Dick O’Mara played three games with Norwood in 1905 while at Christian Brothers’ College. He then disappeared from the local scene while morphing into an avuncular Jesuit priest who would serve his North Sydney flock with unflagging zeal for the latter half of his 93 years.
Dick was born in Adelaide on 29 June 1884 into a family closely associated with horse racing. He and his older brother Tom, who also became a Jesuit priest, spent their early years around the stables. They had a younger brother, John, and a sister, Veronica. Their father, Thomas, was a contractor well known in Broken Hill but based at West Terrace, Adelaide.
Big Dick O’Mara learnt his football playing with the likes of Tom and Bernie Leahy at CHristian Brothers College (CBC). In 1905, CBC won eight of its first 10 matches, drew with Prince Alfred College and lost by a goal to St Peters College. Dick made his league debut on 1 July. Norwood went down to North Adelaide 1.9 to 1.8 on a Kensington Oval quagmire after Richard Townsend marked but scored only a behind with minutes remaining. Dick was there in the next two matches as Norwood struggled to beat West Torrens 8.13 to 8.10 at Hindmarsh but scrunched West Adelaide 14.9 to 5.4 at Norwood.
Dick disappeared from Australia for 15 years for theological studies at Louvain, Belgium, Stonyhurst , England, and Milltown Park, Dublin, where his mother Mrs C. A. O’Mara and sister Veronica attended his ordination in 1922. Father R. O’Mara SJ, Father T. O’Mara SJ and their mother and sister then embarked on a motor tour of Ireland.
Father Richard O’Mara for many years became probably the best known figure in North Sydney, according to Society of Jesus archivist Michael Head. He spent 45 years there and walked its streets daily. He was a large figure, always well turned out in the old tradition of the urbane parish priest, with walking cane, mixing dignity with friendly affability. For 20 years he was superior and parish priest. For most of the rest of his priestly life he was minister, in later years at St Aloysius’ College or St Francis Xavier’s, Lavender Bay. He was responsible for the rebuilding of St Mary’s Church and other projects financed largely by bingo and boxing.
“He had a quaint sense of humour,” says Michael Head. “He would engage in lively discussions on profound theological questions, but the problems always remained unsolved because he would extricate himself by saying ‘We live in a world of mystery’. O’Mara was possibly Australia’s greatest exponent of the illogical. He had a great reputation for instructing converts. His instructions would make a theologian weep and drive a logician to self-destruction. If any man was living proof of the fact that people are not converted by human argument but by the action of the Spirit, it was O’Mara. Yet many families would praise him for the rediscovery of their faith. O’Mara was a man, reared in affluence and with wealth assured, who left behind the riches of this world, leading a life completely dedicated to his priestly and religious vocation and in kindly service to those committed to his care.”
Father Richard O’Mara SJ died on 7 November 1977 and is buried at Macquarie Park Cemetery.
P Robins, D Cox Feb 2020
* For the picture we are indebted to Julie Wright, former deputy principal of the CBC Junior School. We also thank Society of Jesus archivist Michael Head, CBC football manager Mike Buttfield and CBC archivist Michael Moran