He was born just 90 miles south down the turnpike in Philadelphia on January 15, 1920 long before there were superhighways. But connecting with others on the information highway of souls has always been his destination from an early age. Coming from a very devout Catholic family, his parents were his rock while growing up in Philly. His mother imparted an important lesson he has never forgotten and continues to practice today as he puts it, "A priest must listen, a bishop, perhaps, even a shade more. If I listen, it's in large measure because my mother listened. Isn't that an interesting memory to have of a mother, a memory from earliest days through adulthood? She listened. She preferred to listen. I don't believe that her silence was born of her limited formal education. Indeed, she was quite well-spoken. It's simply that she was a quiet woman. She moved around the house quietly, did the housework quietly, even the dishes and the pots and pans. If she ever raised her voice, I must have been out of earshot. And she prayed." This steady influence guided young John through Catholic parochial schooling and, through the efforts of his parents and God's graces, he felt the pull to the priesthood.
He entered the seminary in Philadelphia in the mid thirties. It had been a tough major seminary for him with World War II going on and many friends serving overseas, many dying on the battlefields of Europe and in the Pacific. His respect for the military would carry over into his priestly ministry. His proud parents were present when he was ordained on December 15, 1945 in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the age of 25. His first assignment by Cardinal Dennis Dougherty was pastoral work and to teach at St. James School and then Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1952, with the Korean War in full force, he entered the armed forces as a Chaplain for the United States Navy and Marine Corps serving in that capacity overseas through the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, being elevated in 1975 to Head Chaplain of the Navy.
On April 24, 1979 Pope John Paul II made him Titular Bishop of Curzola and Auxiliary Bishop to the Military Vicar of the Armed Forces of the United States. The Military Vicar at that time was Cardinal Terence Cooke, Archbishop of New York. He was consecrated on May 27, 1979. Four years later on May 10, 1983 the Holy Father tabbed him as the Bishop of Scranton to succeed the retiring Bishop J. Carroll McCormick who had retired on February 15, 1983. Bishop O'Connor was installed on June 29, 1983 as Scranton's seventh prelate. It was a position he would hold for only a year for later that same year on October 6, 1983 Cardinal Cooke died.
The Pope knew the perfect replacement and on January 31, 1984 he was appointed Archbishop of New York and installed on the Feast of Saint Joseph a few months later at St. Patrick's Cathedral. We suspect also that Cardinal Cooke placed the idea several times in the Holy Father's ear for Cardinal Cooke worked closely with Bishop O'Connor in the military and could see the potential in this young man from Philadelphia. Thus Archbishop O'Connor became the eighth prelate to head the country's second largest see with 45% of New York City's population claiming to be Roman Catholic. That's 2,347,100 Catholics out of a total population of 5,213,513! For more, see www.ny-archdiocese.org.
A year after being elevated to Archbishop of New York, the Pope continued the long illustrious honor of New York cardinals by bestowing the cardinalate on him during the Consistory of May 25, 1985. He received the titular church of Sts. John and Paul and was created a cardinal priest. During his fourteen year time as cardinal he has quickly moved to the top of the list of the most influential American prelates, speaking out indefatigably for the Sanctity of Life against the growing, insidious culture of death and taking on both Madison Avenue and the media as well as the politicians in striving to imbue the morals and values Our Lord expects.
Besides his tremendous involvement in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and civic activities within New York City plus his fatherly shepherding of his flock, he is a member of several Curial offices including the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. In addition he serves membership on the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People plus the Institute for Works of Religion. The latter is the commission that banks and administer funds for works of religion in which Cardinal O'Connor, along with Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano (the 60th selection of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY) is heavily involved. He is an expert in this field since he has also helped oversee the Vatican's economic affairs in this position. Aided by his auxilary Bishops Patrick Ahern, Anthony Mestice and Francisco Garmendia he is able to make several working trips to Rome during the year. Monsignor James Mahoney, another auxiliary, died last month and the Cardinal expressed great sorrow at his loss.
