Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Rest in peace: Father John O’Brien; prominent supporter of liturgical renewal

by Eric Meisfjord, Editor, the Inland Register

(From the June 18, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Father John O’Brien (left), ordained a priest of the Spokane Diocese May 26, 1949, died May 31 in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he was director of Arms of the Cross Retreat Center. He was 93 years old.

The memorial Mass will be celebrated July 7 at Arms of the Cross.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, Father John O’Brien was one of the strong leaders in the U.S. for the promotion of English in the liturgy,” said Bishop William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of the Spokane Diocese.

“We tend to forget what an insightful stance that was in those days, but the vision of those who were so courageous was realized in the Second Vatican Council,” said Bishop Skylstad. “Father O’Brien was a dedicated and faithful priest of the diocese. Even though he was away from the diocese in these later years, he always returned for visits, with his stories and appreciation of the gift of the Church. May he rest in peace.”

Father O’Brien wrote a short article about priesthood on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of ordination, published in the Inland Register’s issue of May 20, 1999.

“I am embarrassed because people treat us (priest jubilarians) as if we have accomplished something great. We have had nothing to do with it; it is God who has given us so many years, while most of our classmates have already gone to their reward.”

He was intimately involved with liturgical renewal during his ministry as a priest, both locally and nationally. He established a liturgical center at the site of the former Mater Cleri Seminary in Colbert in 1976.

Msgr. John Steiner, a retired priest of the Spokane Diocese, recalled Father O’Brien’s impact on liturgy.

“Father Jack O’Brien was a unique priest in the early 1950s. He saw the celebration of Sunday Mass as a time for the community of believers to actively participate. In a day of legalistic Mass attendance, he was a vocal voice for something more than minimal attendance. The people were called to take their rightful place by meaningful participation. He was an advocate of ministry by laity and the renewal of liturgy by appropriate music. His first call was for the celebration of the prayer of the Church to be in the vernacular. He was an early member of the Vernacular Society.

“When Pope Pius XII reformed the Holy Week liturgy in 1950s, Father Jack O’Brien knew there was a new future. He was a ready supporter of the Vatican II liturgical vision. He was one of the founding fathers of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). He brought the National Meeting of the FDLC to Spokane at the time of the World’s Fair in 1974.

“Father O’Brien studied the liturgy as the center of his own life. He was a pamphleteer. He wrote newsletters and prepared instructions and provided parish worship aids. He was the fire and spirit behind the liturgical renewal in the Diocese of Spokane. He now will know the glory of the heavenly liturgy. He will not rest in peace; he will participate fully and faithfully.”

Father O’Brien first served as a priest as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart, Spokane, and St. Patrick, Pasco, before being named administrator, and then pastor, of St. Joseph in Metaline Falls.

He later served as administrator of Immaculate Conception, Davenport, and pastor of the parishes in Newport, Wilbur, Coulee Dam, and Pomeroy. He was named associate pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1968.

Besides 10 years as chairman of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, he was moderator of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, and was chaplain of Catholic Scouting.

The late Father Terry Tully, also a long-time supporter of Catholic Scouting, wrote an article about Father O’Brien for the IR “because I think (he) has a kind of charism for teaching young people religion and life. Several Scouts from my parish made the 1977 Scout retreat…. I asked them separately how they liked it, and they all said the same thing: ‘It was fun, and Father O’Brien was there.’”

Father O’Brien retired in 1980.

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