Rev. William O'Neill, St. Thomas professor

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2007 - 9:59 PM

The University of St. Thomas professor helped the church and school better serve disabled parishioners.

The Rev. William O'Neill taught psychology and education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and led efforts to help his school and church better serve the disabled.

O'Neill, who established the archbishop's annual mass with disabled people in the late 1970s, died at his St. Paul apartment on Monday.

He was 81.

O'Neill held two doctorates and five master's degrees and taught at the university from 1974 to 1993, but it was his work on behalf of disabled Catholics that "was very special to his heart," said Joan Chandler, a retired registrar at the University.

O'Neill worked with parishes to make their Catholic education programs more accessible to disabled people, said Gene Scapanski, vice president for mission at St. Thomas.

Scapanski said that O'Neill made parishes aware 30 years ago that the disabled sometimes "need special assistance in worshiping."

O'Neill helped Mark Thomford of St. Paul with his confirmation. Thomford, a former special education student, will serve as an altar boy at O'Neill's funeral.

"He was a lovable, kind person, who helped me to become a Catholic. He was a friend to all of us who will miss him," said Thomford.

O'Neill also taught classes in spirituality and served as a spiritual counselor to seminarians and other Catholics seeking a deeper spiritual awareness. O'Neill was a lifelong student, as well. He earned a doctorate in human development and guidance at New York's Columbia University in 1980, and another in special education at New York's Yeshiva University in 1981.

In retirement, O'Neill worked on scholarly bibliographies around the mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. He also continued his work at the university serving disabled people.

After he was ordained in 1952, O'Neill served as a pastor in Columbus, Ohio, before becoming an Air Force chaplain from 1956 to 1960.

He taught at Calumet College in East Chicago, Ind., for five years before joining the St. Thomas faculty. While in the Twin Cities, he also performed pastoral duties at St. Clement's parish in northeast Minneapolis.

O'Neill is survived by brothers, Jack of Dubuque, Iowa; Robert of Janesville, Wis., and Gerald of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.; sisters Marietta Halpin of Prairie du Chien, Wis.; and Sister Catherine of La Crosse, Wis., and 40 nieces and nephews.

His funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2115 Summit Av., University of St. Thomas, St. Paul.

Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at O'Halloran and Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling, St. Paul.

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