During his major scholasticate years and while in the military, Cardinal O'Connor achieved advanced degrees in Ethics, Clinical Psychology and Political Theory not to mention Theology and Philosophy. In short, he is an intelligent, well-versed prelate who has his pulse on these modern times but reins in his flock as a loving, loyal paternal shepherd. There is no issue the cardinal is not afraid to tackle. Whether it be his staunch defense for the Sanctity of Life in all its stages, speaking out strongly against immorality and wrongs, standing up to the various political movements such as the gay coalition who has openly attacked the archbishop for standing by Church doctrine in the face of social pressures that has garnered headlines because of the clashes. The majority of them have been sacrilegious inside and outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, but the Cardinal has not backed down.
There is no caving in with Cardinal O'Connor. For awhile in the eighties he carried the conservative banner with little support in the NCCB during the time Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (the 55th selection of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY) was at his height, but in the last five years the strength, convictions and leadership he has shown has slowly but surely won many more over to the orthodox side as we indicated in profiles on Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, and Bishop John J. Myers, all recipients of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY. It's almost sad that just as he is about to retire the pendulum is swinging back to normality. The liberal bishops are hanging on by a thread and the recent vote at the NCCB Conference last week, which was an overwhelming mandate to follow the Holy Father's directives in respect higher education at Catholic institutions. In addition, the fact so many bishops have finally realized the Church's great traditions need to be reinforced beginning with returning the Tabernacle to the focal point of the sanctuary, as we center on in today's CATHOLIC PewPOINT, shows a trend that sends a ringing message that the modernists are losing their grip. Thank God. And this return to the sacred, loyalty and tradition could be one of Cardinal O'Connor's greatest legacies. Yes, through his leadership and example, the Church in America can be saved.
Another legacy would be that he was a perfect fit for New York's vast ethnic mix for he has long been a champion of all nationalities and a hands-on prelate who has garnered the respect and love of all his flock. With all the flap over Rudolph Giuliani running against Hillary Clinton for the New York Senate, we would suspect many would even vote for Cardinal O'Connor over the two in question for he is popular with non-Catholics as well. He has established an excellent rapport with the Jewish community and received awards for his caring. He has received countless awards as well as honorary degrees, but these are all academic, if you will, for the most important thing to him is his flock and being the pastoral, hands-on loving shepherd.
He also helped found a new order of nuns - the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, a traditional congregation of religious who spend their lives in prayer and care for the elderly. He established them as a public association of Christ's faithful on February 9, 1997 in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He has helped numerous other religious congregations and lay ministries either get started, or expand, always taking into account their loyalty to Rome and their faculties to carry out their duties.
He also possesses an extraordinary sense of humor, but one that puts everything in perspective, never causing a laugh at the expense of anyone else. Yet he doesn't hesitate to laugh at himself and in that quality has won over some of his harshest critics. He exemplifies the love Christ asks of His shepherds and that love is returned by Our Lord's sheep. This was evident by the hordes of well-wishers and genuine concern when he underwent surgery for a brain tumor a few months ago. Thankfully, he came through it with flying colors. That is truly remarkable for a man of his age. He will turn 80 shortly after the turn of the millennium and, though the Holy Father would dearly love for him to stay on, Cardinal O'Connor has already given five years more than he expected since the retirement age is 75. But the Pope and cardinal are close friends and it was more as a favor to the Vicar of Christ in obedience to the successor of Peter, that influenced Cardinal O'Connor's staying on. Follow-up chemotherapy treatments will sap anyone, taking the strength out of a person for the sake of freezing out the cancer. In a man of his age it can make him even weaker and so, we suspect, after the first of the year the Holy Father will announce a successor to this great cardinal who has followed in the footsteps of another great archbishop of New York Cardinal Terence Cooke. In fact, the 28th selection for the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. is serving as Promoter for the Cause of Beatification for Cardinal Cooke. Cardinal O'Connor endorses the cause, "I believe that Cardinal Cooke was and is a saint and I pray that one day he will be declared a saint by the Church."
In looking back over the sixteen years many would consider that Cardinal O'Connor's name will someday be offered for consideration for sainthood as well. There isn't anything he hasn't done in promoting the truths of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. He has written a profound and in-depth meditation on all aspects of the Great Deposit of Faith based on the Church's catechetical teachings, "A Moment of Grace: Meditations on the Catechism of the Catholic Church." Father Groeschel, who has been close to both Cardinal Cooke and Cardinal O'Connor, says of the Archbishop's book, "Cardinal O'Connor's meditations provide a very readable, brilliant, engaging and entertaining guide through the new Catechism of the Catholic Church." Though that is the only book by the cardinal, he has written numerous pastorals and writes a viewpoint each week in the Diocesan paper Catholic New York as well as preparing homilies that should go down as classics for every seminarian and young priest to study.
