Comment from Harborough churches: Father Owen O’Neill, we thank you for your great love, understanding, genuine friendship and support
Every week, Harborough churches write a column for the Harborough Mail. This week it is the turn of Janet Smith, chair of Churches Together in Harborough
When I recently saw Father Owen O’Neill, parish priest at Our Lady of Victories Church in Market Harborough, it was on Coventry Road. Only his eyes were visible, peeping over the mask that covered his face – a necessary accessory these days – but the voice that greeted me was unmistakably warm, familiar and reassuring, a voice that has been a constant presence in our town for almost two decades.
Whether walking through the streets of Market Harborough or at a meeting, Father Owen would always welcome everyone with one of his encouraging smiles and a hearty handshake. Some 55 years after his ordination, and 19 years after coming to Market Harborough, Father Owen will soon be retiring.
He has been a source of constant encouragement to many ministers and church leaders of all denominations. His gentle presence at the town’s ministers’ fellowship has always been a blessing, with the wealth of his wisdom, the warmth of his friendship, and the absolute joy of his sense of humour. Father Owen has enriched the ecumenical (inter-church) life of this town in many ways, and his hospitality at united services at his church will be fondly remembered by everyone who was able to attend.
I am not sure what he would list as being the highs and lows of his ministry here, but one thing I am certain of is the significant contribution he has made to our common life together through his ervice and witness as parish priest. Within Churches Together in Harborough he helped to cross many obstacles enabling churches to come together to serve our Lord as Christians and not just individual churches.
It isn’t always appreciated that there are many more things that unite Christians from different backgrounds and traditions than divide them. We see numerous buildings, varying forms of worship and church organisation, and different doctrinal emphases, but underlying them is a common personal and practical faith in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
Father Owen has exemplified that. He writes on his church website that, “we are determined to continue strengthening the great love, understanding, genuine friendship and support that exist between Churches Together in Harborough and district. We pray that we will continue to give witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help others to come to Him and to walk with Him on their onward journey.”
Father Owen, indeed this you have done – and more! We thank you for the “great love, understanding, genuine friendship and support” that you have shown to all the town’s churches and their leaders. Thank you too for giving us a glimpse of what God's kingdom on earth is really all about.
As you move on, we wish you well in your retirement. Your presence here will be greatly missed, and in the words of a prayer by Karen Barber, “we pray God’s continued blessings on you during this next phase of your life. May God’s Presence be with you as you choose new paths and explore new horizons.” Meanwhile, we look forward to welcoming your successor Canon Chris O’Connor in due course.
Janet Smith is chair of Churches Together in Harborough, and writes on behalf of the CTH Executive Committee
Father Owen has been a staunch supporter of inter-church activities such as the Good Friday event in the town Square. (Photo: Barry Hill)