Msgr. William O’Brien, Daytop Village Founder Was Authority on Substance Abuse Treatment


Msgr. William B. O’Brien, the founder and president of Daytop Village, died Oct. 19. He was 90.

He was elected president of the board of directors of Daytop Village in 1964, the largest rehabilitation center for drugs and alcohol in New York state, the year after he helped to establish it. He retired in 1999 as president of Daytop.

Cardinal Dolan offered a Funeral Mass Oct. 25 at St. Pius X Church in Scarsdale, where Msgr. O’Brien had served as a senior priest in residence. Msgr. Thomas E. Gilleece, pastor of St. John and St. Mary parish in Chappaqua, was the homilist.

“He was a tall man, a big man, with a quiet voice, a soft voice. But when he spoke, people stopped and listened,” said Msgr. Gilleece, who knew Msgr. O’Brien from a time when the priest provided assistance to a couple of his parishioners.

He described Msgr. O’Brien as a man who felt that family was important—not just traditional families, but families made through friendships such as those fostered in the Daytop program. “They were a family, not a natural family, but a family,” Msgr. Gilleece told CNY. “That was important to him.”

He also noted that Msgr. O’Brien was “always on the go.” He softly laughed as he said, “When the 6:45 a.m. Mass began every morning, he said it at 6:30 a.m. He was always ahead of himself.”

In addition to his responsibilities at Daytop, Msgr. O’Brien continued to provide priestly service. “He married people, he buried people. He offered Masses, countless Masses. He did everything a parish priest would do,” Msgr. Gilleece said.

“He did an awful lot, and you really never knew about it.”

He added, “We are sad that he is gone, but glad that he is home.”

He was a co-founder of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities that he guided into a global movement establishing substance abuse treatment programs in countries throughout the world.

A trusted adviser to heads of state, as well as to Pope John Paul II, Msgr. O'Brien helped to shape policies that radically improved treatment programs around the world.

He was the author of the highly acclaimed book, "You Can't Do It Alone: The Daytop Way to Make Your Child Drug Free." He also published papers in national and international journals.

He served as a chaplain at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry.

He was parochial vicar at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Ardsley and at Most Precious Blood in Walden. He also at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Francis De Sales parish, both in Manhattan.

He was a trustee of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and chaplain to the Transit Authority Police Force. He is a past faculty member of the Institute of the Christian Apostolate at Fordham University.

Born in Yonkers, he grew up in Tuckahoe and attended Cathedral College and St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1951 and named a monsignor in 1968.

Burial was in Holy Mount Cemetery in Eastchester.