Father O’Blaney: A gem at St. James

By on August 1, 2018

From the slopes in Vermont, to the race track in New York and the streets of Brazil, Father James O’Blaney has traveled the world impacting lives while acquiring many skills and talents.

“I would say it has not been boring,” said O’Blaney, who has served St. James Catholic Church in Lititz since 2002. He traveled by his choice, to further his career, and because he was told to, taking the assignments that came his way, but each step along the way he met a lot of people and built relationships.

He’s playing it forward, paying back the lives that impacted him. His latest stop is Lititz, where he celebrated his 60th anniversary of his ordination June 22.

“I went home for summer vacation after four years of high school, O’Blaney, 85, said, “and my mother said, ‘Are you really going through with this?’ “

He had no doubt. He was committed. His mind was made up at an age when most boys are just getting their first razor. He left his home in Manhattan, New York at 13. In those days there was a minor seminary. He did four years of high school and two years of college in North East, near Erie. He went there in 1946 and graduated in ‘52. Commitment has never been an issue. His father’s work ethic and his mentor, Father Joe Colleran’s dedication to helping others shaped O’Blaney’s character. He learned the value of hard work from his father, James, who with his wife, Bertha, raised three children in a three-room apartment (a double bunk bed in the living room) during The Depression.

His father worked seven days a week, working weekdays as a porter for Orbacks Department Store and as a watchman at a warehouse on weekends. Father Colleran was O’Blaney’s philosophy professor at seminary. He also went to him for confessions and advice. Colleran gave his time and energy to the poor in Annapolis, Maryland, which inspired O’Blaney.

He carried these traits with him throughout his many stops. After getting a Masters degree in mathematics from Catholic University, he taught for six years at his former high school.

Field Trips

During his time teaching at North East, he traveled to Florida and Georgia in the summer to help with parishes there. He went to places like Dunedin, Miami, and was in Sarasota in 1969 when a man walked on the moon. In Georgia he went to a hospital and talked to the sick and gave communion. He prayed for and assisted children with disabilities. In Miami a priest asked if he could speak Spanish. O’Blaney said “Si.” And the Miami priest took his bags went back to Spain.

“I was the only one who could speak Spanish,” O’Blaney said. “They called me Father Jaime in Spanish.” O’Blaney also went to Puerto Rico for eight weeks of intense Spanish language training. He did this because there were Hispanic students coming to his school from Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo and he wanted to speak to them in their native language.

These were not vacations, but rather nice getaways, a chance to see other places and hone his language skill in Spanish (he still hears a few confessions in Spanish in Lititz). After teaching, he spent two years as a priest in Vermont, where he had two churches. He learned to ski at age 38. He got involved in athletics at Dartmouth College, after the athletic director attended one of his churches. During football season, O’Blaney announced scores from other games in the press box. He had to run after the games to go to Mass Saturday night.

His career included stops in Brooklyn; around Maryland in Baltimore, Annapolis and Kent Island; and in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He celebrated being ordained 25 years as a priest in the biggest church in Brooklyn. He also spent six years in an administrative role, traveling to Brazil, the Caribbean and even Lititz (in 1986). He worked with a lot of poor people in Brazil and the Caribbean.

While at Kent Island, a family named a horse after him. The name “Father O’Blaney” did not work, because the horse was female, so the horse was called, “O’Blaney.”

Catholic Outreach

Speaking of horses, Father O’Blaney said he spent almost every day at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs. He didn’t stay real long, but he loved the atmosphere &tstr; people with hats, bands and families. He did a lot of walking at the track. It was a nice social time. People trusted him and it was great relationship building.

“People would say, ‘Can I talk to you, father?’” O’Blaney said. He also administered Mass at 6 a.m. Sunday for the workers and trainers at the track. He said Mass in the same space used by Alcoholics Anonymous. Behind O’Blaney during Mass was an AA sign. When the horse track was renovated, the groundskeeper was a parishioner and drove O’Blaney around the grounds to bless the rooms. He blessed the jockey room. The groundskeeper told him, “we are not going to put this in the newspaper because we don’t want to show favoritism.”

His Second Home

August marks 16 years for O’Blaney at St. James. He left home in New York when he was 13, so the only place he’s lived more consecutively than Lititz is his childhood home in Manhattan.
When he first arrived in Lititz he ruffled a few feathers, because he changed the look around the altar, removing artificial flowers and large candles and moving the location of icons. Other changes came later, like taking down a wall. He added a pipe organ and a grand piano to enhance the music worship.

“I won over the masses by time and treating them with love,” said O’Blaney, who has seen his church grow from about 1,100 families when he came to Lititz to about 1,400. So what is the secret to Father O’Blaney’s success and longevity?

“I think part of my philosophy is never play favorites,” said O’Blaney, who added that he listens well. “Everyone is welcome. I take people where they are.” O’Blaney said he has no plans to retire until “God sends me a sign.” He admitted to almost pursuing one other career path instead of priesthood. He thought about being a thespian; he acted in several plays, musicals. He loves music and played the clarinet. He was even band director for a 75-member band when he taught at his former high school (they won St. Patrick’s Day parade in Buffalo).

By almost all accounts, it appears Father O’Blaney has had a rich life.

“Oh, yes,” O’Blaney said. “I certainly have.”

Eric Stark is a correspondent for the Record Express. 

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