Abbot Patrick O’Brien, O.S.B.

Abbot, Saint Mary’s Abbey, Newark, New Jersey (1937-1967)

Patrick O’Brien, given the name Edward Raphael, was born on October 29, 1885 in Manchester, New Hampshire, the eldest of eight children of Irish immigrants. He attended Saint Raphael’s School, run by Benedictine nuns, then Saint Joseph’s Cathedral High School and two years of Saint Anselm’s High School, graduating in June 1905. His school years were marred by illness, even after he entered the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. After a break of several years due to illness, he entered Saint Anselm College, but had to leave it again.

After briefly teaching Latin and history at Saint Joseph’s School in Manchester, he entered the novitiate of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Pennsylvania in June 1914 at the age of 28 as a novice for Saint Mary’s, taking the name Patrick Mary. After taking simple vows in July 1915, he returned to Saint Anselm’s to complete college and study theology. On May 29, 1920 he was ordained a priest.

From 1920 to 1933 Father Patrick taught algebra and French at Saint Benedict’s Prep School, Newark, and received his master of arts in French from the College of the Holy Cross in 1924. In addition to teaching, he was a minister at Newark Alms House and Newark Convalescent Hospital for six years. In 1933, despite his continuing failing health, he was appointed pastor of Saint Joseph’s parish in Maplewood.

Elected abbot after the death of his predecessor Ernest Helmstetter in August 1937, he continued to expand the property in Delbarton that Abbot Helmstetter had acquired over the next few years, He had monastery buildings built in 1938 and the Delbarton Prep School in 1939. In 1956—by a vote of 42 to 32 in the chapter—the abbey title was transferred from Newark to Delbarton/Morristown and Newark became a dependent priory.

Increasing tensions between the two monasteries, however, meant that in December 1963 Abbot O’Brien, with the consent of the overwhelming majority of the chapter, requested the separation of the two houses, but this was rejected as inopportune – without the consent of the abbot and the local bishop. In the same year, 1963, the abbey’s Brazilian mission was founded—despite two schools to be looked after and eight parishes—which, however, did not lead to a permanent settlement and ended in 1995 with the death of the last missionary, Father Edmund Nugent.

In 1966 the abbey church was completed in Delbarton, whose altar consecrated Abbot Primate Benno Gut. The solemn consecration by Archbishop Boland of Newark took place on July 15 and 16, 1966. A few months later, on November 28, 1966, Abbot O’Brien received Martin J. Burne as a coadjutor. He died soon after, on March 30, 1967 in Florida and was buried in old Saint Mary’s Cemetery in East Orange. During his 30-year tenure, not only had he founded the school in Delbarton and had new buildings erected there and in Newark, but the number of members had also increased from 84 in 1937 to 130 in the year of his death.

Abbot O’Brien took a keen interest in the liturgy. In 1940 he took part in the Benedictine liturgical conference and promoted the preparation and publication of a missal by Father Benedict Bradley.