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Rockville Centre community set to rally around sex abuse survivor at Jan. 20 fundraiser

Sean O'Brien, supporters, share full story before event

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Hundreds are expected to gather in Rockville Centre on Sunday to support Sean O’Brien, who was sexually abused by a St. Agnes priest while serving as an altar boy more than 35 years ago.

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, who worked at St. Agnes for much of the 1980s, died in 1993.

O’Brien, who now lives in North Carolina, publicly opened up about the abuse last September in a 14-minute live Facebook video stream and received immediate support from community members. He also 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 childhood friends Brian Baker and Chris 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. The fundraiser will take place Sunday at Kasey’s Kitchen and Cocktails — 23 N. Park Ave. — from 3 to 8 p.m.

Leading up to the fundraiser, the committee sent a number of emails to members of the community to “make it abundantly clear why we think it is so critical to remove some of the financial burdens that have made Sean’s healing so incredibly difficult,” Baker and Johnson wrote in the first one.

O’Brien explained in the final pre-fundraiser email what he called a “vicious cycle” of physical and emotional pain, which prevents him from working and providing for his wife and three daughters.

Before that, in a Jan. 1 email, O’Brien included a letter that he wrote in January 2014 explaining the abuse to the Rev. Robert Brennan, who still serves as auxiliary bishop and vicar general of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

“I thought for sure that he would read these words and be heartbroken that this abuse happened to a member of the O’Brien family, and that he would have a sincere desire to provide the help that my family and I desperately needed,” O’Brien wrote in the email. “I was wrong.”

He noted that upon meeting with Brennan, he and his father, Bernie, were “disrespected, lied to [and] bullied,” despite being devoted to the church for decades.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement Monday, “In keeping with its longstanding commitment to pastoral outreach to abuse survivors, the Diocese of Rockville Centre and all of its lay and clergy personnel were in fact very kind and respectful to Mr. O’Brien and his family, and followed established protocols at all times.”

O’Brien and fundraiser organizers have emphasized that they are not encouraging anti-church sentiments.

“Through this entire journey, Sean has never lost his sense of faith,” O’Brien’s wife, Heather, wrote in one of the emails. “Yes, he’s questioned it many times, but he knows that the violent attacks he endured over and over were not the work of God. They were the work of a calculated predator with easy access to children, and nobody with the guts to stop him.”

The fundraiser features a variety of raffle prizes, including two tickets to the Knicks game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 21. The Thunder’s head coach, Billy Donovan, who grew up in Rockville Centre and graduated from St. Agnes High School the same year as Pat O’Brien in 1983, has been supportive of the O’Brien family for years and secured the tickets, with the opportunity for a post-game meet-and-greet, Pat noted.

For information on other raffle prizes, to buy last-minute tickets to the fundraiser, or to read about O’Brien’s story, visit www.rvcobrienstrong.com.

“The funds are the funds,” Pat said, noting the effect the outpouring of love has had on his brother. “Whatever comes out of the [fundraiser], I hope really helps Sean, but the support is amazing.”