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Cemeteries CEO Peter O’Meara remembered for courage, humour

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Bishop Terence Brady celebrated a deeply prayerful Mass for the former head of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria at the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel in Rookwood Cemetery on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bishop Terence Brady celebrated a deeply prayerful Mass for the former head of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria at the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel in Rookwood Cemetery on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Beloved CEO and family man Peter O’Meara has been farewelled by hundreds of friends and family, and leaders from civic, community and faith organisations following his sad passing on 6 June at the age of 67.

The former head of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria was remembered as a courageous and tireless advocate for the church’s mission to care for the dead and their grieving loved ones, who maintained his integrity and humour in the face of “ferocious” political opposition.

Bishop Terence Brady celebrated a deeply prayerful Mass at the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel in Rookwood Cemetery on 17 June, with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP also in attendance.

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In a service interspersed with tears and bursts of warm laughter, Bishop Brady said Mr O’Meara had become a personal friend to him over the last decade.

He praised the relationships Mr O’Meara nurtured with the different faith communities Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria serves, including the Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist communities.

“His work in breaking down barriers and connecting us together was amazing, really,” Bishop Brady said.

In March Mr O’Meara was awarded a papal knighthood for more than a decade of service at Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria.

In 2021, he successfully fought off plans by the then-NSW property minister, Melinda Pavey, to amalgamate all five Sydney cemetery trusts under one single government-controlled entity.

Prior to working for the church Mr O’Meara was the inaugural CEO of the Western Force rugby union club in Western Australia and had also held a senior management position at the Commonwealth Bank.

Mourners heard of his “twin loves”, the Catholic Church and rugby union, with many wearing blue ribbons, a Western Force team colour and also the colour of the blue cornflower symbol for motor neurone disease.

Bishop Terence Brady Incenses the coffin at the Funeral Mass for Peter O'Meara on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bishop Terence Brady Incenses the coffin at the Funeral Mass for Peter O’Meara on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Mr O’Meara was diagnosed last year with the disease and mourners were encouraged to donate to support research into the degenerative illness, which has no cure and no effective treatment.

Danny Casey, a governor of the board of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria, said in one of the eulogies that his long-time friend and colleague had been a man of “vision and courage.”

He spoke of a sharp mind, dry sense of humour and strong sense of the church’s mission that never wavered amid fierce opposition.

Joining Catholic Cemeteries in 2010 the new CEO inherited an organisation with a “long and proud history but a very uncertain future” and set about sharpening its strategy and improving skills and practices to make it the best of its kind, Mr Casey said.

“I don’t think anyone at that time knew the size of the challenges that lay ahead and as things turned out it was clear to all that we could not have made a better appointment than Peter O’Meara to take on that challenge,” Mr Casey said.

“He recognised that Catholic Cemeteries needed to support the practice of other faiths and those of no faith.

“Unlike many of our bureaucrats and a number of our politicians, who should have known better, Peter was very clear that religious groups have a role to play in honouring the dead and caring for those who’ve lost a loved one.

“He reached out to [other] faith groups and worked hard to understand their many and varied requirements to ensure Catholic cemeteries embedded these in current practice and planned for them in all future initiatives.”

In tackling Sydney’s burial crisis head-on Mr O’Meara won approval to build two new cemeteries in Sydney in Varroville and Wallacia.

“Peter’s drive to serve the community and the faith groups placed him at odds incredibly with a number of ministers and some in the bureaucracy who seemed determined to make sure that the faith-based institution would not succeed,” Mr Casey said.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP sprinkles holy water on the coffin of Peter O'Meara outside the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel in Rookwood Cemetery on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP sprinkles holy water on the coffin of Peter O’Meara outside the Mary Mother of Mercy Chapel in Rookwood Cemetery on 17 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“But Peter lent into what at times was ferocious opposition with extraordinary patience and resilience.

“Like St Paul in the face of strong opposition, Peter advocated with courage, integrity and without regard for the personal toll it was taking on him.

“While common sense has now prevailed it must be said that Peter should never have been subjected to the harassment, smears and calumny that he was subjected to at the hands of people who did know better and should have known better.”

Mr O’Meara is survived by his wife Christine, children Liam and Caitlin, daughter-in-law Dani and grandchild Thomas.

In their eulogy, Liam and Caitlin O’Meara spoke of their father as dedicated to his friends and family who led by example exemplifying generosity, humour, imagination, honesty, determination and empathy.

“He did not care where you came from, what your background, race, religion or creed was,” Ms O’Meara said.

“If you embodied these traits you would find a friend in dad or an ally—and quite often, that was for life.”

Mr O’Meara said his father maintained his sense of humour until his last day.

“He had an enviable ability to have a childish sense of humour, yet still maintain the respect of those around him.

“He said he was content with his life and that he’d lived and that gave a great sense of comfort to us.”

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