Father Peter F. O’Brien, S.J., once the personal manager for jazz great Mary Lou Williams, died May 3 at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. He was 74.
He first met the celebrated jazz composer and musician in the 1960s after she had become a Catholic through the guidance of Father Anthony Woods, S.J. In a unique assignment for a Jesuit priest, Father O’Brien became her personal manager, assisting her in arranging shows in jazz clubs and on college campuses. He co-taught a course with her at Duke University from 1977 to 1981 on the history of jazz. He also advised her in her compositions of three Jazz Masses and eventually became executive director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation, ensuring her musical genius and deep Catholic faith became more widely known, even beyond her death in 1981.
Earlier, he taught Latin, English and religion at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx. He was a parochial vicar at St. Ignatius Loyola parish in Manhattan, 1972-1977, and also assisted in campus ministry at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus.
He served on the retreat team at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse, 1991-1994, and then at St. Ignatius Retreat House, Manhasset, 1994-1999. He then returned to his New Jersey roots, assisting in pastoral ministry at St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Jersey City, and at nearby Resurrection parish, and in 2004 he took assignment at St. Peter’s College (now University) as an adjunct professor of English. He also served in pastoral ministry at nearby St. Aedan’s Church. He also served in pastoral ministry and chaplaincies in Minneapolis, Minn.
Born in Teaneck, N.J., he entered the Society of Jesus in 1958. He was ordained a priest in 1971 at the Fordham University Church. He earned a licentiate in philosophy from Loyola Seminary and a master’s in English from Fordham University.
A brother, Patrick, survives him.
A Funeral Mass was offered May 7 at St. Aedan’s, the St. Peter’s University Church in Jersey City. Burial was at the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville.