“One can pay back the loan of gold, but one is forever in debt to those who are kind.” – Indonesian Proverb
This sums up the huge debt that the St. Teresa’s Oberá Support Fund, the Irish Charity which helps Fr. Liam Hayes SVD work in Misiones in the north east of Argentina, owes to the late William (Billy) O’Connor.
Billy was born on the 1st of September 1951 in Moore St., Cappamore, Co. Limerick and later the family moved to St. Mary’s Terrace, in the town, where he lived for the rest of his life. Billy was one of eight children, five brothers and three sisters. His mother Kitty died in 1993. Billy worked with his father Willie for many years. He worked for PJ Walls, and in the last twenty years of his life. He worked on many projects over the years, including the Mini Golf course in Plassey, Castleroy.
Billy had many hobbies and interests during his life including tennis and almost anything to do with technology and music. From the time Fr. Robert Mullally came to Cappamore Billy was heavily involved in the development of the Community Centre (from March 1974 to early 1993). He was involved in Cappamore Bingo for eighteen years where he was a member of the Bingo Committee.
He thoroughly enjoyed meeting people and working within the local community. Billy had a great relationship with all his family including his father William, brothers and sisters and his many nieces and nephews.
Those who knew him knew of his many qualities but two of his greatest were his unassuming and humble manner, and his capacity to love others and reach out to those in need.
It was these qualities that led him to give of his time at community level, but also to fundraising for needy people far from home.
After ordination, Fr. Liam, a fellow Cappamore man, was sent to the north-east of Argentina, sandwiched between Brazil and Paraguay. This area is named after the early Jesuit mission, the famous 17th and 18th century “reducciones” which were featured in the film, The Mission. It is a beautiful part of the world with its red soil, luscious green tea plantations and the magnificent Iguazu Waterfall. But Misiones is also a place of shanty towns, little or no medical or social infrastructure, and a whole lot of suffering. Ignorance and shame causes families to hide away or abandon their disabled or injured members. One day, Fr. Liam came across Raquel (10); a little girl who was severely intellectually disabled and had been left naked and tied to a tree. Another day in a field he found Maria Yoly, a 10 year old girl with hydrocephalus, covered by insects and going blind. Her mother had died and her father had abandoned her there. Clorinda (54) was found in a one-roomed cabin, unable to hear, speak or see, crawling in the dirt and living on the scraps of food which neighbors threw to her. She was intellectually and physically disabled and had been violated.
The worst disease in the world is the feeling of being unwanted, unloved and abandoned by everyone. The plight of these people, their sufferings, their cries of pain, and their experience of the terrible indifference of people in general, caused Fr. Liam sleepless nights during his early days working in a parish in Misiones.
Fr. Liam ran up huge medical bills in the local pharmacies in order to relieve their suffering and pain. The owners of these pharmacies trusted Fr. Liam and supplied him with the necessary medical supplies in the knowledge that they would receive payment at a later date. It would have been extremely difficult for Fr. Liam to do so without the generous help and time which Billy O’Connor gave. During frosty cold winter nights Billy sold Christmas cards in Rear Cross, Doon, Old Pallas, Murroe, Kilteely and other places in order to pay the pharmacies.
Billy performed this activity not for profit but to give of himself, his time, his talents and his energy.
Billy O’Connor lived the great twofold imperative of the Gospel: to love both God and our neighbours as ourselves. Everyone was his neighbour, whether close at home or far-away abroad.
Down the years, Fr. Liam and his team have saved a number of undernourished and dehydrated babies. Thanks to people like Billy their pains eased, they were clothed and their thirst quenched. Unfortunately, total recovery and long life expectancy were impossible. I have had the privilege of visiting these homes twice and one of my saddest experiences was not to meet again a number of these rescued babies. However, they completed their earthly lives in peace, love and dignity. It is beyond us to imagine the tumultuous “Céad Míle Fáilte” they gave to their great friend Billy in heaven on his arrival on 23rd May, 2009.
I am heavily involved in the Hospice Movement in Ireland and am interested in developing this great movement in other parts of the world such as Misiones, An TAr. Liam informed me that one of the saddest and most haunting cry that he heard in Misiones was the screaming of people in terrible pain: there was no cancer-relieving drug to alleviate their suffering. This is where Billy made a radical difference which has led to great strides in making the hospice model grow in this remote part of the world. In my last visit, I noticed that dying people are surrounded by others who lovingly care for them. Billy’s efforts are being continued by the freeing of people from physical pain and, as afar as possible, are facilitated to be conscious and able to communicate.
The Homes still need a place of space and quiet for the ill and dying patients on their journey out of this life. We in the Charity regard Billy as an exemplar in the service of God and of neighbour for the love of God. Billy has left this world a little better off.
Leaba i measc na Naomh go raigh aige.
“The man who is kind to the poor lends to God: He will repay him for what he has done”. (Provers 19:17)
Chairman of the St. Teresa Oberá Support Fund