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May 10, 2000


The following originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on
Sunday, May 7, 2000 on the Commentary Page

Cardinal O'Connor: A Legacy of Brotherly Love
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua

After a quiet yet valiant battle with illness, John Cardinal O'Connor, Philadelphia's native son who became Archbishop of New York, died on the evening of Wednesday, May 3. As the news of his death spread throughout the nation, many images of this distinguished leader flashed across the televisions and the minds of many who were touched by his life and service. Cardinal O'Connor was a smiling and humorous friend, known for his witty banter; a compassionate pastor, ever concerned for the poor and the afflicted; and a courageous shepherd, who vigorously defended the dignity of human life and the teachings of the Church.

Born on January 15, 1920 and raised in Southwest Philadelphia, John O'Connor's devout home life and Catholic education placed him on a road that would lead to the Priesthood. Ordained in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on December 15, 1945, Father O'Connor's first assignment immersed him in Catholic education as a teacher and guidance counselor. As a young priest he also worked with mentally and developmentally challenged children. These formative experiences ingrained in Cardinal O'Connor an abiding love for Catholic education (he staunchly insisted on the integrity of Catholic identity within Catholic schools) and made him a tireless advocate for the dignity and value of all human life.

Much of Cardinal O'Connor's priesthood was spent in the Military as a Chaplain, and, eventually, as the Chief of Chaplains with the rank of Rear Admiral. His ministry to the men and women of the Armed Forces fostered within him a love for peace. As a bishop, he was instrumental in leading the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling for nuclear disarmament through the Pastoral Letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise, Our Response."

Upon his retirement from the military, the Church called upon then Monsignor O'Connor to assume even more responsibility. He became a bishop and Vicar General for the Military Diocese for the United States in 1979. In 1983, Bishop O'Connor was appointed Bishop of Scranton and, less than a year later, on March 19, 1984, he was installed as the Archbishop of New York. His jovial personality, quick wit and good nature won over his new flock and captured the attention of the media. Soon everyone knew that the Archbishop of New York was a true pastor who would shepherd his flock with compassion and conviction, without compromise, in complete fidelity to Christ and to the Church.

In the year following his installation, Archbishop O'Connor was created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal O'Connor remained steadfast in his loyalty to the Pope and in upholding all of the Church's teachings. He dauntlessly defended the dignity of all human life, particularly in decrying the horrors of abortion. With concern and charity, Cardinal O'Connor used the resources available to him to alleviate the sufferings of persons with AIDS as he encouraged the faithful to be mindful of those with this disease. He vigorously championed the role of the traditional family in spite of criticism, protests and threats.

In carrying out his everyday duties and while maintaining a hectic schedule, Cardinal O'Connor never forgot that he was a priest. Whether celebrating Mass, comforting the sick, or participating in countless meetings, Cardinal O'Connor knew that the very foundation of his life was the priesthood, that he was called by God and anointed for the service of the Church. Configured to Christ the Good Shepherd, Cardinal O'Connor sought to be a man of peace and reconciliation, one who would bring Christ to others and others to Christ. Mindful of the significance of dialogue among people of all faiths, Cardinal O'Connor extended the hand of friendship to our Jewish brothers and sisters, and sustained cordial relations with other Christian denominations.

As our sisters and brothers in New York mourn the death of their beloved Archbishop, we realize that Cardinal O'Connor's death is a loss to the entire Church, and in a particular way, a cause of sadness for us in Philadelphia. While his vocation took him away from his beloved home, the "City of Brotherly Love" always remained in Cardinal O'Connor's heart. As we bid farewell to Cardinal O'Connor, we thank God for this son of Philadelphia, whose life has been a legacy of brotherly love.

Donna Crilley
Communications Specialist

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