The O’Connors, Paul and Margaret, today and on their wedding day in 1950. Right photo courtesy the O’Connors; left photo by Michael Swan

Faith paves the path of a 70-year journey

  • September 25, 2020

When Margaret and Paul O’Connor first met in 1946, they were teenagers enjoying a Catholic youth night at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. As they swayed to the sounds of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, little did they know that one day they would celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

The couple commemorates the milestone on Sept. 30, and after having eight children and spending more than 50 years running the Paul O’Connor Funeral Home together, the fun-loving pair has learned a thing or two about how to keep their marriage strong.

“We’ve always placed our trust in the good Lord that everything would work out,” said Paul, now retired as funeral director at the family business. “Besides that, I have to give my wife credit. I always say that when I met her at St. Michael’s, I think the good Lord had just sent her there that night. I asked her for a dance, and we’ve had a very good life together.”

“I think we’re both pretty easy to get along with, maybe me more so,” joked Margaret. “I can’t really say we ever had a bad argument or anything. I think we were too busy and didn’t have time to fight or anything. We just took things as they came.”

The couple attends Our Lady of Fatima Shrine Parish in Scarborough and say faith has been an integral part to their journey in business and raising children together. When they started the funeral home back in 1967 with a young family and just $4,000 to invest, it was the close-knit church community surrounding them that helped to make their dreams a reality.

“Your social life back in those days was your parish,” said Margaret, who mostly took care of the administrative duties at the business. “We had a lot of friends and a great number of them belonged to the same church. We had family and friends that all put in a little bit of money and had a little share in the business. We had eight children and we didn’t have anything, but people were good. They were friendly and they pitched in.”

They serviced 120 funerals in that first year and by the height of the business in the year 2000 were  up to 750. Fixtures in their Scarborough community for decades, many of their friends over the years have been happy to have a warm and familiar face helping them through their time of grief.

“One lady just a few years ago said, ‘I want you here Paul when I pass away,’ ” said Margaret with a chuckle as she recalled that her husband was in his late 80s at the time. “He said, ‘Well I hope so, but you better go soon.’

“You have to joke about things when you’re in that kind of business.”

The couple, both in their 90s, only retired after having sold the business this past January. Their children, all in their 50s and 60s, have helped out at the funeral home throughout the years and two of them, Kevin and Nadine, stayed on into adulthood. It was Kevin who was nearing retirement age himself who was the impetus for Paul and Margaret to finally let go of the business.

“I think (Kevin) wanted to retire before that but he used to say, “How can I retire when my parents are still working here,’ ” laughed Margaret, who celebrated her 90th birthday in 2019.

“He told us a year ago he’d really like to retire, so we had to do something.”

The Paul O’Connor Funeral Home was sold to an American company and Nadine has carried on part-time under the new management. She says working with her parents has been a joy all these years and though they are not at the funeral home any longer she’s happy to still carry on the O’Connor legacy.

“When friends come in, I take them into the family room and I’m there for visiting and helping down in the office,” said Nadine. “It’s kind of nice that people can still come and know that there’s an O’Connor still here.”

A Mass is to be held at Precious Blood Parish in honour of Margaret and Paul’s 70th wedding anniversary at the end of September.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Toronto, and gathering restrictions in place, the family says it’s unlikely they will be able to hold a big get-together to include their 17 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren and family friends.

Despite the global situation and a few health challenges, Margaret and Paul say they are grateful to God for bringing them from humble beginnings as a young couple to enjoying the fruits of their life’s work. As they prepare to commemorate this major milestone in their relationship, whether the celebration be big or small, they say they will continue to enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and take everything that comes their way in stride.

“It’s beyond reasoning that the good Lord blessed us so much,” said Paul. “It’s a very happy life.”

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