The Greatest Gift I Was Ever Given

July 18, 2011

Embracing Life

My mom came over the other day. She was touched by Fr. Michael O’Sullivan’s homily at Assumption Church. This priest’s name probably doesn’t ring a bell, and that’s because Father is a missionary, working in Tanzania for the last 14 years. But the story my mom heard actually takes place in Father’s homeland of Ireland. It’s about a famous athlete and his son who was born with Down syndrome.  I had the pleasure of meeting Father O’Sullivan at Joseph’s Restaurant and he gave me permission to share an excerpt of this homily with you.

 A Wee Bit of Father O’Sullivan’s Homily:

Courtesy of footystamps.com

Growing up in County Kerry in the 60’s, Mick O’Connell, a Kerry Gaelic Footballer known as “Micko,” was our boyhood hero…….. and the way he played football was to us very magical.  No one else on the planet could rise up and pull down the ball from the skies. We all wanted to play like him and we’d often pretend to be like him as we played on the local football field.

In 1972 he married Rosaleen, and they had three children: Máire, Mícheál and Diarmuid. For Micko and Rosaleen, the news that their youngest son, Diarmuid, had Down’s syndrome was a very disturbing experience. Their hopes and dreams dashed and it caused them to “weep together.”  But since then, their hearts have turned to happiness and a deep love for their special son. “Now,” says Mick, “we weep with joy.”  He describes Diarmuid as a great friend, and considers him the “greatest gift I was ever given.”

“There are times that I’m away, if I just speak to him on the phone or just think about him, it’s something that gives me great joy and happiness.” Diarmuid became for Micko the light of his life. Apparently the mere mention of his name brings jubilation to this great man.

“He has brought untold joy into our lives and we love him dearly,” says Micko whenever he is interviewed.

 Assisting People With Down Syndrome

Father O’Sullivan has something in common with his hero, Mick O’Connell– Both gentlemen are involved with helping those with Down syndrome.

“My wife is deeply involved with raising funds for the handicapped on the island and I support her as much as I can,” Mick O’Connell said. He and Rosaleen worked to establish a residential and training facility, called Tíg An Oilean, on Valentia Island which is off the west coast of Ireland– and from whence Micko would row a fishing boat to the mainland for school and ball practice.  They donated the land for the building and they also devote a good deal of  time fundraising for it.

Father O’Sullivan ended his homily saying the following about Micko’s generosity: “This facility is located, indeed, on Michael’s own land–on the very field on which he was raised and honed his immaculate and unequalled skills. It is a place that enables Diarmuid, now in his 30s, and his friends who have Down syndrome to live life to the full in their native place among a community which Rosaleen describes as, ‘the salt of the earth.’ ”

Below the Equator from Ireland lies Arusha, Tanzania–the town in which Fr. O’Sullivan formed his parish. He and his workers have set up a local support group for children living with disabilities and their families, including many with Down syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. He told me, “We have 65 children attending weekly therapy sessions with a volunteer from Ireland. We have planned to set up a creche in the new centre we are building to give the parents and ‘carers’ some time so that they are not overwhelmed by their situation. Living in a society where disability is still a taboo can be a very lonely place.”

Father Michael O’Sullivan is saying Masses at Assumption for the month of July. If you happen to see him, tell him, “Tanks a tousand!” According to the priest, it’s how the Irish say ‘Thanks a thousand.’ He and Micko’s family–and other heroes who embrace life–need to know how much we appreciate their beautiful work!

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About Kathy Schneeman

After graduating from The College of St. Thomas, I taught at Nativity in St. Paul until our oldest was just about born in the classroom (What a great lesson on life that would have been for my students!) I then became a stay-at-home-mom while teaching religious education classes and working very part time at UST. Recently, I served as the Archdiocese's Life Coordinator in the Office for Marriage, Family and Life until twins arrived (I was almost 43!) When I have a few minutes of quiet time, I like to run, eat chocolates, scones and Mexican food (that's why I run), read, and have a beverage with my husband at night. We have a whopping nine kids (yes...same husband and same wife; we get that question a lot!) and we attend St. Joseph's in West St. Paul--where we first met when we were in grade school.

View all posts by Kathy Schneeman
  • Great piece, Kathy.

    • Kathyschneeman

      Thanks, Caryn. It was fun to write!

  • Sharon

    Great to see you writing!!! Congrats!

    • Kathyschneeman

      Thanks so much!

  • Becky

    You should have heard him yesterday (July 31). Amazing. A good soul.

    • Kathyschneeman

      Thank you for your comment, Becky!

      We did not attend Assumption on Sunday (Fr. Lannan gave a lovely homily at our parish, too–St. Joseph WSP.)

      I’m glad many people were able to get to know Fr. O’Sullivan this past month while he assisted Fr. O’Gara. It is lovely that he shared his many stories with us here in Minnesota, and it was important for us to learn about his mission work. He is a blessing!

  • Tracy Dougherty

    Kathy, I am writing to tell you I am just back from visiting Fr. Mike O’Sullivan in Tanzania. I visited the new rehabilitation building used to facilitate rehab and therapy for these children suffering from Down’s Syndrome, among other illnesses. It is a wonderful facility. There is a woman, Claire, from Ireland, who truly is dedicating her life at the moment to these kids. She is training a couple local women to work with her to help with the therapy. The mothers and other caregivers are there also to assist. I have some pictures of the facility, but having trouble attaching them Below is one that I could attach.

    Thanks for your article.