Herbert O’Driscoll, the storyteller

Published January 18, 2016

Herb is one of my mentors because he is living proof of lifelong service.

We have been friends for about 35 years, and what I want to share here is a reminder of an active life well lived. What I convey comes from two main sources-his formal spiritual writings, engaged preaching and teaching, and many rich, informal exchanges between us.

No period of life is insignificant in terms of spiritual growth, he would say, so this recitation is not merely the reflection of one ageing friend about another. As he reminded me recently, decisions we make at various strategic times in our lives frequently have a significant impact on how our future unfolds. This is especially, but not always, true, about the second half of life, when we become involved with integrating and resolving our experience.

Herb was born, raised and received his definitive education for ministry in the Church of Ireland; first at Middleton College, County Cork, and then at Trinity College, Dublin. As an Anglican living in Catholic Ireland, his Celtic spiritual formation had a lifelong impact. He has grown and matured in that tradition and shared it with many though sermons, books and travel hosting. A gifted hymn-writer and raconteur, he remains a valuable modern resource for an ancient spiritual way.

After ordination, Herb served briefly as a priest in his homeland, but soon followed a dream to come to Canada. His first ministries in this country were in the Ottawa diocese; but he then responded to a call from across the country to become dean of the cathedral in New Westminster. He greatly influenced North American sermons across the ecumenical spectrum while teaching at the College of Preachers, Washington National Cathedral, and elsewhere.

He returned to Canada as rector of Christ Church, Calgary, and it was at that time, during the early to mid-’80s, that our friendship began. Herb has been in “active and productive” retirement for the past 25 years through leading workshops and retreats, and countless speaking engagements. I have often marvelled at the stamina this takes, but he has obviously found his passion and that keeps him going.

While his career path is impressive, I was always taken by his concern over the major trans-Atlantic and new continental moves all this entailed for Paula, his wife-a noted vocalist-and for his family.

Some of Herb’s most productive work has surfaced during the later decades when, freed from the responsibilities of formal ministry, he has been able to give contemporary attention and interpretation to those ancient Celtic Druidic spiritual voices.

Narrative conversation is how I would describe the way we engage each other. Rational concepts and esoteric ideas are not his preferred style of communication. Herb frequently uses a common anecdote to make his point, and in so doing, he has avoided the pitfalls of self-congratulation.

Sometimes we wait too long to let our special friends know how we have benefited from the relationship. I didn’t want that to happen with Herb.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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