Msgr. Patrick O’Neill, who served for nearly 50 years as a priest of the diocese of Sacramento, as pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Vallejo for 21 years and as the founding pastor of St. Anne Parish in Sacramento, died Oct. 4 in Anadale, N.J. He had resided in New Jersey for the past few years. He was 88.
A funeral Mass for Msgr. O’Neill will be celebrated on Friday, Oct. 14 at 11:30 a.m. in St. Vincent Ferrer Church, located at 925 Sacramento St. in Vallejo. Msgr. Edward Kavanagh, pastor emeritus of St. Rose Parish in Sacramento, will be the celebrant of the funeral Mass. Burial will be at All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo. A vigil will be celebrated for Msgr. O’Neill on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in St. Vincent Ferrer Church.
Msgr. O’Neill served as pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish from 1974 to 1995, the longest term of any pastor in the history of the parish. He was named an honorary prelate of the church on May 4, 1979 by Pope John Paul II in recognition of his many-faced ministry as a priest.
During his time as pastor, he played a major part in the merging of the two Catholic high schools, St. Patrick’s and St. Vincent’s, into the now coed St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School on Benicia Road. He also oversaw the seismic retrofit of the church and the demolition of St. Vincent’s convent. When he retired in 1995, St. Vincent Ferrer welcomed more than 4,000 parishioners each weekend for liturgies and was one of the largest parishes in the diocese.
Msgr. O’Neill also served as the founding pastor of St. Anne Parish in the Meadowview area of Sacramento from 1961 to 1974. During that time he planned and built a new church, convent, school, parish hall, and sports fields for the school on a 10-acre campus.
His first pastorate was of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Truckee, where he served from 1950 to 1961, following his service as assistant pastor at Truckee, of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Colusa from 1947 to 1949, and a short time of service at St. Monica Parish in Willows.
In 1956, he was appointed an associate member of the U.S. Olympic Commission, which was planned the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. He oversaw the building of Queen of the Snows Mission Church there for the convenience of skiers and officials from the 32 countries that participated in the Olympic Games. The church, designed by architect J. Clarence Feliciano, took first prize in an international competition for its design and structure.
During his time in Truckee, Msgr. O’Neill also remodeled Assumption Church and enlarged and doubled the capacity of the other churches in the parish at that time: Corpus Christi in Tahoe City and Our Lady of the Lake Mission Church in Kings Beach. He also founded St. Theresa Parish in South Lake Tahoe in 1953.
A native of Ballintee, Dunnamaggin, County Kilkenny in Ireland, Msgr. O’Neill studied for the priesthood at St. Kieran’s College and Seminary in Kilkenny from 1936 to 1947. Having completed studies in philosophy and theology, he was ordained to the priesthood in June 1947 for service in the Sacramento Diocese.
Msgr. O’Neill told The Catholic Herald upon his retirement in March 1995 that during his priestly ministry his outreach to people in their spiritual and temporal concern was both phenomenally far-flung and inclusive. “I had the privilege of serving from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to building a new parish in south Sacramento, to service in the San Francisco Bay Area – a far-flung field of ministry in the Golden West of the United States.”
“But I never forgot my Irish roots,” he added. “Having come to the United States in 1947 from a family of 11 siblings, beginning in 1960, I never missed my yearly visit to the Kilkenny farm and family, regardless of problems of time or health or finances.”
Looking back on his ministry, Msgr. O’Neill told The Catholic Herald: “I probably would not have done anything differently. Probably my greatest enjoyment has been serving the people of God – baptizing them, marrying them, burying them and teaching them faith along the way, administering all the sacraments of the church.”
After his retirement, Msgr. O’Neill went to live for several years at Westlake Gold Country House in Vallejo, where he continued to celebrate Mass there for residents and also celebrated Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish and at the mausoleum. .All Souls Cemetery in Vallejo.