Father O’Connor’s greatest joys from his 50 years of priesthood was working alongside the “good lay people” he encountered along the way. Joe Moore photo
Father O’Connor’s greatest joys from his 50 years of priesthood was working alongside the “good lay people” he encountered along the way. Joe Moore photo

While celebrating the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Father Michael J. O’Connor described decades that sounded very much like a Rosary of what he called “holy moments” threading from his native Ireland to the shores of America and throughout six parishes in the four counties of the Trenton Diocese.

As with a Rosary, there were moments, he recalled, of special joy, such as during his 19-year tenure at Holy Name Parish in Delran, now called Resurrection Parish, when the community celebrated the building of a parish center and a cry room was converted into an Adoration Chapel.

There were very difficult moments as well, the most trying of which came in 2012 just four months after he arrived as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bay Head when Hurricane Sandy hit the area with “full vengeance,” causing evacuation of the campus and months of restoration.

But all those experiences, he said, were “teaching moments when God was directing my life ... In every life, you have to keep moving on.”

“I grew up on a farm near Skibbereen in West Cork in Ireland,” Father O’Connor recalled. “My parents were simple people who loved God and farming.”

Born on Sept. 14, 1946, to parents Michael and Nora O’Connor, he was the oldest of six children with two brothers and three sisters. Back in those early days, the family treasured the visits of his uncle, Father John Cadogan, a priest in the Rockville Center Diocese, Long Island.

“One summer, my uncle popped a simple question to me. He said: ‘Michael, did you ever think about becoming a priest?’ It was like a holy moment for me. I never really thought about (a vocation) before. At the time I loved to hear him talk about New York and what was going on in America.”

The question started Father O’Connor thinking about the possibility of a priestly vocation and the call grew during his formative years. “All my education was in Ireland. I went to Rockwell College, County Tipperary and then to St. Patrick’s College and Seminary, Carlow.” While there, he said, “a priest from the Diocese of Trenton came to visit and spoke about how wonderful the Diocese was. So, after some discussion with my uncle, I decided to sign up.”

Residing since his 2018 retirement in Lawrenceville’s Villa Vianney, Father O’Connor reflected on that decision and how momentous it seemed to him at his ordination June 17, 1972, in Kinsale, County Cork. “Shortly after ordination, I came to America. Life was very fast for me,” he said. It was a big adjustment after growing up on a farm in Ireland.”

“My first assignment was as a parochial vicar in Guardian Angels Parish, Edison (now in the Metuchen Diocese). The people were very welcoming to me,” he said, as they were in each of the six parishes to which he was assigned.

These included St. Denis Parish, Manasquan; Our Lady of Sorrows (now Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish), Hamilton. In 1985, he was named pastor of Holy Name Parish (now Resurrection Parish), Delran, and served there for 19 years until he was named pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Parish (now Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish), Lakewood in 2004.

Looking back, Father O’Connor recalled the “good lay people” who consistently worked with him throughout the years, giving so much time, treasure and talent to the parish communities. “They loved their parishes,” he said. “Once I got to know them, I just worked with them…”

Today, Father O’Connor assists as needed at parishes, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Maple Shade, and appreciates having time for “more reflection.”

“The priesthood is a great vocation,” he said, adding, “I would do it all over again.”