Raleigh Monsignor Tim O’Connor, known for his humor and homilies, dies at 66

jspector@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2013 

Monsignor Tim O’Connor, who led many parishes in the Catholic Diocese in Raleigh, with humor and compassion, died Sunday at age 66.

O’Connor was remembered for his passion for preaching and the artistic sensibility he demonstrated in his 40 years as a priest. He oversaw the 1998 renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh while serving as rector there.

David Crabtree, WRAL news anchor, was close friends with O’Connor and remembered him as “one of the best homilists I have ever heard.”

“I never saw him in a pulpit. He always walked amongst people in the church,” Crabtree said. “When he delivered a homily, he would look at you and make a point. He never had to raise his voice, he never had to point a finger – he communicated the love of God just by talking with you, and he made you think.”

O’Connor’s sense of humor infused his preaching, said Blanche Ellison, director of faith formation at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Raleigh, where O’Connor had been serving as pastor when he died. Sometimes this humor came out in the form of practical jokes. At other times, it shone through in his jumping-off points for scriptural commentary.

“He really liked the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strip. A lot of times he would begin his homily with a story from Charlie Brown and then connect that with the scripture of the day,” Ellison said.

Crabtree said he first met O’Connor in 1997 on his way to cover Mother Teresa’s funeral. He consulted with O’Connor on several reporting trips to cover the Vatican.

“He was a great source for us to talk about issues of the church, to help us understand why certain things happen and why certain things do not,” Crabtree said. “Plus, he knew every good restaurant in Rome.”

Crabtree recalled that even when he and O’Connor disagreed in theological debates, they always ended with O’Connor drawing a laugh out of him.

To those who knew him, O’Connor’s aesthetic sense was a defining quality. As rector at Sacred Heart Cathedral – the seat of the bishop of Raleigh – he led a $500,000 renovation project in the late ’90s that refurbished the floors and pews and installed art, such as painting the ceiling blue with 14-karat gold leaf stars.

“He had a very strong aesthetic sense in terms of how the way things were designed would assist people in their prayer,” said Monsignor David Brockman, a longtime colleague of O’Connor. “He really helped to restore the beauty of that building, and in so doing he assisted in the depth of prayer for those who come there for Mass or for private prayer or other liturgies.”

O’Connor attended seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He was ordained in 1973, and celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination this spring. He served in North Carolina parishes throughout this time.

A visitation for O’Connor will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday at St. Luke the Evangelist Church. The funeral will be held 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary.

Spector: 919-836-4918

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