Msgr. Robert O’Connor, 92, dies; funeral Monday in Lewistown

LEWISTOWN — Msgr. Robert W. O’Connor, who served as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Lewistown, and St. Michael, St. David, for 51 years until his transition to senior status in 2011, died on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 at Renaissance Care Center in Canton. He was 92.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 14, at St. Mary Church, 705 N. Broadway St. in Lewistown. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, will be principal celebrant.

Visitation is planned from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13, at St. Mary Church. A rosary service will take place at 6 p.m.

A luncheon will follow the funeral Mass at St. Mary Parish hall. Burial will be at 2 pm. at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Mt. Sterling.

Born April 13, 1923 in Rock Island to Richard and Lillian (Byrns) O’Connor, he attended Sacred Heart School and St. Joseph High School in Rock Island. He 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. St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

His 63 years of active priesthood included only three parish assignments.

His first two assignments were as parochial vicar, from 1948 to 1954 at St. Columba Parish, Ottawa, and from 1954 to 1960 at St. Mary Parish, Canton.

In 1960, he was named pastor of the faith communities of St. Mary, Lewistown, and St. Michael, St. David. He would serve the two churches for more than five decades, overseeing several building 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).

In 2003 at the age of age 80, he was named a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of monsignor.

Reflecting on his priesthood as he marked his golden jubilee of ordination in 1998, Msgr. O’Connor said he was grateful for “very happy and blessed years with some wonderful people. It’s been a privilege to serve them.”

“I can think of several instances of baptizing a baby, seeing that baby grow up, officiating at their wedding, and then baptizing their baby,” he said at the time. “To me, that’s wonderful.”

After being granted senior status in 2011 at the age of 87, Msgr. O’Connor continued to make his home in the parishes, residing in an apartment in Lewistown about two blocks from the church.

Parishioners recall Msgr. O’Connor as a humble priest who always put their needs ahead of his own.

“For many of us at St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s, Msgr. O’Connor was not only our beloved priest but also a family member,” wrote Curtis Theyse, a trustee at St. Michael’s Parish in St. David in a tribute sent to The Catholic Post. (See the full text here.) Theyse noted he served long past normal retirement age and “made countless visits to local hospitals and nursing homes to visit those who were sick or alone.”

Msgr. O’Connor spoke about his parish being like “family” upon his retirement in 2011.

“I think every priest looks at his parish or should look at his parishioners as his family in Christ,” he said, “be proud of them, make sacrifices for them, and show his love and appreciation for them.”

Msgr. O’Connor is survived by several cousins, including Richard and Betty Jean Kunzweiler of Palatine, Corrina Kassing of Mt. Sterling, Donald Harper of Quincy, and Jim Harper of Clayton. He was preceded in death by his parents, and one brother, Richard O’Connor Jr.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Mary’s Church in Lewistown or St. Michael’s Church in St. David.

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