Removed Priest Served As Police, Fire Chaplain
Rev. O'Connor: Diocese Offers Counseling to Parishioners

The Herald News
May 21, 2002

He prayed for fallen police officers.

He was chaplain for the Will County Sheriff's Department from 1984 to 1999.

Now, the priest known as Father "O" is the 11th priest associated with the Joliet Diocese to be removed from public ministry in recent weeks because of sexual abuse allegations.

The Rev. Donald O'Connor, 65, who served at several parishes within the diocese, was removed Saturday after admitting that he sexually abused an adolescent boy more than 30 years ago, said Sister Judith Davies, the diocese's chancellor. Church officials learned of the allegation May 14.

The weekend's announcement stunned parishioners at the Coal City church and others who know O'Connor.

"I am shocked," said Lt. Nick Ficarello of the sheriff's department. "I didn't know him well, but I am a Catholic and said, 'Hi,' whenever I ran into him."

Ficarello is facing the fact that this is the second area priest he knows who has been accused of sexual misconduct. He was married by the Rev. Edward Poff, who also served at one time at St. Bernard's and was recently removed from public ministry.

"It is terrible what is going on," Ficerallo said.

O'Connor was chaplain for 266 sworn officers and 69 correctional officers at the county. He was no stranger to working with police and fire officials. A 1984 Herald News story said he had once served as chaplain to the Braidwood Fire Department and the Wilmington Police Department.

Meeting tonight

The diocese said that counselors from Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet will meet with parishioners at 7 tonight in the Parish Center of Assumption Parish, 245 S. Kankakee St., Coal City. Bishop Joseph Imesch, head of the Joliet Diocese, and Davies also will attend to respond to parishioners' questions and concerns.

The man that O'Connor admitted to molesting was prompted to come forward by a recent letter that Imesch sent parishioners encouraging them to report sexual misconduct by priests.

"It's clear that the letter is doing what it's supposed to do," Davies said.

With 11 priests now removed from ministries in recent weeks, the Joliet Diocese ranks among U.S. dioceses with the highest percentages of priest removals. The Joliet Diocese serves about 600,000 Catholics in 192 parishes. By comparison, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, has removed seven priests from its 284 parishes serving 3.6 million Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Boston, the center of the crisis in the Catholic Church, has removed about 80 priests over the past 10 years because of abuse allegations.

In the past decade, at least 22 priests in the Diocese of Joliet have been named in criminal or civil court cases or removed from their ministries because of sexual abuse allegations.

O'Connor served at St. Rose in Wilmington from 1964 to 1966 and 1970 to 1975. From 1966 to 1967 he served at Sacred Heart in Lombard. From 1967 to 1970, he was associate pastor at Assumption Catholic Church in Coal City. He served at Immaculate Conception in Braidwood from 1975 to 1987 and St. Bernard's in Joliet from 1987 to 1999. He went back to Assumption Catholic Church in 1999 when he was appointed head pastor at the Grundy County church.

O'Connor celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his ordination at St. Bernard's Church in May 1999. In 1992, O'Connor was co-celebrant of a Mass to honor local police officers killed in the line of duty.

Staff reporters Kim Smith and Ted Slowik and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.