Monsignor Michael J. O’Brien
Ed O'Brien accepting on behalf of his uncleMonsignor Michael J. O’Brien from Barry Brownlee.
Msgr O'Brien was a community leader, a friend to many, and indeed, a man who was larger than life. He was a spiritual man, an advocate on community issues, and a humanitarian who loved to encourage young people to make physical activity and sports a part of their lives. He gave inspiration and opportunity to many young people during their formative years, allowing them to enjoy sports and learn new skills. As a priest, Msgr O'Brien had no children of his own, but he spent many enjoyable hours driving kids to hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and softball games. He made even the most disadvantaged young person feel important when it came to the enjoyment of and participation in sports. There are many recollections of the rides he gave to the youth of the community, regardless of race or religion, to allow them to attend sporting events and tournaments-even to NHL hockey games in Montreal. He did all of this without expecting remuneration; the satisfaction for Msgr O'Brien was the excitement in young voices, and the thrill of seeing the youth of the community enjoying sports.
Msgr O'Brien was the parish priest at Our Lady of Grace Church, Ingleside and St Pius X Church, Long Sault, and he continued to support and organise sports in the new villages, long after the inundation of July 1, 1958. As the two Catholic schools in Long Sault and Ingleside did not have gymnasiums, it was Msgr O'Brien who opened up the church halls for sports activities and class lessons. He continued to encourage young people to excel in sports, and financially supported young people who would have been otherwise unable to participate.
He went above and beyond the call of duty, even as far as having a rink established at the parish rectory in Dickinson's Landing. Jim Brownell recalls that many children enjoyed playing on this rink, and it became a gathering place for children of all ages. Bunny Warner remembers the days when many students spent Sunday afternoons in the church basement, playing basketball, cards, and dancing to the old jukebox, whose coin slot was disabled so that no money was necessary. Bunny recounts that "the (church) basement was used by kids of all denominations whose only requirement for admission was good behaviour and having good clean fun." No matter what function was happening in the community, Msgr O'Brien ensured that physical activity was central to the gathering, and that all were included.
In the words of Jim Brownell, "Msgr O'Brien was a true 'builder', for he built the confidence and excitement for sports in many young citizens in his communities." Young people of all faiths saw "Father Mike" as a role model, demonstrating how to live life in a positive way. David Hill recalls that not only was he "a committed and keen sportsman, he was also ahead of his time in the very 'ecumenical' way that he supported and advocated for local athletes, coaches, and volunteers of all religious backgrounds. Through his 'Sermons You See' approach, he encouraged and exemplified hard work, determination, respect for competition, resiliency in facing life's challenges and sharing the glory of achievement with others. Most importantly, he taught by example that the best exercise of the human heart is reaching down and picking someone else up."