New Head for Columbans
9th October 2012 - by Ellen Teague
Father Kevin O’Neill was elected as the new superior general of the Missionary Society of St. Columban.
On 27 September, at the society’s six-yearly general assembly held in Los Angeles, the United States of America (US). Forty-nine-year-old Father O’Neill will replace Father Tommy Murphy as the superior general of the only international missionary society to base its superior general and council in Hong Kong. He will reside at the society’s headquarters in Ma Yau Tong Village, Tseung Kwan O.
Born in Australia, Father O’Neill grew up in Geelong, an industrial satellite city to Melbourne and the home base of the automotive giant, Ford Australia. The O’Neill family lived in the suburb of Manifold Heights, a sign of the extent of the dominance of the industrial giant over life in the city.
Born in 1962, he is one of six children. He studied chemical engineering before joining the Columbans in 1984 and was ordained in 1992 by Bishop Peter Connors in the parish church where he grew up. The son of John and Ruth O’Neill, he has a twin brother, Peter, who is a Columban priest in Taiwan, and a sister, Kate, who is a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions and currently stationed in Manila, The Philippines.
Father O’Neill worked in Taiwan after ordination until 2000, when he was elected as a member of the superior general’s council, then located in Ireland. In 2006, he transferred to China, where he has lived since that time.
“I am both humbled and honoured to be called forth by my fellow Columban missionaries to lead for the next six years,” he said after his election. “Our world is still in need of missionaries who cross boundaries of countries, culture and religion. Our commitment to inter-culturality, interfaith dialogue, solidarity with the poor and the exploited is a participation in the mission of God,” he continued. “Our proclamation of the gospel of Jesus challenges us to build communities of peace. While continuing to work in all the countries where there are Columban missionaries, we have decided to strengthen our presence in China and our engagement in Christian-Muslim dialogue,” Father O’Neill continued.
He will begin his work as superior general with a completely new council. Former members, Father Trevor Trotter, Father Eamon Sheridan and Father John Burger have all stepped down from their positions. Their places will be taken by American Father Arturo Aguilar, who was ordained in 1984 and is currently the director of the US region; Father Pat Colgan, from Northern Ireland, who has been in Fiji since his ordination in 1994; and Filipino Father Darwin Bayaca, who has worked mostly in China and his home country since his ordination in 2005.
Outgoing superior general, Father Murphy, was responsible for making the move of the society headquarters to Hong Kong and describes it as a major development for the society. “We made the move because almost all new members of the society are now coming from the Pacific Rim countries; Korea, The Philippines, Fiji, Chile and Peru,” Father Murphy explained. He added that in addition, almost all of the 49 lay missionaries currently working with the society are from these countries as well, and the former council believed that moving to a place like Hong Kong better reflected the new reality of the society.
“Father O’Neill has long experience of working in a collaborative manner with both the ordained and the lay missionaries,” Father Murphy continued. “This will be an invaluable background experience for him in his new job.”