Vale, Brother Brendan O’Hearn, the ‘treasure’ of Blackfriars

Blackfriars was only seven years old when young Dominican Brother Brendan O’Hearn first arrived at the school as a teacher.

Brother Brendan O’Hearn OP
Born: Terence O’Hearn, 13 February, 1939, Haberfield, Sydney
Died: 18 August, 2022, Adelaide

Back in early 1960, no one knew the enormous influence the man affectionately known to the Blackfriars community as BB would go on to have at the school over the next six decades. Quite simply, BB was Blackfriars. 

Brother Brendan, known to his family as Uncle Herb, passed away on Friday, 18 August, aged 83. 

There were few roles at Blackfriars Br Brendan did not take on. As well as a full teaching load, he was, at various times, Head of Mathematics, Year 11 Coordinator, “Dean of Discipline” and, for many years, the First XVIII Football Coach.

For decades, he was also the starting marshall at the annual swimming and athletics carnivals, as well as responsible for running the school photo days and organising the timetable – not an easy task in the pre-computer age.

Blackfriars is mourning the loss of Br Brendan O’Hearn, whose tenture at the school spanned six decades.

Speaking to mark BB’s retirement in 2020, good friend and colleague of 40 years Chris Packer said: “The last bloke who was this good at multi-tasking got changed in phone booths, wore his underpants on the outside of his pants and leapt tall buildings in a single bound!”

Importantly, from 1972 to 1988, Br Brendan was Deputy Headmaster – working in tandem with Headmaster Fr John Neill, who passed away last year – during a period of enormous change at Blackfriars.

Fr Neill’s reputation as the “building Headmaster” and champion of academic standards and rigour was complemented by Br Brendan’s attention to student behaviour and organisation.

Blackfriars Development Officer – Old Scholars & Community Jon Harmer said the school’s star on the educational landscape continued to rise during the reign of Fr Neill and Br Brendan.

“BB carried his superhuman workload for the best part of 40 years – and this was only the component of his life we saw at school,” Mr Harmer said during BB’s retirement celebration.

“Outside school, he worked very hard also, playing an important role caring for the elderly Dominicans within the North Adelaide community, as well his work with the homeless and disadvantaged, both at Fred’s Van and, more informally, to any who knocked on the back door of St Laurence’s Priory.

“If not for BB, the growth and development of Blackfriars Priory School – a place that has meant so much, to so many, over so many years – would not have been the same.”

In 1983, the school’s O’Hearn building was formally named in honour of Brother Brendan, recognising his 25 years of religious profession.

Br Brendan spent his later years at Blackfriars collating and organising the school’s archives. He also helped Mr Harmer organise more than 40 school reunions.

Tributes flow

Blackfriars staff members and old scholars have paid tribute to BB, describing him as a caring man with an unwavering passion for the school.

Teacher and old scholar Garth Starrs (BPS’91) said “the deep and commanding voice over the PA system is my enduring memory of BB”.

“He was tough, but he was fair. That’s why generations of kids respected him,” Mr Starrs said.

“When he came back after his heart attack (in 1991) … there was a roar of applause from the students, they were so happy he was back. When I spoke to him years later, when I started as a teacher here, he said he was very touched by that.”

Teacher Johanna West said BB “never forgot a name”.

“From the first moment I was introduced, and then for the last 10 years, he always greeted me by name and with a smile,” Mrs West said.

BB is presented with Hawthorn memorabilia during a ceremony to mark his retirement in 2020.

South Australian MP and Blackfrairs old scholar Leon Bignell (BPS’84) said BB was “admired and loved by generations of students and teachers at the school”.

“He had a great sense of humour and cared for others,” Mr Bignell wrote in a social media tribute.

“BB was also a massive Hawthorn fan. Even in the early 1980s, when we were all following SANFL teams, BB would wear his brown and gold beanie to school the Mondays following a win.

“When we needed to organise the baptism of (son) Conor Bignell in 1998, BB was the person I rang. When we turned up to the chapel, Conor’s Godfather, John Ferguson, had slipped a Carlton jumper on to Conor.

“BB stood at the door and grimly advised that Conor couldn’t be welcomed into the Catholic Church wearing the navy blue jumper. When I explained he had Hawthorn’s colours in his nappy, I thought BB would never stop laughing.”

BB during his 2020 retirement celebration.

That love of the Hawthorn Football Club was also recalled by teacher Peter Sage.

“BB and I were both Hawthorn supporters. (In fact, I always felt, with Brother on my side, we outnumbered the rest.) How lucky was I!? We would swap stories, share condolences after a disappointing loss or exchange a discreet ‘thumbs up’ following a resounding win (perhaps against the Crows or Port Power.) Of course, he was always decent and generous with others, but he would fairly bristle if ‘Buddy’ Franklin’s status as a pillar of the community was ever brought into question. He loved the Hawks and we loved him.”

Administration Office Team Leader Rina Latassa recalled supervising a St Dominic’s Day activity in 2018, where the boys had to rewrite the lyrics of the Hymn to St Dominic to reflect what Blackfriars meant to them.

“The boys scribbled the song (pictured) on butcher’s paper and I typed it up for BB,” she recalled. “Brother Brendan was really delighted and immediately put it up in his office.”

Teacher Kathleen Johnson described Brother Brendan as the “treasure of Blackfriars”.

“Respected by all and admired for his common sense, humour and compassion,” she said.

“We bonded over his interest in South Australian history and geography, and we swapped many books over the years. Brother would fondly reminisce about the tough Blackfriars camps to the northern Flinders Ranges and Desert Country that he attended when younger. Brother Brendan was a truly remarkable man whose contribution to this school cannot be quantified. I feel blessed to have known him.”

The Requiem Mass for Br Brendan O’Hearn OP will be concelebrated at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Barker Road, Prospect, on Friday. 26 August at 2pm. The mass will be livestreamed by Blackwell Funerals via their website. Following mass, the cortege will proceed to West Terrace Cemetery (Catholic Dominican area) for committal prayers.

Holy Rosary will be recited at St Laurence’s Church, Buxton Street, North Adelaide tonight (Thursday), 25 August, from 7:30pm, followed by vigil prayers.


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