Obituary for Wellington canonist Fr O’Dea

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There are many bishops, priests, religious and former parishioners of Fr Michael O’Dea who could more comprehensively and accurately write this obituary. What I can record here is merely one facet of Fr Michael’s many accomplishments.

I first met Michael as a fellow law student in Canada. We quickly became close friends. Then, in 1995, we both found ourselves working as canon lawyers employed by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference – Michael based in Wellington and I based in Auckland – and both of us as associate judicial vicars working under Msgr David Price, PA, the then-judicial vicar for the New Zealand Catholic Tribunal.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has emphasised communion – communion with Christ; communion among the companion-pilgrims on the journey of and to the Kingdom of God; and communion among the local churches. This concept of communion has called for the recognition of the rights of all the community of God’s faithful to be respected and protected.

In the course of his 25 years of service as a canonist, Fr Michael assisted individuals, parishes, congregations and dioceses to fully realise and appreciate the rights of all members of the Church that had been formalised and legislated for in canon law.

In the minds of most people, canon lawyers are identified as primarily working as members of a marriage curt for Catholics or those wishing to marry Catholics. Although overseeing this process, Fr Michael was frequently the representative of the Church who was in a position to minister to both petitioners and respondents by providing a listening heart. Fr Michael was instrumental in bringing a sense of wholeness and redemption into the lives of people as loose ends were addressed and emotions put into perspective. In this, Fr Michael was assisted and supported by his own staff, who saw in him a person of integrity, wisdom and compassion.

Fr Michael found himself called upon to assist bishops and religious in situations related to sexual misconduct. In this delicate and painful area, Fr Michael worked to honour the rights of the complainants and the accused. It was Fr Michael’s proven expertise in this area of canon law that led him  to be invited to assist the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC – Guam, Micronesia, Mariana, Tuvalu, Marshalls, Noumea, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Rarotonga, Apia, Pago Pago, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Tokelau, Tonga and Wallis and Futuna).

Of his many achievements as a canon lawyer, Fr Michael would have identified one as his most significant. This was his presiding over the diocesan process of enquiry into the cause of canonisation for Suzanne Aubert, the founder of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion. This successful process is now in Rome and awaits the conclusion of the pontifical process which will enable the Pope to declare Mother Aubert a saint of the Church.

As a canon lawyer, Fr Michael O’Dea showed that canon law is an aid to the community of believers. Fr Michael promoted and sustained the vitality of the Catholic Church. By assisting others to identify the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, Fr Michael ensured that those gifts were properly ordered and effectively utilised. May he rest in peace.

  • Fr Anthony Malone, OFM, is associate judicial vicar, New Zealand Catholic Tribunal

(Fr Michael O’Dea died on May 16 at Summerset Hospital in Paraparaumu. A requiem Mass was celebrated on May 20 and he was buried at Hawera on May 21. A memorial Mass was celebrated on July 7 in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington. Ordained to the priesthood in 1974, Fr O’Dea served as assistant priest at Sacred Heart Basilica, Westport and Masterton, before undertaking canon law studies in Canada and Rome. Upon his return to New Zealand, he also served as assistant priest at Waiwhetu, and as parish priest at Titahi Bay, Seatoun and Nelson.).


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