March 26, 2019
REST IN PEACE
James E. (Jim) O'Leary, 87. Born August 3, 1931, Kennebec, South Dakota, died March 26, 2019, Aurora, Colorado. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Jeanne Independence (Moosbrugger) O’Leary, his parents Ed and Mary, and his brothers Henry, Myles, and Paul. Jim had many occupations over the years, all in the service of others.
After serving as a Catholic priest until the mid-1960s, he pursued a Masters in Social Work which he received from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. He went on to direct the department of social services at Memorial Medical Center in Corpus Christi, Texas for many years, followed by several other jobs as a social worker, including working in the field of child protective services, also in Corpus Christi, for over a decade. After retiring in the late-1990’s, he continued to volunteer his time and many abilities in the service of others. A passionate activist throughout his life, he fought for the causes of the poor and vulnerable wherever he saw injustice. A devout Catholic and deeply spiritual man, he sought to promote the Catholic Church as a force for good in the service of the poor, while at the same time working to change the Church from within to promote values of inclusion and love for all. He is survived by his brother John, his son Sean, his daughter-in-law Sonja, his grandchildren Myles and Luz, and many cousins, nieces and nephews, many of whom considered Jim their “favorite uncle.”
A funeral Mass will be held at Cure D’Ars Catholic Church, Denver, Colorado on Saturday, April 13, at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials may be made to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Jim’s name. https://www.coloradocoalition.org
James (Jim) O’Leary
Written by Eric Sasine, 4th year medical student at the University of Colorado, as part of a medical story project called “Sages”
Jim O’Leary used to write a column in his local newspaper about stories from people in his town. It was called The Waverly Star, named after his town of Waverly west of Minneapolis. If you visit the website today, you will see a quote from Jim alongside links to his archived articles: “People we have loved and people who have loved us, not only make us more human, but they become a part of us and we carry them around all the time whether we see them or not. In some way we are the sum total of those who have loved us. And those we have given ourselves to. Every day, in my mind, I... see again the people who taught me kindness because they were kind. And see again the people who taught me honesty because they were honest.” This quote is a perfect reflection of Jim. He appreciates people and cares about what happens to everyone. These characteristics have shaped his life, prompting him to pursue service and advocacy and choosing a wife who had the same urge to help others.
Nowhere does Jim’s appreciation of others shine more than when he discusses his family. Although he was born on a farm in western South Dakota during the Great Depression, Jim says he was “spoiled terribly” by his parents and siblings. “My parents were so good. I can’t believe it. I mean, they were just totally unselfish. All they cared about was us kids.” Jim quickly mentions how grateful he is for his family at every juncture. He says that marrying his wife was one of the smartest things he ever did. He lovingly describes how his son works hard to be a great father and doctor. He boasts of his daughter-in-law’s hard work and intelligence (“her IQ is about three times higher than mine”). Jim has a habit of finding the best in others and learning from them.
His value of others is not idle. In his beliefs and in his career, Jim has been a servant of the needy and an advocate for justice. After serving as a priest in his twenties, Jim became a social worker and helped marginalized people. He conducted home evaluations for child protective services and coordinated mental health care for the homeless. Witnessing so much suffering only strengthened his desire to help. Now retired, Jim still speaks passionately about helping the needy. He decries the dismantling of social programs by presidents of both political parties and hopes the country will be kinder to immigrants. “I know people who are immigrants – illegal – and they’re such good people.”
Jim’s passion has made him unafraid to go against the grain. He welcomes progressive attitudes toward sexual orientation in his Catholic faith. “Do I ask you your sexual orientation or you ask me mine? No. Hell no. Who cares? Jesus never talked about sex.” He has even gone to the streets to protest. When a famous Evangelist who made disparaging remarks about Islam came to Jim’s town, Jim protested with a sign made by a Muslim friend. As in the rest of his life, Jim’s value of other people is the first priority in his religious life. “I really believe that all seven or eight billion of us will be with God forever. If there’s a hell, I don’t think there’s anybody in it.”
Passion for service and justice are what attracted Jim to his wife. They met when he was assigned to teach a religion course at the high school where she taught as a nun. They bonded over the problems they saw in the world. “The first time I met her I said, ‘Why aren’t there more black girls here at St. Margaret’s Academy?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, but I think it’s wrong.’” She shared Jim’s habit of helping the dispossessed, even serving in the Peace Corps overseas after being a nun.
After nearly fifty years of marriage, Jim’s wife passed away in 2017. During the final years of her life, she suffered from dementia, made worse after surviving a stroke. With the help of his family, Jim cared for her during these years. He speaks somberly of the challenges of that time, noting how hard it was when she would get lost or agitated. “She’d get up at three every morning and get outside and I’d lose her. I had to call 911 a few times.” Though challenging, he speaks with characteristic gratitude about caring for her. “I don’t regret it at all. I’m so glad I did that. I gave her some quality of life that she wouldn’t have had otherwise.” When asked what advice he would give to another person facing a similar situation, he responded, “Just be patient, is the big thing – to be terribly patient, beyond all reason.” Jim, who makes a habit of appreciating and learning from others, gives us a lot to appreciate and even more to learn.