Obituary: Fr Francis O'Leary, worldwide hospice movement founder

Francis Aloysius O'Leary MHM MA MBE, the son of a Bootle businessman, was born on 18 June 1931 in Crosby, Liverpool. He went to SS Peter and Paul's School in Crosby and then, at the age of 11, entered the junior seminary of the Mill Hill Fathers at Freshfield, to the north of Liverpool.

After progressing through the seminaries at Burn Hall, Co Durham, St Joseph's College in Roosendaal, the Netherlands, and St Joseph's College, Mill Hill, he was ordained on 8 July 1956.

He was sent to Glasgow University, graduating in 1960 with an MA and received his first posting as a missionary to Rawalpindi, then the capital city of Pakistan.

He was moved by all the poverty and deprivation he saw and resolved to do something about it. The opportunity arose two years later when he was asked to help a Pakistani woman, Mrs Jacob, who was seriously ill. He found a mud hut in the church compound and into this Mrs Jacob was carried.

She was the first patient of Jospice International, as St Joseph's Hospice Association came to be known. The date was 19 November 1962, the Feast of St Elizabeth, patron of nurses.

Two years later the first hospice, at Westridge, Rawalpindi, was opened. Being inspired by Mother Teresa and her work, he asked her for advice. Her reply was not to worry about money and to place one's trust in God and He would look after everything. Fr O'Leary took that bit of advice and kept thinking of her words day by day. In the 38 years since then, Jospice has grown. There are now two hospices in Pakistan and centres in India.

Other hospices have been established in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala. In England there are two hospice buildings at the headquarters of Jospice in Liverpool and another in Ormskirk, nine miles away. In 1997, a Hospice was opened in Mexico, at Nezahualcoyotl, in the suburbs of Mexico City, and it is hoped to start another in Bogota, the capital of Colombia.

The work of Jospice has helped millions of people at home and abroad and Fr O'Leary was widely regarded as one of the founders of the hospice movement. His work had received recognition from many sources. On television in 1973 he was the subject of This Is Your Life, hosted by the late Eamonn Andrews. The following year in Peru he received the Daniel Carrion Medal, an award for medical services to the people of that country.

In the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours List he was awarded the MBE for his services to the hospice movement. For the last five years of his life, Fr O'Leary was also involved in preparing his memoirs which not only record the history of Jospice, but also demonstrate the personality of Fr O'Leary. There is the concern for the patients, and his working through the night. There is the sense of awe at a most unusual happening, when a dying patient left the imprint of his body on a mattress cover, an imprint which has defied all attempts to remove it and which has left forensic experts baffled.

There is the urge for innovation, like the Live Crib every Christmas involving friends and Jospice staff, as well as live animals to lend an air of reality. Throughout his life, he was someone who managed to keep his sense of humour, no matter the circumstances, and who manifests his great love of music to the extent of organising gala concerts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. These and other entertainments were warmly appreciated. Fr O'Leary always made it clear how important the love and support of his family was to him.

When his brother Arthur (known affectionately as Arf) died in 1992, Fr O'Leary wrote in his diary: "Arf died today - a great man".

His sister Rita, who was a ward sister in the Royal Hospital in Liverpool, still lives in Crosby and has been a great supporter of Jospice since it started. Throughout Fr O'Leary's, career she was there to give help when needed. In his Memoirs Fr O'Leary makes it clear how much this love and support meant to him.

Fr Francis O'Leary: born 18 June 1931, died 4 October 2000. Jospice International is based at St Joseph's Hospice Association, Ince Road, Thornton, Liverpool L23 4UE. For more information, visit their web site at

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