Fr Peter O’Neill OFM Obituary

Father Peter O’Neill OFM

4 January 1943 – 6 March 2010

Thomas Peter Edward O’Neill was born in Dublin, Ireland on 4th January 1943, the youngest of four children to Charlie and Rosie O’Neill.  He was first educated by the Christian Brothers, and then the Franciscans from the age of twelve. He entered the Franciscan Order in Killarney aged eighteen and went on to study at Galway University, Louvain in Belgium and finally Rome where he was ordained in February 1970. He served initially as chaplain at the school of trades in Dublin and then in Wexford. In 1974 he requested to go on the missions in Chile, Central America, but he was sent instead to El Salvador. It was a very difficult and stressful time especially in the 1980’s during the civil war. Peter along with the other Irish friars gave a heroic witness of faithfulness to the people   developing a deep connection with the country and its people.

Following the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980, Fr Peter was present when gunfire broke out at the Archbishop’s funeral. This was a dark period in the country’s history and Fr Peter identified closely with the tragedy of death and violence which befell so many of his parishioners.   In the early 80s he moved to a marginalised area in the capital san Salvador where he founded a new parish. He was very close to the people. The respect and love between them was mutual.

During the mid 1990’s he spent a periods in Europe, Australia and Chicago, USA where he studied for a Doctorate. His mother Rosie visited him in Central America in 1992 and 1995, and she urged other family members to visit and see how he lived. The parish of St Phillip and St James in Bedford featured in his return visits to family, his mother Rosie moving there from Dublin in 1992, his sister Eileen and family living there since 1978, and he developed strong friendships with the many parishioners who supported his work in Central America. When he returned to Central America he was appointed Director of the Franciscan formation centre in Guatemala.

His skill intelligence and tenacity proved vital in the success of the centre.  2002 was the first of a succession of visits from family members and friends to El Salvador and Guatemala. In 2005 he returned to his beloved El Pepeto in San Salvador, which was always his spiritual home.

Peter was a strong character with definite ideas but he could be brought to tears by the violence and suffering of his people. He had huge admiration for Archbishop Oscar Romero and always held him up as an example when he gave retreats and courses. Peter, like St Paul, fought the
good fight and was faithful to the end.

Fr Peter became unwell whilst on retreat on 6th March and died following a heart attack, aged 67. He was buried in El Salvador where approximately
2000 people attended his funeral on 10th March. He is and will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His wishes were fulfilled when he was buried in the church in Pepeto. “Nobody dies forever” – above all Peter will live in the hearts of the people there.