Jesuit Father Robert E. O’Brien, priest, teacher and administrator, died at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, N.Y., on Oct. 19, 2013. Born in the Bronx on Aug. 1, 1923, of John M. and Margaret A (Holland) O’Brien, he was 90 years old, a Jesuit for 70 years and a priest for 59 years.
He graduated from Fordham Prep in 1941 and remained at Rose Hill where he completed one and one half years of college at Fordham University. He proceeded to the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., entering on Feb. 1, 1943. Following his novitiate and one year of collegiate studies at Poughkeepsie, he traveled south to study philosophy at Woodstock College in Woodstock, Md., from 1945 to 1948. He received the Licentiate in Philosophy degree (Ph.L.) in 1948.As a scholastic in his regency, he taught Latin and Greek at Scranton University from 1948 to 1950, followed by one year teaching philosophy at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y. He then returned to study theology at Woodstock College (1951-55), earning his S.T.L. (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) degree in June 1955. He was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Spellman at the Fordham University Church on June 19, 1954. Following his year as a Tertian at Pomfret, Conn., (1955-56) he crossed the ocean for graduate studies in philosophy at the University of Louvain. Receiving his doctorate in 1959 with a dissertation on First Principles in St. Thomas Aquinas, he began many years of teaching and administration at the college level.
From 1956 to 1965 he taught philosophy and psychology at Canisius College and also served as Chair of the Department of Philosophy. In 1965 he moved to St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J., again serving as teacher and chairman, this time of the Theology Department. With his skill and experience in administration in 1968 he was appointed to be Dean of the Faculty of Woodstock College, which was in the process of moving from rural Maryland to New York City. This involved making ecumenical and educational links with various institutions in Morningside Heights, New York City. It meant opening the college to non-Jesuit students as well as arranging cross-registration of Woodstock students into the graduate institutions on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He remained involved with Woodstock until it was closed in 1973. He continued to live with the Woodstock Jesuit Community from 1973 to 1975 while serving as Dean of Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y.As a respected and much-appreciated teacher, he returned to the classroom at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and taught philosophy there while also at times serving as Department Chair from 1975 to 1993. He also assisted in the creation of a Faculty Senate and served as its first president. As a resident chaplain, he counseled students and presided over liturgical celebrations with the college community. After many years in the classroom and in administration at the college and graduate school level, he focused on priestly pastoral ministry as an associate pastor at Holy Family Church in New York City. He continued this pastoral ministry at St. Ignatius Church in New York in 1998, guiding Bible discussion groups.
With declining health and diminished physical strength, he then moved to the Jesuit infirmary at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. He was permanently assigned there to pray for the Church and Society in August 2011. Even then he continued meeting with his Bible discussion group as they traveled to meet him there.
Fr. O’Brien died on Oct. 19, 2013. The Christian wake was held at the chapel of Murray-Weigel Hall on Oct. 22, and the Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Fordham University Church on Oct. 23. He was buried at the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville, N.Y. He is survived by nieces and nephews.