A man of great distinction, our closest family friend since before I was born and a dedicated, compelling advocate for the disability recovery aid infrastructure of our Intuitive Community Network, recently passed unexpectedly, a day before Christmas Eve this December 2023.
His name is Jim —
Fr. James Aloysius Shea O'Brien, SJ.
Jim has been like a second father or grandfather to me, a community father in the truest sense, and deeply dear to us. He was 96 years young, a bright light, and a living prayer.
He committed tremendous time, love, and physical exertion to helping us, far more than almost anyone in our greater geographical region or in the whole world.
He treated my father as a brother and showed up for my mother and father, my sister and me, in life-changing ways. My mother and father and I have relied profoundly upon his kindness, insight, companionship, and collaboratorship for many years.
We saved one another's lives repeatedly.
Fr. Jim supported us both practically and emotionally at critical times, often in contact daily, even when he had other serious commitments to attend to.
For long periods and especially recently he committed sessions of several hours at a time, twice a week, to helping us develop and implement solutions for the otherwise-impossible situations we and our community network have been experiencing — even during the most horrible of his own physical suffering.
He was one of very few recognizing our circumstances and the circumstances of the Intuitive Network, and dedicated his time and care to doing everything in his power to help us.
He did this for many years, even though he had very little and was himself very severely disabled, experiencing tremendous physical pain and debility.
And it was not only our family that he helped in ways like these — he extended this kind of deliberate attunement to everyone around him.
There's a lot more I want to say; recordings we made or planned together that I want to publish; video clips, conversational excerpts, collaborative projects, and visions forward from Jim's time with us that are all especially present now in this time of transition.
Truly, the whole world has changed for all of us.
I'm going to take this first step.
I'll tell you more as we go.
Thank you for being here with us, Jim.
We know of no one anywhere who achieved what you did with such patience, kindness, and courage; so deeply caring for the world and those around you.
And we know that… in a slightly different way now… you're still doing it.
We are all stronger, more faithful, and more loving for your part in it.
Megan Elizabeth Morris
Intuitive Public Radio & the
Intuitive Community Network
"WHEELING — The Rev. James O’Brien — the longest-serving Jesuit priest at Wheeling University and a recent inductee into the Wheeling Hall of Fame — died Saturday at age 96, the university announced over the holiday weekend.
Those who knew him remembered him for his faith, love of others and devotion to his community.” —Jocelyn King, The Times Leader (27 December 2023)
“The life and ministry of Father James O’Brien, SJ, left an indelible mark on Wheeling University that will be felt for years to come. We give thanks to God for his vocation, and join university staff and students in mourning his loss.”
— Tim Bishop, director of communications and marketing for the Diocese, quoted in The Times Leader (27 December 2023)
“It is with a heavy heart that I share the heartbreaking news of the passing of our beloved, Reverend James O’Brien, S.J., a devoted servant of God and cherished member of our community.
Father O’Brien lived a truly beautiful life. His unshakeable faith, his deep love, and his tireless service made him a guiding light for us all.
We are all better people today because of him. His gentle words, unwavering belief, and infectious kindness touched countless lives, leaving a lasting imprint on our hearts. In the coming days, we will share details regarding arrangements to celebrate his remarkable life. For now, let us hold Father O’Brien and his family in our thoughts and prayers.
May God bless him, keep him, and grant him eternal rest.”
— WU President Ginny Favede, quoted in The Times Leader (27 December 2023)
"Each year during Alumni Weekend, the Alumni Council presents the James O’Brien, S.J. Award to recent graduates who manifest a growing competence in their chosen field, and whose personal life reflects the university’s mission of educating 'men and women for life, leadership and service to others.'" —Jocelyn King, The Times Leader (27 December 2023)
"Information from the Wheeling Hall of Fame states that O’Brien first came to what is now Wheeling University in 1962 as a young Jesuit to teach philosophy. A few years later, he would take an academic leave of absence to complete work on his doctorate at Duquesne University.
He organized the first Appalachian Experience Club in 1978 to help those in need in southern West Virginia. O’Brien, along with students, would chop wood to heat the homes of the less fortunate and enjoy the rural setting each fall and spring break. While the club no longer exists, its mission, to serve others, has blossomed into the university’s Appalachian Institute.
Now in its 21st year, the institute continues to promote research, service and advocacy with the people of the region." —Jocelyn King, The Times Leader (27 December 2023)
The above plaque honoring Jim’s contributions for the Wheeling Hall of Fame reads:
Rev. James A. O’Brien, S.J. • 1927 - • (Education and Religion) • One of eight children born to James and Julia O’Brien, he was ordained a priest in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Loyola University, Chicago. In 1962, the young and longest serving Jesuit priest arrived at Wheeling College to teach philosophy. The 1970s Appalachian Bishops Pastoral Letter served as a call to action for him. He organized the first Appalachian Experience Student Club in 1978 to help those in need in southern West Virginia. Father O’Brien is quoted saying, “There is a line in an old verse that says one should ‘live by the side of the road and be a friend to those who pass by.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do — be a faithful person to God and others.”
"Jim was the only inductee out of eleven given a standing ovation and it was before he even said a word. Which is because he has so many more afterdays (96 years worth) than the rest of us, they have miraculously transubstantiated into stem-cell-like beforedays." — Dr. Roger Morris, long-time friend and collaborator, in a conversation after attending Wheeling Hall of Fame induction celebration for Fr. Jim
"At that Hall of Fame ceremony, O’Brien challenged the audience at the end of each day to ask themselves not what they did, but why they did it.
'Why did I talk to the kids that way?” O’Brien said. “Why, as so many of my neighbors would do, when the husband of the family down the street would die suddenly, there would be four dinners on the back porch? How close was I to the purpose of my life? The purpose of all our lives is to grow.'"