Church mourns after two pastors, including Indy 500's 'Priest in the Pits,’ die in one week

Frs. Glenn O'Connor ( L-inset) and Kevin Morris (R-inset) who served at Saint Susanna Parish church in Plainfield, Indiana, both died tragically just days apart.
Frs. Glenn O'Connor ( L-inset) and Kevin Morris (R-inset) who served at Saint Susanna Parish church in Plainfield, Indiana, both died tragically just days apart.

A day after Saint Susanna Church gathered to mourn their former pastor, Father Kevin Morris, who was killed in a tragic car crash last Tuesday, they were sent reeling in grief again when the man who replaced him in 2012, Father Glenn O'Connor, an auto-racing enthusiast known in racing circles as the "Priest in the Pits," succumbed to stage 4 cancer on Friday.

"You could tell people have a lot of anguish, a lot of pent up anxiety over the loss of these two great men in three days’ time," Saint Susanna Parish Deacon Charlie Giesting told Fox 59.

Authorities noted in an RTV6 report that Morris died Tuesday afternoon in a head-on crash after his car crossed the center line on U.S. 40, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, and hit the other vehicle.

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Morris who would have been 64 in October, led Saint Susanna Church from 1999 until 2012. In a Facebook post on the day he died, the church noted that he “was well-loved by the Saint Susanna community.”

At the time of his death he was serving as pastor of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.

Even though Morris spent most of his priestly life in Virginia, his obituary noted that it was at Saint Susanna that he “blossomed as a priest.”

“He blossomed as a priest and developed the foundation of his ministry to an active, hospitable and growing parish.  The schoolchildren of St. Susanna, many of them now young adults, credited him with lighting the fire of faith in their souls and nurturing it toward active participation in the church,” it said.

Father O’Connor who was well known for his faith as well as his presence on the auto racing track in Indiana, was 66 when he died after his unsuccessful battle with cancer.

For more than four decades, O'Connor, according to the Indy Star, was a fixture at the Indianapolis 500 and other races.

"During the 500 last year, I thought it was funny and maybe a sign of good luck to have him in front of my pit,” IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud told the publication. "It was always a sense of comfort to have him around and he was a lover of life."

In 2005, O’Connor expressed his love for auto racing days before the Indianapolis 500.

"After 30 years at the Speedway, it's still like walking on sacred ground. I have a lot of respect for the drivers, and I love the thrills and the competition. Win, lose or draw, it's an honor to be part of the tradition,” he said.

And Pagenaud said his passion for the sport was undeniable.

"He wouldn’t hesitate to help out any team that needed it," he said. "Rest in peace."

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also released a statement on O’Connor’s passing.

“Everyone at INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened about the passing of Father Glenn O’Connor. His passion for auto racing, especially his beloved Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May, made him a legendary and revered figure across the paddock,” the organization said.

“His devotion to serving God and people through his various ministries fueled a life of inspiration, giving and character. Father Glenn 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,” the statement ended.

As Deacon Giesting recalled the legacy left behind by both men, he said he was confident where they are now.

"We know where they are at. We will get there too; it will take a little bit of time," Giesting told Fox59.

"When I was reading about the transfiguration as our Gospel this week, and I saw Moses, and I saw Elijah next to Jesus. I also imaged in my mind Father Glenn and Father Kevin standing next to Jesus in that heaven," he said.

O’Connor, he recalled, was an expert in connecting his message with Scripture and was full of energy.

"He backed up everything he said and more by what he did every day. The man was non-stop. He was always doing something thinking about God’s kingdom," Giesting said.

Father Morris’s funeral will be on Monday. Details on Father O’Connor’s funeral date are still pending.

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