More than 200 people packed Kasey’s Kitchen and Cocktails on Sunday for a fundraiser to support Sean O’Brien, who over the past several months has opened up about the sexual abuse he endured as a child at the hands of a St. Agnes Cathedral priest.
The room brimmed with positive energy as attendees ate, drank, enjoyed live music and contributed to raising funds, which will go toward O’Brien’s therapy to treat the physical and mental pain he continues to face as a result of the childhood abuse. There were several raffle prizes, a live auction, the chance to purchase Super Bowl boxes and From Darkness Into Light T-shirts.
The televisions that weren’t airing the AFC and NFC championship games displayed a photo slideshow of O’Brien with his family and friends, including some of O’Brien playing sports as a child.
“Just seeing everybody and receiving this kind of support is incredible,” O’Brien said.
Among those in attendance were about a dozen fellow members of St. Agnes’s class of 1985, who showed up to support O’Brien. Some of them he hadn’t seen in 30 years, he noted.
“They have done so much to support me, emotionally and financially,” O’Brien said.
About halfway through the event, O’Brien’s childhood friends Chris Johnson, Brian Baker and Kerry Keating, who emceed the event, captured the crowd’s attention with jokes and stories about O’Brien from their days growing up at St. Agnes. O’Brien and his family held hands smiling at the front of the room as they did.
O’Brien, 47, was a 10-year-old at St. Agnes Cathedral School in 1981 when, he said, the Rev. John J. McGeever began sodomizing him repeatedly in the rectory basement. The abuse lasted two years. McGeever died in 1993.
Now living in North Carolina, O’Brien publicly opened up about the abuse last September in a Facebook video, during which he discussed plans to start the From Darkness Into Light Foundation to help fellow victims emotionally, financially and spiritually.
Tom Michels, an old friend of O’Brien’s late brother, Tim, contacted him soon after, wanting to help. He formed a committee of nine people, which has since grown, including Baker and Johnson, as well as O’Brien’s brother Pat. Originally planning to have a fundraiser for the foundation, committee members realized O’Brien needed more time to heal, and decided to raise funds for him instead before launching the organization.
Johnson noted the series of emails that he and the fundraising committee sent out to community members in the weeks prior to the event, in which O’Brien and his family shared stories about the lasting impact of the childhood abuse. “The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming and we really feel like [the emails] served their purpose,” Johnson said. “Sean has really chosen to pull back the curtain and has fully pulled us into his life and we really appreciate that.”
He added that he believes the incredible support is “not because of what happened as much as who it happened to.”
“Sean was not the typical kid — he was a better athlete than anyone in our grade,” Johnson said. “He was also a better human being than anyone in our grade.”
When Baker addressed the community, he acknowledged O’Brien’s wife, Heather, and daughters Kailyn, Meghan and Holly for lifting him up during difficult times. “They deserve a whole lot of credit,” he said, as hundreds applauded.
“I never could have imagined this [turnout],” said O’Brien, who was also joined by his father, Bernie and mother, Marilyn. “It’s overwhelming. My mom and dad are in tears.”
After the event, O'Brien sent a message of gratitude to the 700 community members on the fundraising team's email list, which read:
“My family and I are so grateful to all those who came out Sunday to rally around us and show us your love and support. We’re also so appreciative for those, who even though they were not able to attend, donated to us through the website anyway. RVC is an amazing community of people with big hearts! To all who donated the spectacular array of silent auction items, we’re so thankful for your generosity and the added energy in the room as the bidding wars heated up at the end of the night!
Kasey’s was such a beautiful venue to hold this special event, so a huge thank you goes to Tom McNicholas for sacrificing a night of profits to host the nearly 400 people who made this such an unforgettable night.
And to the members of the committee who joined together and gave so much of their time, talents and energy which made this event such a huge success, my family is overwhelmed at your generosity and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your concern for my well being and the well being of my family is a living example of Christ’s love and compassion shining through you to those in need. We are so grateful to have received those blessings from you. The outpouring of love and support that was on display at Kasey’s on Sunday filled our hearts with joy and helped me take a big step forward on my journey toward healing.”
Ben Strack contributed to this story.