By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
Josephite Father John E. O’Hallaran, who served as pastor of Corpus Christi, St. Leo the Great, St. Raymond and All Saints parishes and whose love for sports energized his ministry, died Sept. 2 in Red Bank, New Jersey.
He was 80 years old and had served as a priest since 1985.
In addition to his parish duties, Father O’Hallaran loved sports, and he used his priestly ministry to stay close to those who made sports their living.
As an avid hockey fan, the New Jersey native became the unofficial chaplain of the minor league New Orleans Brass hockey team and baptized and confirmed defenseman Steve Cheredaryk in 2001 after conducting catechism classes with him.
While serving as pastor at All Saints, he also celebrated a Sunday morning 10 a.m. Mass during the November through March meet of the Fair Grounds for a small band of jockeys, trainers, owners and other track employees.
The Fair Grounds was the only race track in the country that offered a regular Sunday Mass for its jockey and backstretch employees.
The tradition dated back to the 1980s when Oblate Father Peter Rogers began an outreach to track workers.
“I think it was the prayer of my father that I would be a jockey,” Father O’Hallaran said in 2008. “But when I started growing and growing and growing, he gave up the idea. I’m 6-foot-3 now – well, I’m actually 6-foot-2 1/2 and still growing. When I stand next to the jockeys, I ask, ‘How’s the weather down there?’”
Like a jockey who could sense the pace and keep clock fractions in his head, Father O’Hallaran had a keen sense of timing for the Sunday Mass. At 9:59 a.m. on Sunday at the track, he would announce to the people in the room: “One minute to Mass time! One minute to Mass time!”
“We finish up in about 27 or 28 minutes, and then everyone goes their own way,” Father O’Hallaran said. “There is a time frame because I know people have to get going.”
One Sunday, a violent thunderstorm blew through Gentilly, keeping Mass attendance down a bit.
In Father O’Hallaran’s honor, several trainers and owners named horses after him. A horse named Father John O. retired after developing two bad legs.
Father O’Hallaran was born Nov. 24, 1937, in Jersey City to the late John and Harriet (nee: Fitzgerald) O’Hallaran.
Father O’Hallaran was a 1956 graduate of Red Bank Catholic High School and started his evangelical ministry as a teenager where he lived and was raised in Asbury Park, New Jersey. In 1961, he entered the brotherhood of the St. Joseph Society of the Sacred Heart. In May 1985, he entered the priesthood in the St. Joseph Society.
Father O’Hallaran served as pastor of multiple parishes throughout Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. He retired in 2016 and lived at St. Joseph’s Manor in Maryland before returning home to New Jersey in 2018.
Donations in Father O’Hallaran’s name can be made to the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, 1097c West Lake Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21210.