A Tribute to the Passing of a Dear Friend

When Joe and I first arrived in South Florida from Pennsylvania we were young full of hope and dreams and aspirations. After several years of hard work we starting making more money and could build our first home. We found a beautiful neighborhood in Cooper City and a lovely development to build. We also found a wonderful Catholic Church in a nearby town Davie. St. David’s Catholic Church.

We were welcomed into the parish by Father Gabriel O’Reilly a big white-haired Irishmen, with a smile as bright as his hair, who was a take-charge type of pastor. I joined the women’s club and took part in other parish activities like carnivals, garage sales and even teaching an exercise class for the women of the parish. The church became our family. And over 30 years later we still have many friends at the parish. Father became a friend as well as a confidant to our family.

Joe and I had started the process of adoption with the State of Florida as well as Catholic Services in the early 80’s. As our pastor Father Gabe knew all about what was happening in our lives. If it weren’t for him we would not have our daughter Jennifer. So he was a very important part of our lives.

Here is the obituary for our dear friend. May you rest in peace Fr. Gabe.

Father Gabriel O’Reilly Obituary

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Father Gabriel O’Reilly, ‘King of Davie’, dies at 69.

Founder, builder of St. David Parish remembered for generosity, determination.
The people of St. David Parish have lost the only pastor they ever knew. Father Gabriel O’Reilly, the 6’5″, white-haired Irishman who shepherded the Davie parish since its founding, died early this morning after a brief but devastating bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 69 and had celebrated his 46th anniversary as a priest three days earlier, June 4 — the same day the parish was established in 1974.

“It’s just been such a shock to us. It’s unbelievable. The whole parish is distraught,” said Hubert O’Reilly, Father O’Reilly’s brother, who flew to South Florida from Ireland with another brother, Terry, just a day before Father O’Reilly’s death. Both were at their brother’s bedside when he died early in the morning June 7.

Also stopping by: A veritable procession of past and present parishioners coming to say their goodbyes. “We decided any parishioner that came we would let them into the room briefly. The amount of love – it was unbelievable,” said Hubert O’Reilly. “He was deeply loved and the stories we heard about what he did for people — outwardly he was a big brash man but inwardly he was generous, kind, giving. He looked after them spiritually, mentally and financially.”

“I met people that I hadn’t seen since the year I was ordained who were friends of his at St. Monica,” said Father Anthony Mulderry, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Pompano Beach. “Their daughters were little kids and they came to say goodbye to him 45 years later.”

Father Mulderry and Hubert O’Reilly have been friends since the time they studied together in the seminary in Ireland. Hubert decided not to pursue the priesthood. Father Mulderry met Father O’Reilly on the plane that brought them and a third Irish priest to Miami Aug. 31, 1967.

“Two weeks ago he played golf with all us guys that hang around together, the Irish guys in Broward,” Father Mulderry recalled. “Every Tuesday we met to solve all the problems of the diocese and to play golf. And we didn’t do very well at either.”  At the time, Father O’Reilly complained that his stomach was bothering him but no one thought anything of it. By Thursday of last week he felt so sick that he went into the hospital. The diagnosis came Saturday: Less than a week to live.

While it was shocking for a man who gave the impression of being “indestructible,” said Hubert O’Reilly, “for his sake we were pleased because he wasn’t a man who could suffer in bed looking up at the ceiling and wasting away – and everybody who knew him knew that.”

Hubert, another brother, Terry, and their wives had spent six weeks in South Florida just a few months ago. The O’Reilly clan was planning a big family reunion in Ireland later this month.  “He was the rock of the family,” Hubert O’Reilly said. “He kept the family together. Not a day went by when he didn’t make contact. To him, family was everything. He even preached family here in the church.” In fact, he often recalled moments of his childhood to make a point in his homilies, Hubert O’Reilly said. “He also had a habit of embellishing them a little bit. “He always had stories – most of them not true,” said Father Mulderry. “He told them so often he believed them himself. He always would love to be able to tell you something that you didn’t know. Find out something first.”  “But he was a good man,” Father Mulderry said, noting that he was still in shock over the death of his friend. “I’ve been blown away by this.”  “So many people have remembered him for how he cared for their dying relatives,” said Hubert O’Reilly. He recalled meeting one man at a St. David carnival years ago who had fallen away from the faith and then returned. The man had told Father O’Reilly, “When my father was dying you just came to see him and every time you left he was happier. That brought me back.”

“That’s the kind of man he was,” his brother said. “There were three things in life that he loved. He loved his priesthood. He loved his family. And he loved St. David.”
Born March 7, 1944 in Clara, County Offaly, Ireland, Father O’Reilly was the seventh of eight children. His father, Hugh, was a police officer, and the family was considered “farming stock.”

