Fr. O’Brien came to the university in 1962 to teach philosophy. It was his first assignment as a Jesuit. Fifty years later, Fr. O’Brien still cherishes his career at the university.
“One version is they lost my records at the headquarters in Baltimore, they didn’t know I was here and that I managed to stay under the radar for 50 years,” the 85-year-old joked.
“There have been times when some other position would come up elsewhere and I would say, ‘What do you think? Is it time for a change?’ In every case, I would say, ‘Maybe you should just stay here and do what you’re doing,’” Fr. O’Brien recalled.
The university recently honored the Pennsylvania native in a president’s dinner and award ceremony. Fr. O’Brien said his favorite part about Wheeling Jesuit is its small community.
“It’s a lot more different than some of the other Jesuit colleges in the area,” he said. “I think it’s being able to interact with people in a more face-to-face way.”
In addition to his other duties at the university, he also takes students on Appalachian Experience service trips sometimes up to three times a year.
Fr. O’Brien said one of Wheeling Jesuit’s main focuses is on its students.
“We help students find themselves and we make them ready not just to get good jobs but to take the talents they have and put it to good use for themselves and others,” Fr. O’Brien said.
Fr. O’Brien graduated in 1940 from the Most Blessed Sacrament Parochial School in Philadelphia and graduated four years later from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.
He later attended St. Joseph’s College and ended up going into the Navy Reserve. From there, he decided to go into the seminary. He taught three years at Baltimore Jesuit High School while studying theology.
Two years after becoming ordained, Fr. O’Brien was assigned to Wheeling Jesuit University, where he focused on teaching and campus ministry.
“The whole spirituality helped me, and at the time I was still working on my dissertation,” Fr. O’Brien said.
Although he says he didn’t make much progress at first, Fr. O’Brien said he obtained his doctorate in the 1980s from Duquesne University.
Raised in a religious environment, Fr. O’Brien said he always thought about going into the seminary for his career. His love for his work has carried on.
“Why do people stay married 50 years? Why do people choose to be doctors, lawyers or teachers? Somehow, or another, it’s not just external, but it builds up on circumstances,” he said.
“It’s not like climbing Everest. It’s more like, Here’s your life.’ You’re taking steps. That’s not to say it’s no great achievement. It’s rather a kind of gift the way it comes about.”