07 February 2019, The Tablet

Daniel O’Leary and me

Daniel O’Leary and me

A friend remembers a pastor whose profound imagination made him such an unconventional parish priest to hundreds and powerful spiritual mentor to tens of thousands more

In the numb moments after I heard that Daniel O’Leary had died, I closed my eyes and tried to see him again. Raw with grief, I didn’t picture him saying Mass to a packed congregation, or delivering a talk to a grateful group; I didn’t even imagine him toasting us with a glass of wine or Guinness.

Rather, I found myself seeing a silhouette half-concealed in the shrubbery of the driveway outside the presbytery of St Wilfrid’s Church, Ripon, where Daniel had been parish priest between 2000 and 2005. This shape in the shrubbery was Raymond, an ex-con and “gentleman of the road”.

When I visited Daniel, Raymond would often step out of the shrubbery and ask: “Is he in yet?” Frequently drunk, regularly argumentative, often grizzled with pain, Raymond was never far from Daniel. He’d come to Mass, sometimes reeking of booze; he’d materialise when Daniel was strolling about town; and he’d stand for long hours in the presbytery shrubbery waiting for a chat, a feed and his bus fare back to Leeds.

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