St. Joe’s confirmation class helps children who lost father

Corey O’Neill, who died Dec. 9, 2017, is shown holding his daughter Violet. -photos courtesy olivia o’neill

Group from Camillus church presents $1,350 check 

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

Despite her devastation, Dale O’Neill delivered an exhortation.

   Having suddenly lost her 27-year-old son, Corey O’Neill, the Baldwinsville woman sent a plea to the St. Joseph’s Church (Camillus) confirmation class’s director:

   “I feel an urgency in making sure people know where they are going when they die. Don’t assume. Know! Take that journey and find the answers! I pray your teens will pay closer attention to what’s being taught in their class. I pray they start to read the Bible for themselves. They need to wake up because they may not have a lifetime to figure out their spiritual life!”

   On Dec. 9, 2017, St. Joseph’s 91-member confirmation class held a holiday party for the Down Syndrome Association of Central New York. Corey, of Oneida, attended with his niece Ezrie, who has Down syndrome; his daughter, Violet, 3; and his parents. Corey loved people. He had a joyful time at the party, then drove Violet home and parked in the separate garage behind the house. He let Violet out of the car and collapsed.

Corey O’Neill, whose cause of death is unknown, is shown holding his daughter Hazel.

   Inside the house was Corey’s wife, Olivia, and their two-week-old baby, Hazel. Dale’s husband and Corey’s dad, Mike, said Olivia heard the car come in and then didn’t hear anything for a minute or two. She went outside and saw Violet, who said that her dad had fallen. Olivia called 911 and started CPR, but she felt her husband was dead as soon as she walked up to him, Mike said. The hospital worked on Corey for an hour, Mike said. Corey had no history of heart problems, and the autopsy revealed no cause of death; the family is waiting for results of testing.

   The St. Joseph’s confirmation class donated $1,350 of their own money and presented the check to Mike, who along with Ezrie attended the May 20 confirmation at St. Joseph’s. “It was not solicited,” Mike said of the check. “It’s awesome, and every cent of that will be used for Corey’s two girls’ future education.” “We were really excited to give a donation to that family,” said Isabella Giannuzzi, a 10th-grader and a member of the confirmation class.

   Also, a YouCaring Memorial Fund has been set up for the girls. Mike said: “One hundred percent of all donations go directly to the girls.” The site is https://www.youcaring.com/coreyoneillmemorial.

   Corey was born in Brunswick, Maine, and spent eight years growing up as a nondenominational Christian in New Mexico. When he was 12 the family moved to the Syracuse area. Homeschooled, he enjoyed soccer and lifeguarding. He was six feet two inches tall, the only one of four siblings with red hair. He met his wife, to whom he was married for five years, when they both attended Onondaga Community College, he for computer science and she for accounting. Corey moved on to SUNY Oswego and graduated from there. Olivia has moved to the Marcellus area to be with her folks, and she is focusing on taking care of the children, Mike said.

   Six weeks before he died, Corey, a software engineer, had started a new job at SRC, a research and development corporation. He “worked so hard to get to where he was,” his mom wrote in the email to Cindy Heath, director of youth ministry and confirmation at St. Joseph Church. “His career was really taking off.”

   Before SRC, Corey worked four years for BAE Systems in Rome, N.Y. He had developed his own physical-fitness mobile app for Android phones, Mike said. The app, which people around the world were using, matched the tempo of music to the tempo of a workout.

   Corey was a “very strong Christian,” along with his wife, said Mike, the director of information technology for the Syracuse Community Health Center: “He believed that he would be with Jesus someday.” He said Dale wants people to come to Christ as a result of Corey’s death.

   “We all know that Corey is in heaven,” Dale said in her email. “He made that decision as a kid. … He was a doer. He wouldn’t hesitate to pull over to the side of the road to help somebody change a tire. He had a light inside him. Everyone wanted to be around him. He was also goofy and fun-loving. Everyone seems to have at least one ‘Corey story’! He was the one to … play hide and seek at family gatherings.”

   “When I received the letter from [Dale,]” Heath wrote in an email, “it truly affected all of us. I have worked here at St. Joe’s for over 20 years and this was something that really touched my heart. To learn the impact that this party had on this family, the last time they saw their son, it was a happy and memorable time for them to hold on to. The message that [Dale] shared with us about how important it is for our youth to keep reading their Bibles and living their faith was extremely powerful.”

   The Down Syndrome Association party, attended by close to 200 people, left Mike and Dale with wonderful memories of Corey having a good time, said Holly Giannuzzi, Isabella’s mom. The confirmation class organized the whole event, including decorations, food, crafts, Santa, and games. Isabella had chosen to spend time as an “elf” with Ezrie’s family because she viewed Ezrie as “just super special and funny.” Corey said to Isabella: “Can you tell me about your confirmation class because I’m unfamiliar with the Catholic way.”

   Isabella, the wise “elf,” got the message from Corey’s family. “I do feel closer to God and my faith,” she said, “and I’m ready to take the next step in church and continue to be involved in the church community. … And to do more volunteer work.”