to read the breviary. I listen to Relevant Radio and enjoy Father Richard Simon. I learn so much listening to him.”