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A Parish Priest with a Global Reach

Monsignor Lawrence O'LearyMonsignor Lawrence O’Leary: 1927 – 2012

St. Martin of Tours’ beloved pastor emeritus, Monsignor Lawrence O’Leary, passed away on May 17, 2012. He is survived by his sister, Sr. Jean O’Leary, C.S.J.
Archbishop Jose Gomez presided at the funeral mass, concelebrated with Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Bishop Edward Clark, and a number of priests. St. Martin of Tours Church was filled to capacity with parishioners, members of the clergy, loved ones and friends who came to pay their respects.

In his homily, Bishop Joseph Sartoris portrayed a priest who not only impacted the lives of those in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but also the lives of many around the globe. The dynamic trajectory of his life’s work came as a surprise to some who thought they knew this quiet, humble priest.

After his orA great welcome by the village people in  the highlands of Papua New Guineadination in 1953, Monsignor O’ Leary held numerous positions of responsibility in nine parishes throughout the Archdiocese, including St. Martin of Tours, where he spent twenty-five years as pastor prior to his retirement in 2003. He also worked in the Marriage Tribunal as a notary for nearly six years, working with couples who were unhappy in their marriages.

Concurrent with his pastoral duties, he was also given responsibilities in the Archdiocese’s Mission Office — as Associate Director, then Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Holy Childhood Association and the Lay-Mission Helpers Association.

The latter was an organization that sent professional men and women with technical, medical, and educational expertise to help people in mission countries around the world. Monsignor recruited and trained volunteers who in turn trained the local people in these professions. He helped establish and staff schools, clinics, and hospitals — a tuberculosis sanatorium in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a radio station in Bolivia, even a leper colony in Southeast Asia.

In his twenty-five years with the Lay-Mission Helpers Association, he was responsible for supervising as many as 130 recruits working in Third World countries, visiting them on location at least once a year, then returning home to his parish duties.

He said that traveling the globe in his work for the Mission Office gave him “an appreciation of different ways of life.†His objective was “not to change the culture, but to improve it…so these people could live a normal lifespan decently through medicine and education.â€
After serving eight Los Angeles parishes, Monsignor arrived at St. Martin of Tours Church in March of 1979. He found Brentwood’s only Catholic parish rundown and the existing buildings in need of extensive repairs. When lay teachers replaced most of the nuns who had taught at St. Martin of Tours School, the convent property was vacated. Zoned only for residential use, the property could not be used for school purposes.

At the same time, Monsignor O’Leary recognized that a parish center was needed to accommodate church and school programs, but the parish could neither afford to construct a new building nor repair the rest of the property. Consequently in June 1980, the Archdiocese gave Monsignor orders to sell the convent property to fund the construction of the parish center, remodel the church, and improve the school. His vision and courage helped him carry out these major construction projects while managing the parish.

After his retirement in 2003, Monsignor had time to enjoy a slower pace – reading, swimming, and listening to classical music. Health issues and suffering took a toll throughout his life, particularly at the end, but he was not one to complain. His legacy lives on under Father Ben Le’s strong leadership and Fr. Donal Keohane’s active involvement. St. Martin of Tours School, the jewel in the crown, continues to excel under the expert direction of Principal Cecile Oswald. Monsignor O’Leary will be sorely missed, but his indelible mark on the parish will long endure.

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