O'Neill, Frank, 1928-2011, Jesuit priest

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O'Neill, Frank, 1928-2011, Jesuit priest

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  • O'Neill, Francis
  • Ollie O'Neill

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11 July 1928-06 April 2011


Born: 11 July 1928, Castletownbere, County Cork
Entered: 07 September 1948, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1962, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 05 November 1977, St Canisius College, Chikuni, Zambia
Died: 06 April 2011, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin - Zambia-Malawi Province (ZAM)

Part of the St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin at the time of death

Transcribed HIB to ZAM : 03 December 1969

by 1957 at Chivuna, N Rhodesia - Regency
by 1958 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, N Rhodesia - Regency

◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/fr-frank-oneill-r-i-p/

Fr Frank O’Neill, R.I.P.
Fr Frank O’Neill, who died on 6 April, grew up on a farm in Allihies, West Cork, in peaceful days when living was simple and you knew your neighbours. After school in Mungret he entered the Jesuits and volunteered for the Zambia mission. He loved the Tonga people – the gentlest he had ever met, he said; and he attained real fluency in their language. He was attuned to country people and worked mostly in parishes in the bush, living austerely, with no creature comforts. What made him a great missionary was that he was able to enter into the rhythm of the Africans. He revelled in their music and dance, and they loved him, a happy man, always positive and hopeful, with a deep trust in God’s Providence.

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 145 : Summer 2011


Fr Frank O’Neill (1928-2011) : Zambia-Malawi Province

11 July 1928: Born in Castletownbere, Co Cork.
Early education in Castletownbere National School and Apostolic School, Mungret,
7 September 1948: Entered the Society at Emo
8 September 1950: First Vows at Emo
1950 -1953: Rathfarnham - BA Degree, UCD
1953 - 1956: Studied Philosophy, Tullabeg
1956 - 1959: Regency, Chikuni Mission -learning language, teaching
1959 - 1963: Milltown Park, studying theology
31 July, 1962: Ordained at Miltown Park, Dublin
1963 - 1964: Tertianship at Rathfarnham

1964 - 1966: Namwala pastoral work
1966 - 1968: Kasiya parish priest
1968 - 1982: Chivuna parish priest
1969: Transcribed to Zambia Province
5 November, 1977: Final vows in Chikuni
1982 - 1983: Sabbatical in Toronto
1983 - 1993: Namwala parish priest
1993 - 1998: Mazabuka, Nakumbala: superior, parish priest

1998 - 2007: Limerick, Sacred Heart Church, pastoral work.
2000: Superior
2007 - 2008: Della Strada, Asst. Chaplain, Dooradoyle Shopping Centre
2008 - 2009: Gardiner Street -- Chaplain, St. Monica's.
2009 - 2011: Residing in Cherryfield Lodge Nursing Home
6th April 2011: Died at Cherryfield

Frank settled in very well to Cherryfield and made a significant contribution to the liturgical music, which was much appreciated and enjoyed by all. His condition deteriorated over the last year and he died peacefully on 6th April 2011. May he rest in the Peace of Christ.

Obituary by Jim McGloin
Frank O'Neill was born on 11 July, 1928 to Michael and Margaret (O'Donovan) O'Neill in Eyeries village on the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. He did his early education in the area and then went to the Jesuit-run Mungret College near Limerick for his secondary schooling. In his youth he was called “Ollie”, short for Oliver. (My grandfather was from the same Eyeries village. Whenever I visited my cousins who still live there and who were his age-mates, they always asked me, “How is Father Ollie?” He told me that it was only when he entered the novitiate, the Jesuits started calling him by his other name, Francis, “Frank”.)

Frank entered the Jesuit novitiate at Emo Park in 1948. After completing his philosophy studies in Dublin in 1956, Frank was sent to Northern Rhodesia for regency. During his three years here, he studied Chitonga and taught at Canisius College in Chikuni. He returned to Ireland for theology and was ordained in 1962. Following tertianship in 1964, he returned to Zambia and began his many years of pastoral service for the people of the Monze diocese.

As a side note, while Frank was doing theology, Arthur Cox, a famous Dublin solicitor, on retirement requested the Archbishop of Dublin to accept him for the priesthood. The Archbishop asked James Corboy, the rector of Milltown Park to take Cox, who was 71 years old and a widower, for his theological studies. Corboy reluctantly agreed and asked Frank to take charge of Cox. In his book, Arthur Cox 1891 1965, Eugene McCague writes, “That Arthur fitted so well into Milltown is a tribute to his own determination and resourcefulness, but is also thanks, in no small measure, to the friendship of one particular fellow scholastic, Frank O'Neill”. Frank, as Cox's “guardian angel” fulfilled (the role) “with great devotion and understanding”. (p 126). After his ordination in 1963, Cox followed Frank (and Bishop Corboy) to Zambia. He died tragically following a car accident on the Namwala road in 1965 and is buried in Chikuni.

