Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fratri (Brothers)

The only known portrait of
Fr. Timothy O'Brien
The validity of the story is questionable, but it’s worth the telling.  When Father John O’Brien was assigned to Lowell, he found the fields quite barren.  He arrived at the height of the Irish famine immigration and the community was split quite literally between social and economic groups.  A lesser man would have fled.  When Father John left Ireland, he knew he had an older sibling already working in the US, but the difference in age and distance probably left gaps between the two brothers.  It is told that on a steamer trip to Boston, Father John spent part of the trip with another cleric.  It wasn’t until Father John was at home at St Patrick’s in Lowell and there was a knock upon the door he realized who his traveling companion was- his own older brother, Father Timothy. 
When he arrived in Lowell in 1852, Father Timothy O’Brien probably knew his days were drawing to a close.  He was aged and tired.  He never even was entered in the Diocesan records as a priest serving for Boston.  His brother needed help.  Father John was known for his outgoing personality and strong will.  Father Timothy was the antithesis.  He was often ill, but still carried out his duties and then some.  Father Timothy took it upon himself to travel along the Merrimack River and say Mass for those who could not travel into Lowell on Sundays.  He would take the carriage all the way to Nashua to say Mass in the homes of Catholics and then return to Lowell.  It was Fathers John, Timothy, and Michael who quietly, in the early morning of July 4, 1853, laid the cornerstone for the present St Patrick Church.
The O’Briens knew that education was needed to improve the state of the Irish.  Father Timothy engaged the Sisters of Notre Dame to open a school for the girls of the Acre in 1852.  He promised them a school house and convent.  When they arrived, they had neither.  Being a man of his word, eventually, he gave the money from his own personal account to build the schoolhouse.  Unfortunately, he died before it was completed.
He did more than provide material goods for the Sisters.  He was also their spiritual director.  It was Father Timothy who personally protected the Sisters during the anti-Catholic visits of certain committees who attempted to force their way into the convent and school in 1854 and 1855.  He put himself between the Sisters and the men who were forcing their way into the convent.  The Sisters’ diaries say it was after this event he began his final illness.  In October of 1855 he went to the Sisters chapel for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and exhorted them to remain close to the Blessed Virgin.  A few days later, he was hearing confessions and kept excusing himself.  Finally, he could not return and took to his bed.  Two of the Sisters went to see him to ask his final blessing.
O'Brien monument in 1890
His body lay in state in the church that was only a year old.  Priests from near and far donned their black vestments and took their turns at the altars saying Masses for the deceased while the body lay in repose.  Both the Sisters diaries and local papers spoke of his goodness and how those who attended the funeral openly wept.
His body was carried down the front steps and entombed in the front yard of the church.  Within a year the parish erected a granite monument to his memory.  It would also be the resting place of his bother and nephew, Father John and Father Michael O’Brien.
Note- The present O’Brien monument in front of the church was placed there in the 1950s.  The pastor at that time decided it was not acceptable and had it dismantled.  Parishioners begged him not to do so, but he did not comply.  People begged to bring a piece home; the pastor had it ground into rubble and hauled away.

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