Savannah priest took life as he found it from Irish farm to gunman’s Cathedral attack

Savannah Morning News

June 26, 2020

By Jan Skutch

By his own admission, Monsignor William Oliver O’Neill is “a person who likes mischief and excitement.”

So when the retired rector at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in downtown Savannah sat down to pen his life’s stories beginning in Ireland and continuing for the past 53 years in the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, that showed through.

“Some of the stories in this collection may seem to be outlandish or hard to believe!,” he wrote in his introduction. “They are all actually true stories.”

In the recently published “Stories from Ireland and America,” available from, O’Neill writes 124 stories from his childhood on a farm near Tipperary in Ireland to his confrontation with an armed arsonist who tried to burn the Cathedral to the ground. The reader is presented with an entertaining saga — at times challenging to take at face value.

But for those who have celebrated Mass with O’Neill at the pulpit, they find a priest who sees humor in daily lives, as well as one who was dedicated to his chosen path of leading his flock to God’s message. And as a fierce critic of the church’s handling of those guilty of cleric sexual abuse.

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