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.
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 4½ 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.