Father Gabe, Broward Political Power, Dies

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

There was a time not so long ago when the route to winning a seat on the Davie Town Council was through St. David’s Catholic Church.

Or the route to winning votes in Davie for any race.

From the 1970s to late 1990s, Rev. Gabriel O’Reilly wielded as much political power as any condominium boss or political club leader.

Maybe more.  Because Father Gabe could always claim he was acting for a Higher Power.

“The Rev. Gabriel O’Reilly of St. David Catholic Church in Davie is a key to South Broward politics,” wrote Michael Young in 1992 in the Sun-Sentinel.

O’Reilly died Friday after a struggle with pancreatic cancer.  He was 69.

Father Gabriel O'Reilly

 

 

Meeting O’Reilly, it was not hard to see why his parishioners loved him. And listened to him at election time.

Born and raised in Ireland as the sixth of eight children, he was a Hollywood central casting’s idea of an Irish priest.

A soft brogue and twinkling eyes belied a steely dedication.

It was that dedication that built St. David’s out of Davie’s sandy soil and orange groves in 1974.  At the time, there were 19,000 in the town.

By 2007 when the church celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination, St. David had roughly 17,000 parishioners.

They started with 200 praying in a restaurant on State Road 84 owned by Eddie Egan.  Another tough Irishman, Egan was the retired New York cop whose exploits were made into the film The French Connection.

In 1979, they build the church on University Drive.

His influence in Davie politics grew as his church grew.  By the early 1990s, four of the five Davie council members attended St. David’s. Another parishioner was the wife of Scott Cowan, the county commission’s strongman.

O’Reilly was ever-present at political fund raisers and appeared in campaign literature. For Catholic and non-Catholic candidates, a visit to St. David’s was as important in Davie as a visit to Century Village in Deerfield Beach.

“If you don’t win St. David’s, you’ve got a problem,” Mayor Monroe Kiar, a church member and father of County Commissioner Marty Kiar, told the Miami Herald in 1989.

The preist was so involved in politics that in 1991, O’Reilly was questioned by prosecutors in an investigation of city hall violations of the Sunshine Law. Lobbyist Don McClosky was alleged to have rounded up votes quietly and behind the scenes to fire the town manager and O’Reilly was asked what he knew.

O’Reilly explained his involvement in politics with the Miami Herald in 1989: “I believe in becoming active. There are too many places where people lie down and do nothing.”

Amen, Father Gabe.

XXXXX

Funeral services for Father O’Reilly will begin Friday, June 14, at 4 p.m. at St. David, with a vigil lasting all night and vigil prayers at 8 p.m. Archbishop Thomas Wenski will celebrate the funeral Mass Saturday, June 15, at 10 a.m

 



6 Responses to “Father Gabe, Broward Political Power, Dies”

  1. Kevin Tynan says:

    He was a good man and will be missed.

  2. Marty Kiar says:

    Father O’Reilly was a great person. I can attest from first hand experience that the reason he was so immensily respected and influential in political elections is because he always fought for what was right and just for our community. He was so honest, caring and dedicated to making a difference, that folks truly respected his guidance and opinions. I am quite certain that his strong involvement in our local elections helped shape the incredible community that we all live in today.

    I also wanted to add that I am going to miss him very much. He gave me my first Communion, presided over my marriage and baptized both of my children. He also gave first Communion to my sister and brother, presided over each of their marriages and baptized and gave first Communion to my sister’s children. My mother was also as the principal of St. David Catholic School for many years and worked closely with Father O’Reilly to positively shape young minds.

    Father O’Reilly started the church and ultimately a school which was awarded the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. He worked tirelessly to help all those less fortunate and was a spiritual advisor and friend to thousands of people. What I admired the most about him is that he respected everyone, regardless of faith and denomination. For example, he would work with other spiritual leaders, such as Rabbis and Pastors to help those in our community who were in need. I and our entire community will miss him greatly.

  3. Christine says:

    And no,Militant Atheist, he did not abuse any children.

  4. Citizen says:

    I met Father O’Reilly after Hurricane Wilma doing inspection on the property. As he took us around and showed us what had left to be clean-up, repaired or otherwise not yet completed, I asked him How did he do it? He said they had just had the Parish Festival so many temporary workers were still in town when Wilma showed up, so he had them help out as he directed the effort. He also conveniently had a Lull that made access above grade easily accomplished. He fed everyone and did his best to make accomodations in return for their labor contributions. Afterwards whenever the parish came up, we smiled among ourselves and said as a compliment that Father O’Reilly fancied himself a General Contarctor who knew how to get any job done. St. David’s was rewarded with the most capable and inspiring pastor to be found in the county and maybe the state! Rest in Peace Father O’Reilly!

  5. Parishioner says:

    Beautiful obituary for Father O’Reilly.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/08/3440722/gabriel-oreilly-irish-priest-who.html

  6. lynne prisciantelli says:

    fr oreilly thanks and GOD grant you HIS PERFECT PEACE!!! tues june 11 2013 st barnabas PEACE lynne

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