Pat O'Brien: a tough football coach and a gentle priest

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- It seemed fitting 14 Catholic priests participated in the funeral mass for actor Pat O'Brien, whose more than 110 movie roles included so many :lerics he joked, 'One more and they will have to ordain me.'

More than 300 mourners crowded into St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church Tuesday night. They heard O'Brien eulogized as an actor who loved his fellow man with 'a glint in his eye' and was equally able to portray a tough football coach and a gentle priest.


The Rev. Pat Dempster of Canton, Ohio, a longtime family friend, noted 'some might wonder if I said Patrick O'Brien was a saint.'

'In the sense of all of us working together to show love for one another and help for one another, he was.'

The 70-minute service was attended by such Hollywood notables as Bob Hope, Irene Dunne, Cesar Romero, Ralph Bellamy, Dennis Day, Ray Bolger, Gene Raymond and Don Defore. The Catholic priests taking part in the rites commented about the Irish and their humor.

The O'Brien family, including his wife, Eloise, sat at the front of the church beside the wooden casket, which was covered with palm fronds and yellow and white mums and daisies.


O'Brien, prototype of the charming Irishman, diedlast Satuday of a massive heart attack. He was 83.

Despite the plethora of Irishman parts, O'Brien was best known for his role as Ronald Reagan's Norwegian football coach in 'Knute Rockne, All American.'

The funeral was held at the same church O'Brien attended each Sunday. He frequently noted his belief in his father's words: 'The three great things in life are love of God, love of country and love of family.'

O'Brien's daughter, Mavourneen, sang 'Ave Maria' and 'Panis Angelicus,' and one priest read O'Brien's favorite piece, 'The Immigrant's Return.'

One of the priests said he'd asked O'Brien shortly before his death to make some radio spot announcements for the United States and Canada to prepare for Mission Sunday to raise funds to help the poor.

'Right now, this very night and the rest of the week, Pat O'Brien's voice will be heard across the country on radio asking people to help the poor,' he said.

The Knute Rockne film started a friendship between O'Brien and Reagan that lasted throughout their lives.

A moment of silence for O'Brien will be observed before kickoff of this Saturday's Notre Dame-Southern Cal football game in South Bend.


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