Father O’Reilly attended Franciscan Primary School in Clara and St. Kieran’s College, then completed his theology studies at St. Peter’s in Wexford. He was ordained June 4, 1967 for the then Diocese of Miami and began serving as parochial vicar at St. Monica in Opa Locka. Concurrently, he served as chaplain of the Marian Center for the developmentally disabled and director of the Apostolate to the Deaf and Blind (precursor to today’s Schott Communities). In June 1970 he was named parochial vicar of Little Flower Parish in Hollywood and chaplain of the Sunland Training Center in Miami, a state-run facility for the disabled. In 1974, he was named administrator of the newly-created parish of St. David, becoming pastor four years later. “He set up the parish in a pub. On Sunday morning they used to open the pub for Mass,” Hubert O’Reilly said. When Eddie Egan’s, as the place was called, closed down, parishioners began meeting in a warehouse. By 1979, however, Father O’Reilly had broken ground on a 15-acre site at 3900 S. University Drive in Davie, and shortly thereafter built a church with seating for 600.

Four years later, in 1983, the school opened with less than 100 students. In 1987, another 600 seats were added to the church and the school grew from six classrooms to 25, including state-of-the-art computer and science labs. It currently has an enrollment of 600.

Father Mulderry said Father O’Reilly “loved construction” and frequently handled the heavy equipment himself. He served as construction manager for the altar where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass when he visited Miami in 1987.  “He’s the only (priest) I know where he started the parish from scratch and he died as pastor. He built the village of St. David,” Father Mulderry said.  He recalled an article in a local newspaper that referred to the parish as “O’Reilly land.” “Father O’Reilly was the king of Davie, I promise you,” Father Mulderry said.

In 1995, Father O’Reilly spearheaded the founding of a St. David outreach center to serve the needs of the poor in the area. That center is now known as the HOPE Outreach Center, which stands for Helping Other People Every Day. It provides food to people who cannot make ends meet due to job losses, disabilities, health crisis and other emergencies.

Hubert said there’s a bronze bust of Father O’Reilly in one of the hallways of St. David School. Underneath is written: “Don’t tell me it can’t be done.”
When he asked his brother about it, “He said they didn’t put the second line in — ‘or I’ll go out and do it myself’.” “Nothing was impossible to him. There was always a way,” Hubert O’Reilly recalled. “There won’t be the likes of him again, I will tell you.”
Funeral services for Father O’Reilly will begin Friday, June 14, 2013, at 4 p.m. at St. David, with a vigil lasting all night and vigil prayers at 8 p.m. Archbishop Thomas Wenski will celebrate the funeral Mass Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 10 a.m. Burial will follow at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale.

Survivors include his brothers, Hubert, Terry (Monica) and P.J. (Chris); sister, Lily Doherty; sister-in-law, Margaret O’Reilly; brother-in-law, Daniel Gleeson; nieces, nephews and extended family, all in Ireland and England.  He was preceded in death by his parents, Hugh and Sara (Whelan) O’Reilly; sister, Carmel Gleeson; brothers, Oliver and Michael and brother-in-law, Manus Doherty.

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22 thoughts on “A Tribute to the Passing of a Dear Friend

    • Hi John and Mary, thanks so much for your comment. He was a great man and has been taken too soon for many of us but he worked hard for the Lord and should get his reward…Nancy

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine being told you only have a week to live. How heartbreaking. How wonderful that he had his faith to sustain him.

    • Thanks Eileen, Have a Happy Father’s Day and the same to Jeff. We should all be celebrating our fathers…Nancy

  2. Nancy, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Reading your tribute to this unique and special man reminded me of just how fortunate we are when people like this come into our lives.

    • Hi Deborah, he will be sorely missed, he was the rock for that community as well as all of his parishioners. Thanks for your comment. Nancy

  3. Nancy, Joe,
    I’m sorry to hear of your loss. In a sense, friends and loved ones never really go away. They live inside us, in our memories.
    John

  4. Thank you so much for the wonderful Tribute to Gabe. Though we have lost touch over the years I always held him close to my heart. He was a big part of our lives and family in the 70’s while at Little Flower church. He was a regular at our home and we had the pleasure of also meeting Terry and Monica. I would love to send my condolences to them. If you have their contact information I would love to have it. Best wishes, Jan Lawrence

    • Hi Jan, thanks for your comment. I do not have any contact information for his family. I am sure if you sent something to St. David’s the office would see to it that his brothers received it. Sorry I could not be of any help. Nancy

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