Much-loved Catholic priest Father Michael O’Neill of St Bede’s in Clayton-le-Woods dies aged 76

Father Michael ONeill
Father Michael ONeill
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A popular Catholic priest from Clayton-le-Woods has died of cancer aged 76.

Father Michael O’Neill of St Bede’s Church died in a retirement home in the evening on Thursday, March 29.

He had developed an aggressive tumour in his oesophagus in December 2017 which had spread by January.

Adrian Dugdale, chairman of St Bede’s Parish Community Council, said: “Father Michael was a much-loved priest not only during the nineteen years he spent with us but in all his parishes, both in the UK and abroad.

“He had a warm charisma about him which drew people in, was dedicated to scripture, devout but with an engaging sense of humour.

“The Presbytery door was always open and he was ever-ready to help those in difficulties.

“He never forgot his time in Africa and loved to talk about the Maasai people - sometimes in Swahili.

“He was a familiar figure to the primary school children, greeting them as they arrived in the playground in all weathers.

“We have been privileged to have him and are comforted by the fact he will be buried in our churchyard.”

Father Michael was born in September 1941 in Pendlebury, Salford to Peter and Lilian. He was a pupil at the La Salle College in Pendleton and later went on to study Theology at St Joseph’s College in London.

In 1965 he made a life-long commitment to missionary life by taking the Perpetual Oath, and was ordained priest the following year at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Heenan.

Father Michael served as a missionary in Africa, the United States and Britain. His first appointment was to the Diocese of Ngong, Kenya from 1966 to 1969. From 1970 to 1972, with Burn Hall as his base, Michael took on vocations ministry in the North East. He returned to Ngong Diocese in 1972, serving as parish priest, first in Kajiado and then in Narok.

He was recognised as being a very pastoral man who got on well with people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds, involving himself tirelessly with building both the Christian community and the infrastructure of churches and schools.

On becoming increasingly concerned with the welfare of his mother who was unwell Father Michael moved back to the North of England where he eventually found himself at St Bede’s.

Father Michael’s Requiem Mass is to take place on April 14 at 11am followed by his burial in St Bede’s churchyard. A prayer vigil also takes place at St Bede’s on April 13 at 7.30pm.