And so, as the millennium slowly wanes and a new one beckons, one gives thought to the possibility of where the Church in America might be if there were not a strong and respected presence such as Cardinal O'Connor to guide not only his own vast flock in New York City, but also be a steadying guide for numerous bishops and priests who look to him as the leader of the American Conclave. Because of his influence, dedication to his vocation, and holiness, we suspect his successor will have some sizable shoes to fill. But then, they said the same about Cardinal Cooke and look who followed him!
While we're on the subject of controversy, there has been too much of it over the past thirty years as a result of the spawning of the "spirit of Vatican II" which was allowed to run wild in the seventies, eighties and early part of the nineties by the American bishops. But, as we point out in today's profile on Cardinal O'Connor, the pendulum is finally swinging back. The bishops have come to their senses and are about to stop the madness. This has to be the most heartening news we've had in a long time. We were ecstatic over the the overwhelming vote the bishops cast for endorsing the Holy Father's document Ex Corde Ecclesiae on guidelines for Catholic institutions of higher learning. It should put to an end the aberrations going on in major Catholic universities. Either they conform to what the Church mandates or they drop the name "Catholic" and go it on their own. If we were delighted over that turn of events at the Bishop's Conference, we were absolutely giddy over a paragraph buried within the news article on some other things they discussed; specifically architecture. But it is more than architecture, it's all about the reverence necessary to return the sacred to the sanctuary. Finally the bishops have seen the light that the experiment of starkness doesn't work. The churches that look like gymnasiums without kneelers remind one more and more of a Protestant service. It all goes hand in hand. Over the years, as ill-advised architects built plain, box-like, spireless, crucifixless taj majals, the liturgists followed suit with mundane hymns that bordered on new age in many verses. Mediocrity begets mediocrity and what we are left with is a plain, vanilla liturgy and environment. Finally, the bishops have seen the light.
Since this is the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patronness of music, we feel it's necessary to also address the state of music in the churches today. We've always felt a deep loss with the disappearance of Gregorian Chant. It's not that difficult to sing. In fact, it's a much easier and a more reverent melody than anything the liturgists have offered today. It was good enough for nearly 1,400 years. Why has it been shelved during the past 30 years? Is it because before the 1960's they didn't have electric guitars, percussion woofers and a sound system that often is more apt for a sound stage? If that is so, it shows God's wisdom in keeping civilization without all the newfangled musical instruments and technology that takes away from the intimacy, the reverence, the importance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our new parish is consumed with modern music, most of which we don't recognize. Every Mass is filled with music and we mean "filled" from the entrance song to the closing procession. Very few minutes are left for quiet meditation for everything is sung, and not very well, we might add. We're asked to sing during the entire Offertory, when we should be offering up our petitions and prayers with the celebrant when he raises the paten, pronouncing the beautiful prayers that can't be heard because they are drowned out by off-key singing for the sake of sound. Then, other than the Consecration, there is constant noise masquerading as music right on through the time when we should be in quiet prayer in preparation for receiving Our Lord worthily and then after coming back to our pew, spending quiet, intimate time with Him in giving Jesus thanks. But there is so much cacaphony from either the modern music or the socializing during Mass that we leave Holy Mass feeling empty from the experience. It is only in realizing that we spent the time with Jesus that we take comfort. But even He has to be wondering what His Church has come to for it no longer resembles anything like the Church of the past millennium or so. Finally, the bishops realize this. Yes, it's time to put a muzzle on those music cantors who think the whole congregation can sing. True, Saint Augustine said when you sing you pray twice, but he was referring to Gregorian Chant, not this modern mass of notes that passes as music. Why can't we have a return to the Gregorian Mass for the Novus Ordo in each parish for at least one Mass a week? Give us a choice. We predict it would soon be packed. Afterall, the faithful recognize reverence and class. It has been imparted over the years by numerous visionaries and mystics that thousands of angels are present at every Mass. We can imagine they too would rather do away with the earplugs and once again be edified by hymns that are recognizable and Catholic!
Now, too, it looks like the bishops are beginning to recognize the need to return reverence as well. It was refreshing to hear they want to return the Tabernacles to center stage, so to speak. For the last several years there has been clamoring by more and more for this, and the bishops are finally listening. When these changes were first made the excuse was given that the Tabernacle and the statues take away from the focus on the Mass and the public bought it lock, stock and barrell. If that were true, why did the Church promote the beautiful statues, paintings and ornate tabernacles for fifteen hundred years? The bishops realize now that the reasons for denuding the sanctuary was a cock-and-bull story concocted by modernists and liberal liturgists in a throwback to iconoclasm. It hasn't worked. As the saying goes, if it's broke, fix it!
With the increase in conservative bishops in America we are confident that over the next few years we're going to see a return to a more orthodox semblance of sanity within the churches and once again we'll be able to walk into a church, find the holy water font without searching, and see the Tabernacle visibly in sight so we know whether to genuflect. No longer will the Blessed Sacrament be stuck in the back room or a side room no bigger than a closet. Our Lord and Savior will rightfully be returned to His proper place in the sanctuary. We can only pray that soon, in every church, His Blessed Mother Mary and foster father Saint Joseph will also be returned to their proper places along with many other saints and angels to remind the faithful of the virtues we should emulate. We can only pray that the Stations of the Cross will return as a constant reminder that we too must walk Calvary and carry our Cross if we are to be His disciples. We can also pray that the bishops will return the bells and even be more open to allowing the Latin - either the Tridentine Mass or Novus Ordo complete with Gregorian Chant. Tune in to Mother Angelica's EWTN and experience the reverence at the Masses at Holy Angels Monastery. It's the Novus Ordo with Latin and English and said the way it was meant to be by the Fathers of Vatican II. Why have so many bishops not generously allowed the return of Latin within the Novus Ordo? We can only pray that with the pendulum swinging back they'll be more open to this in addition to taking the socialized Kiss of Peace out of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and placing it where it should be - in the Liturgy of the Word so more emphasis can be placed on Jesus, present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity on the Altar from the Consecration on.
Finally, while we're on this wish list for the new millennium, let's also hope the bishops will rethink the whole Eucharistic Ministers concept. The Holy Father has been adamant about the fact there will be no women priests. Despite the pesky petitions of we are church, call to action and that ilk, it is a closed subject. Yet throughout every church in America we have so many women who serve as Eucharistic Ministers at Sunday Mass, not only distributing Holy Communion, at times instead of the priest, but also officiating at the altar in preparation and "cleaning up" after Communion with the celebrant often sitting. Is it just a few of us who think this sends a mixed message to the faithful? Or, as we suspect, do throngs of others feel the same way? Whether the feminists like it or not, the altar and sanctuary are no place for a woman. No woman had ventured there for nineteen and a half centuries in the Church and, after this miserable thirty-plus-year "experiment" foisted on us by malcontents following Vatican II, it should be scrapped immediately! We repeat the oft-heard refrain by orthodox Catholics: If Christ had intended women to distribute the Holy Eucharist, wouldn't He have appointed or charged His Apostles to not only appoint His Blessed Mother, but Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene and other holy women? After all, other than Saint John, it was the women who stuck by Our Lord during His Passion and Death. So to reward them it would have been a natural for Jesus to do so after He arose. But He didn't and the bishops should realize that and correct this. This, like the altar girls situation, was grandfathered in through loopholes that the Vicar of Christ had no control over. It's time the bishops take control and return the reverence and sacredness to the sanctuary. We realize it will take time and the process of weeding out and waiting out the liberal prelates will take awhile. After all Rome wasn't built in a day, but Rome shouldn't be weakened over a thirty-plus year period either. We can only hope that in the new millennium the bishops will further see the light and restore the traditions the Church is known for.
We close in a positive frame in the fact that the bishops are finally going to seriously consider a return to the reverent. We thank God the bishops have been enlightened for the first step is to bring Christ out of the shadows into the light, because He, present in the Tabernacle, is the Light! And so, on the threshold of the new millennium we echo the request in every Catholic church to let the Light of the world shine forth!