My Father The Man

My Father The Man

I would like you to know my Dad, Dan O’Reilly, the man – the very powerful, human man, whose faith was inspired with every breath he took. It is this man of living, breathing faith who started the Legion of Mary  in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  He died at the age of 99, on December 11, 2014.

For many years he rode a bicycle to work, because there was no money for a car – leaving home at 4:30 AM – to do two walks that were miles long – then ride his bike home again – get a cup of tea – then out to the garden to tend vegetables, clean out a chicken house or slaughter chickens until supper time.
He would set out on his bicycle after supper, three evenings a week, to either teach altar boys, go to Holy Name meetings, or to go to Legion of Mary meetings and weekly Legion of Mary work.

When not engaged in these activities he and my mother wrote plays and musicals for Parish entertainment nights.
In order to reveal to you the man who is my father – and I very deliberately say “is my father”, because he very surely is alive for all eternity, or our belief in the Communion of Saints means nothing – I want to share with you a couple of stories. These stories are now the fabric of my being.

One Christmas, when we were just young children a first nations family who lived in a tiny house not far from us suffered a fire in their home. We were poor, and at Christmas we received at the very most 2 gifts – one being clothing – and a stocking stuffed with oranges, nuts, candy and a small toy.

Dad called us together and told us about the fire. Mum got a box. Dad told us to each decide which of one of our gifts we wanted to give to the children of that family!
While we decided Dad went the vegetable bin and filled a box with vegetables from the garden – collected eggs from the chicken house. Mum went through her Christmas baking.
We all went over to the place where the family had taken refuge and presented the gifts in person. I have never forgotten that Christmas!

The next story that I want to tell you comes from an experience I had with my father when I was in my young teen years.

I was a young teenager when my father took me with him on a visit to a couple who lived on skid row.  Ever week my father went on visitation to skid row with members of the Legion of Mary.  He spoke often of the horrors that he saw in the squalid hotels, and about his run-ins with the hotel managers and owners.  One day  – not his usual visitation day – he decided to pay a visit to this particular couple.  I had never smelled anything as foul as that hotel!  I wanted to vomit!  Each person we passed on our way to the couple’s room was greeted as though they were people of great distinction.  Everyone knew Dad!  A very emaciated man opened the door.  He could hardly speak when he realized it was Dan O’Reilly.  Across the very dingy room, in front of a small dirty window, an equally emaciated woman was sitting at a small table.  When she heard Dad’s voice she wailed!  I was in a state of utter shock.  The room reeked! It was hard to breath! Dad acted as if he were walking into a palace! Dad introduced me. “This is my daughter, Monica!” The woman cried even more and hobbled over to embrace me!  The woman insisted, through her constant coughing, that she would make us tea.  The very thought made me retch!  There was not a clean dish in the place.  Everything had layers on grime on it!  Dad said that he would love a cup of tea!
It was nothing short of a miracle that I was able to drink it! The husband and wife both coughed, choked and spat up phlegm the whole time we were there.
When we left they hugged, kissed and cried over us!..Dad had been instrumental in bringing them back to the faith.  As with many others on skid row, dad had arranged that the priests from the cathedral would do weekly visits to all those living in the wretched hotels.

We could never walk downtown without alcoholics and drug addicts – men and women –  stumbling up to shake Dad’s hand.   Dad was the moving force behind the establishment of the first Sancta Maria House for women on the streets.  It was run for many years by the Legion of Mary.

I hope I can stay composed as I tell you this last story.

My mother died, over 20 years ago, after 16 years of withering away from the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Dad had nursed Mum at home for 5 years – we then had to move her to Youville Residence. Within a year she had to move to Louie Brier Hospital where she stay until her death 9 years later.
This episode I am about to tell you happened when Mum was no longer able to do anything at all but lay on her bed. She was skin and bones. The word vegetable is used by proponents of euthanasia.
She was no vegetable! She was loved!

I was returning home from somewhere and decided to look in on Mum. My heart sank as I approached her room.

A large group of nurses and staff were crowded around the door to her room – looking in the direction of her bed. They motioned to me to be quiet.

I worked my way through the spellbound crowd.

There was my father – oblivious to everyone !

He had picked Mum up in his arms.

She was snuggled with her head on his shoulder – he had his head resting on hers.

Dad was singing to her the following love song that he sang to her when they were courting during the 2nd World War, and had sung to her often since then:

Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,
Were to change by to-morrow and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy gifts fading away,

Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear.

No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close

 

My father told me a few years later that he never knew how to love until he loved with no hope of any tangible return.

That is my father! Not mister Legion of Mary, or a man with an award from the Pope , or someone who sat on a Board.

During his life here on earth he was a living, breathing human being
who was in love with his God – and who struggled with his humanity –
got up and kept living his faith in love and service.

He was someone consumed with love for the Lord,
and who worked for the Lord in every aspect of his life
with the Lord’s Mother, Mary always at his side.

Now he lives with that white robed army,
and with the angels sings God’s praises
continuing to work in God’s service
pleading for all of us here on earth.