Father Peter is the beloved retired priest and former associate pastor at OLA who resides at PIlgrim Place just across Harrison Avenue from the OLA campus. He is often seen astride his bicycle wheeling around town, having acquired the propensity to enjoy fresh air and exercise in his native Ireland. He is the youngest of nine siblings in a family from central Ireland and visits his hometown several times a year, in addition to other travel in retirement.
Fr. O'Reilly was assigned to the Archdiocese in Los Angeles from the beginning of his seminary training at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin. He was ordained June 18, 1961, and began his service in Los Angeles on Aug. 2. His most recent assignment before retirement was as pastor of the newly-formed parish of St. Maximiliam Kolbe in Westlake Village from 1992 to 2005. He gathered the new faith community under the banner "We Are Church" as they celebrated Mass in a local auditorium and later, as the community grew, in a shopping center. Together they built a beautiful new church which was dedicated March 19, 2000. Other previous assignments for Fr. O'Reilly include Nativity Parish (1984-92) and St. Brendan Parish (1982-84). He was associate pastor at OLA from 1977 to 1982 and is remembered, among many contributions of love and service, for his involvement with OLA School, his wonderful homilies, and his interest in liturgy which led to the founding of the OLA LIturgy Committee.
Today he serves the people of OLA in a variety of ways and presides at Mass regularly. He also says Mass at a local detention camp for troubled youth. In retirement, Father Peter is free to pursue his interests in gardening and continuing education at the Claremont Colleges.
Autobiography of Peter Anthony O'Reilly
I was born on October 19,1934, the youngest of nine children of Peter and Bridget Leavy-O'Reilly. My middle name is Anthony, a name chosen by my mother who had a great devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. My family lived on a small farm in the center of Ireland. The unexpected death of my father in 1937 was a devastating blow, coming as it did in the midst of the depression and with the clouds of WW II gathering ominously on the horizon.
Soon after the death of my father, I became seriously ill and was rushed to the local hospital by the local parish priest. I believe that his kindness may well have been the beginning of my journey to the priesthood.
After high school, I went to All Hallows Seminary in Dublin. The seminary was founded in 1842, to provide priests for the many Irish people who were emigrating in great numbers at that time. I was ordained on June 18, 1961, and came to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the beginning of August of that year. My first assignment was to St. John the Evangelist church, in Los Angeles, a large, middle class parish, where I spent five years getting slowly used to a world very different from what I had known.
My next assignment was to an area and parishioners very different from my first appointment, Good Shepherd Parish, in Beverly Hills. By this time, the decrees of Vatican II (1962-1965) were beginning to take effect. Vernacular languages were to be the norm from now on, a shock to all of us who had studied and prayed in a language known to a few but a mystery to the vast majority of people. Latin was no longer to be the language of worship in the western church. It seemed to me then that almost 1800 years of history had been jettisoned and, with them, a whole way of understanding the world and one's place in it. At the same time, the Civil Rights movement (Woodstock and all that!) challenged all social structures and called into question the validity and relevance of old and time-tested verities. Like most of my confreres, I felt somewhat like the young Hamlet, confused, disoriented and somewhat resentful: "The time is our of joint: O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right."
A chance statement of a former classmate provided a way out of the confusion and uncertainty of the world now being born. "People today do not get their theology or meaning of life from text books" he said to me. "They get them from plays, novels and especially the world of film. Go back to school as you always wanted to do and read what Camus, Joyce, Eugene O'Neill, even Shakespeare, had to say about life and our place in the scheme of things."
It was probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. I entered into the Masters Program in English Language and Literature, at Loyola University, in the summer of 1968. By a lucky coincidence, my first course at the university was on "God and Man in Modern Literature." I was beginning to find my bearings in a sea that had threatened to swamp my boat of faith.
The time in the classroom was not a retreat into the arcane world of academia, but a great opportunity to recast the message of Jesus in ways that served the Apostles to the Gentiles so very well. This came into play, providentially I might add, when I was called out to the scene of the Sharon Tate murders and later had to speak at her funeral. Ever since then, I have marveled at the ability of religion (Re-ligare = to bind back or again, a bond between God and us: Latin was still useful!) to bind into a meaningful unity the disparate and often tragic events of life.
I taught English Literature in St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, but returned within one year to parish work, always my first love. My next appointment was to a very poor, largely Afro-Ameican parish near central Los Angeles, Holy Spirit. "You have to hug us", one of the men of the parish told me soon after my arrival, "or we will never believe you love us." Faith becomes meaningful, he seemed to say to me, only when it is mediated through the human, especially when it speaks to the heart. His piece of advice has served me well down the years.
During the next twenty years, I served I served at American Martyrs, Manhattan Beach, Our Lady of the Assumption, Claremont, St. Brendan, Los Angeles and Nativity, El Monte. The last-named was my first pastorate.
The five and one half years I spent at OLA gave me the opportunity to pursue a Doctorate in Ministry degree. I was happy to be close to Pilgrim Place at that time, especially its festivals, though I had no intention then of growing old and certainly not of retiring. But that has all changed and I am glad for the new-found realism that the years have brought with them.
In 1992, I was asked to develop a new parish in Thousand Oaks named after a Franciscan priest murdered in Auschwitz (August 14, 1941) concentration camp: St. Maximilian Kolbe. The experience of leading a new parish forced me to rethink my whole way of understanding Church, especially my own place in it. The people were the Church, not a building; we were already Church, the Ecclesia (assembly, a people of Faith called together in worship) mentioned in the New Testament. We adopted the motto, "We are Church; together we build."
On March 19, 2000 (Feast of St. Joseph), we dedicated our new spiritual home. When we started the building in 1998, we set out with the conviction that the structure should reflect who and what we were. The building would fit us, not we the building. We were fortunate to find an architect who understood us and planned a structure that reflected our sense of being a family of faith.
The basic design was that of a village to which we all came together. In the middle of the gathering space, we placed a labyrinth (an ancient symbol of journey) that we copied from one in Chartres Cathedral, France. We added one feature that is not in the original, a Chi-Rho at the center. This was intended to reflected in visual form the statement of Jesus that, "I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." (John 14: 6). Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we may not always recognize him, but he is always the companion on our way to the Father.
In 2005, at the age of 70 and after 44 years in parish work, I retired from active parish ministry, though not really. I am still active in Our Lady of the Assumption and help out in the neighboring parishes of St. Anthony, Upland, and Our Lady of Lourdes, Montclair. I also act as part-time chaplain to the three juvenile camps above San Dimas (Afflerbaugh, Paige and Rocky), where I offer Mass for the young men serving time there.
Born in Abbeylara parish, central Ireland, on October 19, 1934
Siblings: Maureen, Terence, Thomas, Ned, Bridget, Philomena, Monica and Carmel.
St. Bernard Elementary, Abbeylara; St. Mel Secondary, Longford.
Attended All Hallows Seminary, Dublin (1954-1961)University College, Dublin (1954-1957)
Ordained on June 18, 1961
Appointed to St. John the Evangelist Parish, Los Angeles (1961-1966)
Good Shepherd Parish, Beverly Hills (1966-1970)
Holy Spirit Parish, Los Angeles (1970-1972)
taught English, St. John Seminary College, Camarillo, for one year.
American Martyrs Parish, Manhattan Beach (1972-1977)
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Claremont (1977-1982); School of Theology, Claremont (D. Min)
St. Brendan Parish, Los Angeles (1982-1984)
Nativity Parish, El Monte (1984-1992)
St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Thousand Oaks (1992-2005)
Retired to Pilgrim Place, Claremont (February, 2007)
Moved to St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, Redondo Beach (April, 2017)