Rev. Timothy O’Brien, S.J., ’06
For Rev. Timothy (“Tim”) O’Brien, S.J., ’06, frequent zip code changes have become the norm as part of his Jesuit vocation and scholarly pursuits. But his most recent move — one that brings him back to Mount St. James to serve as the College’s director of mission initiatives — feels different.
“It is like coming home, not just being back at the College but working to advance a mission that I love,” he says. “The mission of Holy Cross, as a Catholic, Jesuit, liberal arts college, changed my life — I say that as often as I can to whoever will listen. It really formed me as a person. Not only did it lead me to the Society of Jesus, but Holy Cross has shaped my intellectual and personal pursuits in the 15 years since I graduated.”
When he first arrived at the College as a student in 2002, Fr. O’Brien aspired to become a lawyer. A political science major, he was a member of the Honors Program, active in the Student Government Association and wrote an award-winning thesis on the Supreme Court. He also had a profound experience on a Spiritual Exercises retreat through the Chaplains’ Office. “That was as significant as everything I did in the classroom,” he recalls.
He graduated class valedictorian and moved to Washington, D.C., where he was employed by the U.S. Department of Justice. But it was his work with a local Jesuit parish, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, that he found the most fulfilling. A conversation with one of his Holy Cross mentors — Alice Laffey, associate professor emerita of religious studies — helped him discern his calling. “She said, ‘From the sound of it, I think you’re meant to be a Jesuit, not a lawyer,'” he shares. “I knew she was right.”
In 2008, Fr. O’Brien entered the Society of Jesus. Over the past 13 years, he has earned master’s degrees in history, theology and philosophy. He also taught theology and worked in the office of mission integration at Loyola University Maryland. O’Brien studied the history of Ignatian spirituality in Paris while also volunteering with the Jesuit Refugee Service. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2018 and went on to serve as assistant pastor of Holy Trinity, where he had been a parishioner.
In his new role as director of mission initiatives, Fr. O’Brien will work closely with Holy Cross President Vincent D. Rougeau, as well as faculty, staff and alumni. “Part of my work relates to existing programs, like the well-known ‘Return to Me’ Lenten reflection series. I am also eager to help create new venues for members of the community to reflect on our mission as a Catholic, Jesuit, liberal arts college — and to find their place in it,” he says.
“The College is welcoming a new president and imagining life after COVID. It’s a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going together,” says Fr. O’Brien as he reflects on the poignancy of the moment. May 2021 also marked the beginning of an Ignatian Year, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus. “Think about the story of St. Ignatius: He was wounded by a cannonball and then he had to figure out, ‘Well, now what do I do?’ It is thrilling for me to be at Holy Cross at a time when all of us are asking similar questions,” Fr. O’Brien says.
What excites you the most about your new role?
Holy Cross is the premier Catholic, liberal arts college in the United States. We are living in a time when I think that mission is critical for the life of our country, the life of the world and for the Church and people of faith. The most exciting part about coming back is to be part of that mission and to help advance it and deepen it.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading “Thy Honored Name,” the history of the College by Rev. Anthony J. Kuzniewski, S.J., and “Fraternity” [about Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., ’49, Holy Cross’ 25th president, and the 20 Black students he recruited in the late ’60s to better integrate Holy Cross.]
What are you watching?
I love to cook, not bake, but I’m completely mesmerized by “The Great British Baking Show.” It’s striking how even in an intense, competitive environment, people can collaborate and form community with each other.
Do you have a favorite spot in Worcester?
The new Blackstone Gateway Park trail that starts at the base of College Hill. That is my happy place off campus to jog.
Favorite spot on campus?
Right where Fenwick Hall and O’Kane Hall come together. It’s the heart of campus for me, because it’s where everything comes together. You can see academic and residential buildings, Dinand Library and St. Joseph Memorial Chapel. In every season, that confluence of space is my favorite.
Written by Meredith Fidrocki for the Summer 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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