Honoring Michael O’Connell May 16, 2024

One of the many gifts of pastoring The Basilica of Saint Mary has been the opportunity to get to know Michael O’Connell and Sue Hayes better, and to glean their wisdom and institutional knowledge regarding our community of faith and history. In 2012, I began my pastorate at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis – where Fr. John Bauer now serves as pastor. Several parishioners of Lourdes had connected with Michael O’Connell during his long tenure in Minneapolis and had come away so impressed with Michael’s compassion, advocacy, vision, and commitment to justice. Many commented to me about Michael’s inspiring work as the founder of the Jeremiah Program which helps mothers in challenging situations with housing and the skills to build a sustainable future for them and their families. The Jeremiah Program has now become a successful national organization.

I remember writing Michael in my Christmas card that I had known of Michael’s talent as a fellow priest, but I wasn’t aware until I came to Minneapolis of the scope of his important ministry, especially for those most in need. As we know, a great chasm exits between St. Paul and Minneapolis, so my prior ignorance of the goings on in Minneapolis was understandable. Michael’s work at Ascension parish and school is yet another example of his tireless commitment to those in need and doing all that’s in his power to help provide opportunities for human flourishing. Below, I will note Michael’s numerous contributions to our life of faith here at The Basilica.

In May, on the Feast of Pentecost, Michael O’Connell will be honored at The Basilica of Saint Mary. Friends of Michael and Sue came together to gift the Heritage Edition of the St. John’s Bible to The Basilica of Saint Mary in Michael’s honor. This is a very special gift, one of great value, which will be treasured at our parish for years to come. This gift also comes with a number of additions, including catechetical instruction and trained docents who will open up the story of the St. John’s Bible and the primacy of God’s Word in our Catholic faith.  This event will also provide an opportunity for our community to thank Michael and Sue for their extraordinary contributions to The Basilica.

Also in May, Michael will be honored at Temple Israel in Minneapolis for his commitment to interfaith dialogue and his closeness and friendship with the Jewish people. Several years ago, Michael and Rabbi Joseph Edelheit came together to form the Downtown Interfaith Clergy Group made up senior clergy of several communities of faith in Minneapolis. This was a wonderful initiative, consistent with the Second Vatican Council, and still bearing fruit today. For example, I had the the great privilege of traveling with fellow clergy in January 2023 to Georgia and Alabama on a civil rights tour. This experience was deeply moving for all who attended and resulted in a film that was debuted in the spring of last year at multiple houses of faith. This important collective journey last January would not have occurred had Michael’s vision for a vital interfaith group not been initiated.

Before I go on any further, it is imperative that we also honor and celebrate the many extraordinary contributions of Sue Hayes to The Basilica of Saint Mary. Sue and her late husband Larry Hayes had been friends of Michael for years. Michael was quite acquainted with St. Paul as he had grown up there, attended seminary there, and had ministered as vicar general and as a pastor in St. Paul. After Fr. Dennis Dease was chosen as president of the University of St. Thomas, Michael was called on by Archbishop Roach to pastor The Basilica of Saint Mary. For a kid from St. Paul – this was new territory indeed! Michael turned to his friends from St. Paul to ask for their help, including the amazingly talented Sue Hayes. To underscore the point of Sue’s talent, wisdom and commitment, I will put it this way: if I was given the task of rebuilding the universal Catholic Church and was further instructed that I could pick one person to help me do this – my answer would be clear – Sue Hayes! Yes, it is a legitimate question to ask why I would be entrusted to rebuilding the Catholic Church. Notwithstanding this, Sue has served in so many vital roles at The Basilica, including, famously, introducing and executing many successful years of The Basilica Block Party. Recently, Sue served as co-director, along with trustee Tom Paul, of the Basilica development team during a time of transition. Typical of Sue’s positive energy, she helped build up the team and was the key to many important wins, including the most successful Landmark Spark ever last May!

Clearly Sue and Michael are a dynamic duo. Michael O’Connell’s contributions to the legacy of The Basilica of Saint Mary cannot be overstated. He arrived at The Basilica in a time of great need – both in terms of the building and dome and in terms of building up the community of faith. During Michael’s time as pastor, The Basilica flourished and grew. The Basilica Block Party was a master stroke in engaging young Catholics and in building up a vibrant community of faith that would continue to sustain the parish for years to come. The undercroft and the rebuilding of the Basilica dome and roof were significant projects which put the parish on a solid foundation for further growth.

In addition, Michael’s commitment to truly sublime sacred music and liturgy – paired with robust and consistent outreach to the poor and marginalized represents the best of the Catholic tradition and our life of faith. If you ask many priests of Minneapolis and St. Paul if there is any parish in the country that celebrates the liturgy more beautifully and with more care than The Basilica, they would be hard pressed to find one. Lastly, Michael’s open doors approach to the Church allowed all of God’s people to experience the warm welcome and compassionate embrace of Christ – all are truly welcome at The Basilica, and this may be the most important part of Michael’s legacy at The Basilica.

On a personal note, Michael and Sue’s hospitality to me as a new pastor has been warm, gracious, and generous. I have enjoyed our meals together and I am grateful for their encouragement and wisdom. I have received from both of them what our community of faith has received for years – friendship, faith, wisdom, and grace. Please join me in celebrating and thanking Michael O’Connell and Sue Hayes for all that they have done for and meant to The Basilica of Saint Mary. Ad multos annos!

Fr. Daniel
Pastor and Rector
The Basilica of Saint Mary

Michael O’Connell and Sue Hayes with Chastity Lord (left), CEO of Jeremiah.