Everybody called him Jack
or to distinguish the Jack’s in the pack – Jack O’Neill,
Reverend and commissioned officer, US Naval Reserve.
I only once heard him called Fr O’Neill,
self-described, when preaching a sermon.
He seemed to know about temptation,
its co-dependence on opportunity
and always gave a good sermon.
But this was the best –
at midnight Mass
in broad daylight: Antarctica, mid-1980’s.
He made the expected quip
telling folks back home he’d celebrated midnight Mass –
“I’m supposed to speak about Christmas
how it endures through the years
I’m gonna to speak about Christmas last year.”
He had been asked to lend hand at a nearby parish
a knockabout area with a flickering congregation
steady throughout the year
congested at Easter, road block at Christmas
could he? “ Sure.”
The local priest introduced him
then gave an update,
on a local family,
the mother ill, in hospital.
The father worked long, low paid hours
the women of the parish had organised meals and after-school care.
One noted the absence of Christmas presents
so …… gifts had been arranged
another … there were no holiday plans
so … money had been raised.
He thanked their efforts
and was hopeful they might end in mid February
“ and now Fr O’Neill will tell you about Christmas.”