ROCKFORD – The Most Rev. Arthur J. O’Neill, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, died peacefully Saturday, April 27, 2013, at his residence in Presence Cor Mariae Center in Rockford. He was 95, and recently celebrated 70 years in the priesthood.
Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill was born Dec. 14, 1917, in East Dubuque, to Leslie J. and Clara (Runde) O’Neill. He attended St. Mary School in East Dubuque, East Dubuque High School (1931-32), and Loras Academy in Dubuque, Iowa (1932-35). He began college studies at Loras College in Dubuque. He continued at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore (1937-1939), and completed his seminary studies there in 1943.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John J. Boylan on March 27, 1943, at St. James Pro-Cathedral in Rockford. He served as an associate at St. James Parish in Rockford (1943-1954), then became editor of The Observer diocesan newspaper, remaining in that position until 1968. In 1954, he became administrator at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Freeport, becoming pastor there in 1957, serving in that position until 1967, when he became pastor of then-St. Peter Church (later the Cathedral of St. Peter). His service also included being director of the Holy Name Society; head of the Diocesan Commission on Sacred Music; and service as a judge and notary of the then-“diocesan matrimonial court” (now the Diocesan Tribunal). In 1963, he was named a papal chamberlain with the title of Very Reverend Monsignor.
Pope Paul VI appointed Monsignor O’Neill to be the Bishop of Rockford on Aug. 19, 1968. He was the first native-born priest of the diocese to also serve as its bishop. He chose as his episcopal motto, “Ut Omnes Unum Sint,” “That All May Be One”. He was ordained and installed as Bishop of Rockford on Oct. 11, 1968. He was the first bishop of Rockford ordained using the new rite established during the Second Vatican Council.
Some of the milestones of Bishop O’Neill’s 26 years of service to the Rockford Diocese include establishing parishes in Crystal Lake, North Aurora, McHenry, Rockford, Roscoe, and Woodstock. In 1970, he designated that St. Peter Church would be the new cathedral for the diocese. He was the first bishop in the United States to use the new rite for the communal anointing of the sick. He established a vocation commission; a Diocesan Board of Pastoral Mediation and Arbitration; and a Spanish-speaking apostolate (now Office for Hispanic Ministry). He called for a pastoral synod in 1974, and established the Diocesan Services Program to fund diocesan apostolates and programs. He established the Diocesan Investment and Loan program and the Catholic Foundation for the People of the Rockford Diocese. Bishop O’Neill served the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a member of the Communications Committee and as a member of the U.S. Advisory Council.
In the Rockford Diocese, he established an office of communication and a weekly television Catholic Mass for shut-ins. He reorganized the administrative structure of the diocese dividing diocesan life into vicariates. He established St. Anne Nursing Center, St. Anne Place (now known as Sienna on Brendenwood), and St. Vincent Home for the Aged in Freeport. Bishop O’Neill ordained the diocese’s very first class of permanent deacons in 1975. He established Vianney Oaks retirement home for priests, broke ground for the New Aurora Central Catholic High School, and established the Ministry Formation Program.
Bishop O’Neill retired as bishop on June 24, 1994.
Survivors include sisters, Sister Helen O’Neill, O.P., of Sinsinawa Mound, Wis., and Erma Schneider of Dubuque, Iowa. He also is survived by many nieces and nephews, his brother priests and the Catholic laity he served.
He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Ruth and Lois; and brother, Earl.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m., with the Office of the Dead at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rockford. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the cathedral, with the Most Rev. David J. Malloy, Bishop of Rockford, as the main celebrant. Interment will be at St. Mary and St. James Cemetery in Rockford. Fitzgerald Funeral Home in Rockford is handling arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, at the request of the family, memorials may be made to the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal founded by Bishop O’Neill in 1975.