Rev. William O'Leary, beloved figure at Creighton Prep, recalled as 'very compassionate' -
Published Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 3:28 pm
Rev. William O'Leary, beloved figure at Creighton Prep, recalled as 'very compassionate'

The Rev. William F. “Bill” O’Leary, a beloved teacher at Omaha Creighton Prep for 47 years, died Monday at St. Camillus Assisted Living in Wauwatosa, Wis. He was 84.

“Students loved him. Teachers loved him. He was just a wonderful individual,” said John Naatz, who just finished his 20th year as Prep’s principal.

From 1964 until his retirement on March, 1, 2011, O’Leary taught European, world and U.S. history, as well as English and theology. He also served as a guidance counselor, supervised the detention center and sponsored activities.

Upon retiring he moved to the Jesuit community in Wauwatosa. He suffered from frontal lobe dementia, said the Rev. George Sullivan, a fellow Jesuit.

Visitation for O’Leary will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. July 18 in the Round Chapel on the second floor of St. Camillus. A funeral Mass will follow at 7 p.m. O’Leary left his body to the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Also read Michael Kelly's 2011 column on O'Leary's retirement: Creighton Prep losing a 'living saint'

So beloved was “Father O” to the approximately 9,000 boys he taught over the years, their families and his colleagues, the receiving line at his retirement party was 4 hours long, said Sullivan, who was president of Prep from 1982 to 1988 and who still works there.

“His (O’Leary’s) influence was all over the school,” Sullivan said.

O’Leary required theology class students to attend plays and band concerts, taking attendance from the entryway.

In 2007, O’Leary spoke about his disciplinarian role at Prep: “I make them obey and tell them to shape up. I try to get a nice balance between being ‘Mr. Tough Guy’ and ‘Mr. Softy.’”

Naatz said: “He was always willing to give students a second and third chance. He was just terrific as far as that goes.

“He was a very compassionate and loving teacher.”

Sullivan said one of O’Leary’s widely used phrases to students was: “Be careful. You’re skating on Lake Demerit.”

Sue Stein, who headed Prep’s English department until retiring in 2006, shared this: O’Leary once overheard a student taking the Lord’s name in vain. He approached the boy and his friends and said, “I would like to join in your prayer group, gentlemen.”

O’Leary became part of many families, including hers, Stein said.

Sullivan said that if a Prep student’s parent or sibling died, O’Leary had dinner with the family several times in the next month to see how everyone was doing, to cheer family members with jokes and to play games with the children.

O’Leary also was a substitute priest at Sunday Masses all across the metro area, making him widely known outside Prep.

“He attended more funerals than any mortician,” Stein said.

Before joining the Prep staff, O’Leary taught at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., and at St. Francis (S.D.) Indian Mission.

He studied at Regis University in Denver and at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Mo., before receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Louis University. He did theology studies at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kan., and was ordained in Milwaukee in 1962.

Outside Prep, he was a regular blood donor and often took buses for long trips so he could be available to hear confessions from any fellow travelers.

He was inducted into the Creighton Prep Hall of Fame in 1995, made an honorary member of the student chapter of the Alpha Sigma Nu honor society at Creighton University in 2006 and received an honorary doctor of humane letters from the school in 2007.

The O’Leary Fund, created in his honor at Creighton Prep, helps Prep students and families with nontraditional needs.

Contact the writer: Sue Story Truax    |   402-444-1165

Sue writes obituaries and covers community news and schools for's Living section, primarily Community Connection.

Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
After all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »