One of Australia’s most influential Catholics who had a huge heart for the poor has been commemorated with a bronze sculpture at St Patrick’s at Church Hill.
Charles Gordon O’Neill was a Scottish-born engineer who was instrumental in establishing the St Vincent de Paul Society in New Zealand and Australia during the late 1800s.
By 1891 when O’Neill resigned from Society leadership, Vinnies had 20 active conferences with more than 300 members making almost 11,000 visits to people in need each year.
The parishioner at St Patrick’s Church Hill was dogged by destitution in his later years, and requested that his body be buried in the Society’s section for the poor at Rookwood cemetery.
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Terry Brady blessed the bust of Charles O’Neill after Mass on 9 November attended by representatives of St Vincent de Paul Society’s including the NSW president Dennis Walsh, NSW CEO Jack de Groot, and NSW director of mission Leo Tucker.
The bust is one of two that were made by the Society, one for St Patrick’s and the other for the Charles O’Neill walk at Rookwood cemetery.
It is the first of several sculptures commemorating historically significant parishioners which will be located along the eastern external wall of the church, said St Patrick’s parish priest Fr Michael Whelan SM.
Among those honoured will be Aboriginal leaders Bennelong and Barangaroo, the first parish priest, Archdeacon John McEncroe, and first Marist parish priest Fr Joseph Monnier.
Fr Whelan said there was a strong connection between the parish, Charles O’Neill, and the St Vincent de Paul Society.
“Charles came to Sydney and wanted to set up a conference of the Society here, and the parish priest at the time Fr Charles Heuze SM helped him to set up the first conference of the Society in NSW,” he said.
Mr Walsh said that Charles O’Neill is a reminder to anyone in NSW that they too can make a real and lasting impact in their communities.
“His story is about putting your faith and values into action,” he said.
“The St Vincent de Paul Society that Charles introduced to Australia continues to assist the most vulnerable in our community, and our members continue to be the backbone of this transformative work.
“As we remember the life and legacy of an ordinary man in Charles O’Neill, we call on parishioners across NSW to consider becoming members in their local Conference and to make a difference today”.