Uploaded on Feb 6, 2012
WARNING: Some photos used in John's presentation are graphic.
BISMARCK, ND - On Feb. 2, 2012, childhood burn survivor John O'Leary shared his remarkable story of hope, courage and faith as the keynote speaker for the University of Mary's annual Prayer Day celebration. With humor and emotion, he captivated the audience which filled McDowell Activity Center with his amazing account of the experience that could have ended his life, but instead enabled him to live it with an enhanced appreciation and understanding of its meaning.
As a youngster, O'Leary was fascinated by fire. After watching some older boys pour gasoline on the sidewalk and light it with a match, he decided to try it himself. Nine years old at the time, he lit a piece of cardboard near a five-gallon can of gas in his family's garage. The resulting explosion threw his body across the garage and changed his life. O'Leary's parents were not at home, but three of his five siblings were; and his recollections of the ways they risked their lives to save him helped lay the foundation for insights he has continued to explore and share.
Today, O'Leary credits his subsequent journey, which took him from "despair to hope" and from "anger to love," as having "led to the formation foundation in faith, character, purpose, [and] relationships-everything that's really good that's come into [his] life has been a result of that fire."
From the moment the fire started, throughout the stages of his prolonged recovery, O'Leary has used every breath of his near-death experience to inspire and empower others across the world to dream again, re-ignite their passion and take positive action. Despite being burned on 100 percent of his body and given less than 1 percent chance to survive, he has beaten those odds through attitude, heart, spirit and faith in God.
In his talk to the U-Mary community, it students, and guests, he posed three questions that emerged from his experience, the answers to which determined his recovery and have shaped his life: (1) Do you want to die? (2) Do you want to live? And (3) What more can I do?
"God is with you," he stressed. He challenged the audience to contemplate, "What might happen to your life if you replaced fear of tomorrow with the light and the love, and the faith of today ... let God in and let the light shine through and hold onto that?"
Sharing the mantra "Have faith and fight,"" which was a constant refrain delivered in words and action by many individuals throughout his ordeal, O'Leary shared the message, "Take the hand of Jesus Christ. Walk the journey with Him.
"What God shows us repeatedly in our lives ... is that he can work through you."
He urged attendees to ask, "How do I reveal the light of love in my life? How do I ... give back love to life?"
Now, O'Leary's not just surviving - but thriving. He overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to become a college graduate, business owner, hospital chaplain, the ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters, an international speaker, and husband and father. In 2006, he was the first inductee into the Energizer "Keep Going" Hall of Fame. In 2007, he joined the ranks of St. Louis University's Young Alumni of the Year, and in 2009, he was chosen as one of the Top 10 "Most Interesting People" in St. Louis, MO.
O'Leary's moving and inspiring presentation, which drew a standing ovation, was followed by three workshops: "Igniting Your Faith," by O'Leary; "Pain and Suffering," led by Sister Edith Selzler, OSB; and "Theory of a Miracle," with burn survivor and alumnus Parnel Plante, '82. Prayer Day 2012 concluded with the Most Rev. David Kagan, the recently installed seventh bishop of Bismarck, presiding at his first Prayer Day Mass.