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Juliet O’Connor

by
24 March 2016

DAN O’CONNOR

Influential times: Juliet O’Connor meeting Prime Minister Nehru at the beginning of her life in India

Influential times: Juliet O’Connor meeting Prime Minister Nehru at the beginning of her life in India

The Revd Dr David L. Gosling writes:

AT THE age of 21, Juliet O’Connor set sail for India with her husband, Dan, to begin a life-changing decade at St Stephen’s College in Delhi. Dan was to be lecturer and chaplain there; Juliet was to teach at the British School, and also to assume collegiate posts that ranged from teaching the wives of the college servants to sew and become self-sufficient, to designing clothes for students to wear in performances of Shakespeare plays.

After these rich, and sometimes politically charged, positions in Delhi — for they were there in the early 1970s when several college students joined the Maoist revolt initially based in Naxalbari, in West Bengal — they moved to St Andrews University in Scotland, where Dan was Episcopalian chaplain; Juliet taught at St Leonard’s School. Juliet also sold paintings to raise additional income to support their growing family, which by this time included two sons, Tim and Aidan. They also stepped outside the accepted ecclesiastical and social norms by welcoming homosexual couples at a time when such relationships were illegal.

From Scotland, Juliet and Dan moved to Selly Oak, in Birmingham, where Dan assumed the principalship of the USPG’s College of the Ascension. There they taught and befriended a range of potential Anglican leaders; Juliet’s responsibilities included teaching English to Archbishop Kirill, who is now the Russian Patriarch.

They then went back to Scotland, and to eventual retirement in Balmullo. Having suffered from painful and disabling arthritis for 45 years, it was porosis that led to her death on 3 March, aged 73.

Juliet’s outgoing warmth and infectious humour won her and Dan many friends, and cut across the cultural, religious, social, and other barriers. Jokes that might seem contrived in cold print could take on a life of their own among a group of us sitting on their veranda on a warm Delhi night.

To some, it might seem strange that one who enjoyed anarchic jokes should also be the author of the spiritual book, Beyond Words. In the words of the Scottish Episcopal Primus, David Chillingworth, at her funeral at St James’s Episcopal Church in Cupar, Juliet’s writing “is the voice of a contemplative person — a person who is spiritually strong because she has somehow absorbed her illness and pain, and made it part of the journey”.

 

* Beyond Words: Prayer as a way of life (Triangle, 1987); Juliet O’Connor wrote under the pseudonym of Beth Collier.

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