Frank's first assignment was Namwala where he worked for two years; then Kasiya for another two years. In 1968 he was missioned to Chivuna where he served as parish priest for the next fourteen years. He took a year away from Zambia in 1982-1983, studying pastoral theology at Regis College in Toronto. He thoroughly enjoyed the year away, especially the stimulus of studying theology and the companionship of a larger Jesuit community.

When he returned, he was assigned to Namwala parish as the parish priest and superior of the community. He served the people of Namwala for the next ten years. His final posting in Zambia was in 1993 to Nakambala parish in Mazabuka. After all the years working in very rural parishes, with numerous outstations over rough roads, he found the work in Nakambala pleasant and less taxing. However, late in 1997 while driving outside Mazabuka, he ran off the road and hit into a tree. Although he was not injured in the accident, there was concern that dizziness or a blackout might have been the cause of the accident. He returned to Ireland for a rest and to have his health examined. He was given medication for high blood pressure which seemed to have been the cause of his other problems.

However, surprisingly he asked for permission to stay in Ireland and not retum to Zambia. He complained of tiredness and a heaviness concerning the way some things were going in Zambia. Colm Brophy in a note expressed his own surprise; he wondered why Frank did not want to return since “he was deeply immersed in the pastoral scene, so much identified with ordinary people and is still so much talked about by Zambian priests, religious and lay people. They keep on asking when is he coming and would love to have him back”.

Frank was sent to work in the Crescent Church in Limerick. He quickly settled into the work of the Church saying Mass, hearing confessions, taking care of callers, directing a Legion of Mary group, offering days of recollection. He was happy that he had returned to Ireland while he was still in good health and able to do some work. In 2000 he was appointed the superior of the community in Limerick.

In 2006 the Church and community in Limerick were closed. Frank continued for a short time with a chaplaincy in Limerick and in 2007 he was sent to Gardiner Street in Dublin. With his health deteriorating, he was sent to the Irish Province Infirmary in 2008 where he died on 6 April 2011.

Frank will be remembered in Zambia for his zealous apostolic work among the rural Tonga of the Monze Diocese. His vibrancy, his optimism, his welcome smile were wonderful characteristics giving hope and support to many people over many years. May the Lord whom he served so faithfully welcome him into the eternal joy of his Kingdom.

From the funeral homily preached by Fr Paul Brassil:
Frank's life was marked by hard work, in difficult circumstances, little rest or comfort in the rural areas of Zambia. There were bad roads, poor housing, makeshift churches, basic food and the task of communicating the Gospel in another language. It was characteristic of Frank to take all this in a spirit of optimism and buoyancy. He was blessed with a cheerful and outgoing nature which helped him make friends wherever he went. It also helped him make little of the difficulties and frustrations which were inevitable. To my mind his lifetime of work in Zambia was nothing short of heroic.
After his first few years in Zambia be returned to Ireland to take up theological studies in Milltown. There he was asked by the rector, Fr. (later Bishop) James Corboy, to chaperon the distinguished solicitor and, as he was then, candidate for the priesthood, Arthur Cox. Frank revelled in his task and followed a very unorthodox regime of studies. Frank and Arthur struck up a close friendship, so that later when Frank returned to Zambia, Arthur, by then ordained, came out there, too, and joined Frank in the same out-station of Namwala. Unfortunately a short time after coming to Zambia both men were involved in a car accident which led to the untimely death of Arthur.

Despite this deep sorrow, Frank proceeded to engage with great enthusiasm in the basic work of evangelisation. He was among the first to put into practice the theology of the laity which was promoted by Vatican II. He spent a major portion of his time and energy in the zealous promotion of the laity. He saw this as the only way to insert the faith in a living and vibrant community. Much of his time was dedicated to the training of leaders and he built up a strong partnership with the leaders and catechists in various outstations. He shared in the tragedies of the people and in their difficulties, but never lost his positive outlook, and always had a word of encouragement in the darkest moments. His later years were affected by the scourge of HIV/Aids which ravaged the people he served .

Frank was a man of deep faith which survived difficulties and disappointments. This faith came from his own family background in West Cork, as well as from his grounding in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. He was blessed by a warm and sunny disposition and entertained his fellow-workers with Danny Boy on many a social occasion.

On his return to Ireland for medical reasons he worked in Limerick where he found the people just lovely. Later, as his health declined, he helped out in Gardiner Street. Then his last years were spent in the kind care of the staff in Cherryfield. When he arrives at the gates of heaven, he will surely be cheered up at all the simple folk he has guided to the knowledge and love of the Heavenly Father, who has revealed these things not to the wise and clever but to little children. We pray that he will hear the words of the Heavenly Father: “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest”. Frank has earned his rest.


Scoil an Chroi Ro Naofa, North Road, Castletownbere, County Cork

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830-


O'Neill, Frank, 1928-2011, Jesuit priest

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969 (1946-1969)

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969


O'Neill, Frank, 1928-2011, Jesuit priest

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