‘IndyCar’s priest’ dies

Fr. Glenn O'Connor celebrates Mass in a concession stand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: Dave Eck

Fr. Glenn O’Connor, who ministered to some of the biggest stars in motorsports, worked as a member of pit crews, and served several Indiana parishes during his life, has died.

“It is with sad hearts that we need to let our St. Susanna family know that Fr. Glenn O’Connor has passed away. Please keep him, his family, and all of our parishioners in your prayers. More details will be shared as they become available,” St. Susanna Catholic Church in Plainfield, Indiana, said on its Facebook page late Friday afternoon, where Fr. O’Connor was its pastor.

Fr. O’Connor, a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, was active in IndyCar Ministry and served as a chaplain to the Indianapolis International Airport. He was profiled in the May 2018 issue of Catholic Digest in a story by freelance reporter Dave Eck who attended the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Eck shadowed Fr. O’Connor that day has he completed his priestly and racing duties. As Eck wrote: 

It’s 3:56 a.m. as Fr. Glenn O’Connor weaves his SUV through the darkened streets of Indianapolis. On most Sundays Fr. Glenn tends to his 1,400 families as pastor of St. Susanna Parish in nearby Plainfield, Indiana, but on this day, the fourth Sunday in May 2017, he is taking his ministry to one of the meccas of motorsports — the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I love it,” he says. “I don’t take it for granted. I’m very thankful every year that I have a chance to do it, to be a part of it.”

Fr. Glenn has been a fixture at the race for 42 years.

By noon, Fr. Glenn will have celebrated three Masses, taken Communion to some of the biggest stars in IndyCar racing, been interviewed live on a local morning newscast, posed for photos, and shaken dozens of hands. He’ll have checked that everything is in place for the huge Mass in the Speedway infield. After all, pre-race Catholic revelers don’t just party. They also pray.

Clerical duties complete, he will trade his vestments for a racing team uniform to start the second part of his workday.

A member of driver J.R. Hildebrand’s team, Fr. Glenn works in the pits during the race, checking the tires used on Hildebrand’s race car.

Hulman & Company, the parent organization of IndyCar and the Indianpolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement issued Saturday that Fr. O’Connor “had such a warm personality, with a wide smile and hearty laugh that he shared with everyone he met, whether he was celebrating Mass in Gasoline Alley with his trademark checkered flag stole or turning a wrench for an Indy 500 team. We’re going to miss him dearly.”

Fr. O’Connor isn’t the only priest St. Susanna’s is mourning.

Fr. Kevin Morris, Fr. O’Connor’s predecessor at the suburban Indianapolis parish, died last Tuesday in an auto accident, Indiananpolis television station WXIN reported. The station said Fr. O’Connor had stage four cancer.

“When I was reading about the Transfiguration as our Gospel this [past] week [for the Second Sunday of Lent], and I saw Moses, and I saw Elijah next to Jesus, I also imaged in my mind Fr. Glenn and Fr. Kevin standing next to Jesus in that heaven,” Deacon Charlie Giesting of St. Susanna’s told the station.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.


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