Ordination Class of 2022: Deacon Patrick O'Connor

This is the first in a series of articles profiling the seven men who will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on May 21.

BRIGHTON -- Growing up in Dedham, Deacon Patrick O'Connor and his family were active members of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish. His older brother and sister sang in the choir, while he became an altar server and later joined the Life Teen program.

One morning, when he was in the eighth grade, he saw an obituary for a young priest in a newspaper. The article quoted the deceased's mother as saying that God calls real men to become priests -- even Red Sox fans and Patriots fans.

Deacon O'Connor recalled that as the first time he thought of a priest as a real person.

"I never thought of priests as people with interests, and interests that I also had," he said.

At that moment, he decided that he would become a priest -- but his resolution faded over the course of the school day. He put the idea in the back of his mind, though he could not get rid of it entirely.

Upon graduating from Dedham High School, Deacon O'Connor chose to attend Loyola University, where he studied theology, philosophy, and special education. He was a resident assistant for two years and also led retreats and did volunteer work.

In his senior year, Pope Francis visited Washington, D.C. A friend invited Deacon O'Connor to come hear the pope speak at the White House and celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Standing on the front steps of the basilica after the pope's Mass, surrounded by seminarians, something stirred in Deacon O'Connor's heart.

When he told a priest on the Loyola campus about this experience, the priest stopped him partway through his story and told him he needed to become a priest. Through their conversation, Deacon O'Connor realized how all the different activities he had been involved with -- such as learning to lead a community as an RA -- had been pointing to his priestly vocation.

He realized it was time to revisit the idea he had been running from. He had, in fact, applied and been accepted to seminary before but chose not to pursue it. Now, he applied a second time, and after graduating from Loyola in 2016, he entered St. John's Seminary.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Deacon O'Connor stayed at a rectory in his home parish in Dedham, along with several other priests and seminarians. During the time of the shutdown, about half of them participated in the Exodus 90 spiritual exercises, which is described as a "90-day period of prayer and asceticism." Since they could not watch television as part of the exercises, at the end of each day, there was little for them to do besides talk or play games. Deacon O'Connor said this helped them learn about community life in "a very pure, good way."

After being ordained a transitional deacon in June 2021, he was assigned to the Beverly Catholic Collaborative, which consists of three parishes: St. John the Evangelist, St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Mary Star of the Sea. This allowed him to experience a parish collaborative, both from an administrative standpoint and from a spiritual and pastoral perspective.

"That balance of practicality and love for the people has been very good to see in the priests that I've been working with," Deacon O'Connor said.

In each of his assignments so far, he has had the opportunity to work with college-age students -- from the Catholic Center at Boston University, to the new Life Teen program in Hingham, to Endicott College in Beverly.

"To see kids at that age mature and show that interest in the faith, and seeing that growth in the spiritual life, has been a true blessing for me. It really helped me understand fatherhood in a deeper way," Deacon O'Connor said.

He said he was struck when he proclaimed the Gospel in Mass for the first time last Christmas. Even though the Christmas narrative is a familiar one, actually proclaiming it was "very impactful," he said.

"It hit me, in a way, that the Lord is calling me to bring good news to these people, just like he asked the shepherds to go and tell the whole world the Messiah has been born," Deacon O'Connor said.

He said that realization has informed his preaching in the months since.

"It obviously needs to be true and orthodox, but it needs to communicate that this news is good," Deacon O'Connor said.