Senior Priest status for Msgr. Robert W. O’Connor, 87

By: By Jennifer Willems

LEWISTOWN — For 50 years, Msgr. Robert W. O’Connor has made his home among the people of St. Mary’s in Lewistown and St. Michael’s in St. David and being named a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria isn’t going to change that very much.

He is in the process of moving to an apartment at Spoon River Towers in Lewistown, which is about two blocks from the church, and says, “It’s lovely.”

“Everybody is behind Father,” said Janet McAdams, his secretary and “jack of all trades.” A few people have been helping to pack his books and other treasures and taking them to his new home and “everybody would help if there was enough room.”

“He’s very humble,” said McAdams, noting that Msgr. O’Connor is the only parish priest she’s ever known. “He’s done a lot for both parishes to keep them going. He’s been the constant — he’d do anything for you.”

She added that it’s comforting to know that he’s not going to be that far away.

“I think every priest looks at his parish or should look at his parishioners as his family in Christ, be proud of them, make sacrifices for them, and show his love and appreciation for them,” Msgr. O’Connor told The Catholic Post. “There has been a wonderful spirit among the people and a real spirit of cooperation.”

The parishioners and their longtime pastor will be able to share memories and trade expressions of gratitude at a special dinner next Sunday, Nov. 21, at St. Michael’s. A reception for the public is planned for 3 p.m. that day, also in the church hall at St. Michael’s, 528 E. Fourth St.

At 87, Msgr. O’Connor is long past the traditional retirement age of 70 for diocesan priests. Of course, conventional wisdom says that it’s better for priests to change assignments every six or seven years and he hasn’t been called to do that either.

“It took longer than a few years to do what I did,” he said of his long tenure in Lewistown and St. David.

Born April 13, 1923, in Rock Island, Msgr. O’Connor studied for the priesthood at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, and St. Louis Preparatory Seminary and Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis. He was ordained by Archbishop Joseph Schlarman on April 4, 1948, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

He served as parochial vicar at St. Columba’s in Ottawa and St. Mary’s in Canton for six years each before being named to his current assignment in 1960. Over the years he has overseen a number of construction projects, including a new church in St. David (1962) and a new parish hall there (1975), and a new rectory in Lewistown (1964) and a new church and hall there (1973).

He credited the late Father Cyril Schlarman, an engineer and an architect, for being “our savior” with each of those building projects. Not only did
Father Schlarman draw up the plans, but he offered encouragement and support to Msgr. O’Connor throughout the process.

As he considers the next phase of his priestly life, Msgr. O’Connor said “the joy of accomplishing that and seeing those things take shape” is a special memory. Another is the help and the spiritual formation of his parishioners.

Transitions are never easy, so he has turned to them again for assistance. During a recent homily Msgr. O’Connor asked them to pray “a little Hail Mary” for him every time they hear the Christmas carol “Silent Night.”

Those who don’t want to wait that long may send cards and notes to Msgr. O’Connor at St. Mary’s Church, 705 N. Broadway St., Lewistown, IL 61542.

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