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Rev. James A. O’Brien, SJ, was born on April 7, 1927, in Philadelphia, PA. He attended St. Joseph’s Prep and started at Saint Joseph’s University before becoming a Midshipman in 1945 at the Pennsylvania Maritime Academy in Morrisville, PA. He entered the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, PA, on September 27, 1947. He received his B.A. and M.A. in History from West Baden College in West Baden Springs, IN, now part of Loyola University Chicago, as well as his Licentiate in Philosophy, before going on to earn his Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Woodstock College in Woodstock, MD, and his Doctorate in Philosophy from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. While in formation, he also taught Greek, Latin, History and Religion at Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore. Fr. O’Brien was ordained on June 19, 1960, at Woodstock College.

It is rare that a Jesuit remains at one apostolate or institution his entire career, but in 1962, Fr. O’Brien began what would become a five-decade tenure at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV, serving in a variety of assignments. He taught Philosophy and Ethics for some 53 years, including several years as Chair of the department. He also served as a counselor to resident students, chaplain, and moderator of student government. For 27 years, he moderated the alumni association and organized the first Appalachian Experience Student Club in 1978, which later became the Appalachian Institute to help West Virginians in need. The institute continues to promote research, service, and advocacy with the people of the region. Each year now, the alumni association presents The James O’Brien, SJ, Alumni Award to recent graduates who manifest a growing competence in their chosen field, and whose personal life reflects the university’s mission of educating “men and women for life, leadership and service to others.”

“Fr. O’Brien lived a truly beautiful life,” stated current Wheeling University President Ginny Favede. “His unshakeable faith, his deep love, and his tireless service made him a guiding light for us all.”

In 2015, Fr. O’Brien moved to the Colombiere Jesuit Community in Baltimore, where he faithfully served in pastoral ministry, praying for the Church and the Society of Jesus. He died on December 23, 2023, at the age of 96, several months after being inducted into the Wheeling, West Virginia Hall of Fame. Fr. O’Brien once said, “There is a line in an old verse that says one should ‘live by the side of the road and be a friend to those who pass by.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do—be a faithful person to God and others.”