Founder of an international network of hospices inspired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta
THE REVEREND FRANCIS O'LEARY, who has died aged 69, founded Jospice International, a Roman Catholic hospice network with centres in England, South America and the Indian subcontinent.
O'Leary was a young missionary in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, when in 1962 he was asked to help a sick and dying woman, known as Mrs Jacob. He had nowhere to lodge her but a mud hut in the church compound. The group of people who looked after her took St Joseph as their patron, and soon set up the St Joseph's Hospice Association, later to be known as Jospice.
Its first hospice was opened at Rawalpindi in 1964. O'Leary already had an idea of setting up hospices around the world that would offer help to the poor, incurably sick, and those for whom hospital treatment was not available. Although inspired by Roman Catholic principles, the hospices continued to welcome mostly Muslim patients.
At an early stage, O'Leary sought the advice of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose work had inspired him. She told him not to worry about money, but to put his trust in God. He took this to heart, founding future hospices with unsecured bank loans which he repaid with subsequent donations. In 1969 O'Leary founded a hospice in Colombia and in 1970 another in Peru. He later set up hospices in Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala, and further hospices in Peru and centres in India. In 1997 a hospice was opened in Mexico City.
On a visit home to England in 1972, O'Leary realised there was a need for hospices here too. He set about establishing one, scraping together the money to buy a house at Thornton, near his birthplace, Crosby, at the mouth of the Mersey. Later this became the headquarters for Jospice. Another hospice was set up at Ormskirk, Lancashire, in 1980.
O'Leary had a strong, slightly eccentric personality. He often worked an 18-hour day and would say Mass in the evening, the people of his hospice gathered around him. Those unable to sit with him could follow the service on closed-circuit television. O'Leary prized the quiet hours of the night, when he was able to pray alone in the garden, and then return to work.
He was convinced of the importance of the people in his hospices being able to enjoy the beauties of nature. Those who were able to do so were encouraged to take part in music-making and dance. Nor was drink forbidden to those who appreciated it. O'Leary had his own approach to problems and was not afraid to stand on toes; he incurred the suspicion, if not the wrath, of several bishops. Underlying his enthusiasm was an unswerving faith that cheques would turn up in the post to pay for his ventures. They always did.
Francis Aloysius O'Leary was born on June 18 1931, the youngest of three children. His father was a businessman in Bootle and his mother came from a local family. As a boy, Francis was inspired by an uncle who was a missionary with the Mill Hill Fathers. So at the age of 11, he entered the Mill Hill missionaries' junior seminary, a school for those with an interest in joining the congregation, at Freshfield, Lancashire.
He went on to Burn Hall seminary, Co Durham, and undertook further studies at Roosendaal in the Netherlands and at Mill Hill, London. Ordained in 1956, O'Leary took a Master of Arts degree at Glasgow University in 1960. After he had launched Jospice International, the Mill Hill missionaries gave him overall control of the organisation, which is now managed by a committee. Few of O'Leary's associates could keep pace with his appetite for work. In 1973 O'Leary was the subject of This is Your Life.
He was appointed MBE in 1996. Among friends, O'Leary had an indomitable, sometimes bizarre, sense of humour. He once toured the hospice at Thornton with a water pistol disguised as a Coca Cola can. At Christmas, with the help of staff and patients, he regularly staged a live crib on the lawn, regardless of the weather. Since the crib included animals, he was known to scour the surrounding countryside on Christmas Eve, looking for lambs.
Francis O'Leary died in his own hospice at Thornton.
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