No one could have been happier that the late John Cardinal O'Connor when, in anticipation of World Youth Day (1993), in Denver, the late Pope [now Blessed] John Paul II first used the expression a "culture of life." The Pope was commenting on John 10:10 -- "I came that they might have life, and have it to the full." The Pope called on each of us "to take part in building up social structures more worthy of every individual and of all humanity, in promoting and defending the culture of life against all threats of death." By that time, Cardinal O'Connor had been defending life as a priest for almost fifty years.
In the following pages, Father Charles P. Connor tells the cardinal's story in a trinity of parts: the culture and the cardinal, the cardinal's thinking about abortion, and the cardinal's Sisters of Life.... You will discover that Father Connor is a gifted storyteller. He is immersed not only in the historical details of the life and times in which the cardinal lived and worked, but also in the Catholic culture in which the cardinal was formed and thrived. Who better to tell Cardinal O'Connor's story than a priest, historian, pastor, professor, author and television producer and commentator? We all owe Father Connor a debt of gratitude for his fine work. --His Excellency Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, in the Preface of the book.
"Father Connor's telling of the story captures the character of this courageous Cardinal and dispels the portrait of a Church leader whose focus on the rights of the pre-born would have him neglect or gloss over other important social teachings on war and peace, the plight of the poor, AIDS patients and the laboring class. The Cardinal's episcopal motto, "There Can Be No Love Without Justice" was applied deftly and effectively and consistently across the pro-life field of issues in his preaching, teaching and weekly columns. Finally, Father Connor's description of the Cardinal's founding of the Sisters of Life is a special bonus for any reader who would doubt the foresight, determination and spiritual depth of this unique Prince of the Church.
For a well-researched, scholarly but readable presentation of this important man and moment in the continuing pro-life cause, a word of gratitude and congratulations to Father Charles P. Connor, Ph.D. --Most Rev. Edwin F. O'Brien, Archbishop of Baltimore, in Foreword I to the book.
I am delighted to introduce this book that depicts the tremendous impact Cardinal John O'connor made on all who listened to his words, watched his actions and witnessed his deep and unwavering commitment to defend life at any age and any stage. The reason for my delight is twofold. First, the words on the pages of this text are written by Reverend Charles P. Connor, a dear colleague, friend and brother priest from the Diocese of Scranton.... Through this work Fr. Connor provides historical detail, theological insight and lessons about living and spreading the Gospel in trying times by examining the unique and lasting impact made by one man: John Cardinal O'Connor, who also personified holiness and perseverance while defending the faith.
The second source of my pleasure in writing this foreword is because I had the opportunity to interact with Cardinal O'Connor when he served as the Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania from June 1983 to January 1984. I had the great fortune to be ordained by then Bishop O'Connor on November 5, 1983 at St. Peter's Cathedral, Scranton.... His words, his concern for the dignity and sanctity of human life, his efforts on behalf of the poor and the homeless, his defense of the unborn, his concern for his priests and his passion for people was palpable. Along with many others, I will forever remember him as a deeply spiritual man, an effective teacher of the faith, and a vigorous defender of human life whose shepherd's heart knew no strangers.... Through this work Fr. Connor illustrates the amazing and exceptional legacy of a great servant of God. --Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L., Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania
For more than five years as his priest secretary, I was privileged to live and serve side-by-side with an extraordinary American and man of the Church: John Cardinal O'Connor. Daily I witnessed how his love of life, from conception through natural death, motivated all that he said and did in a gallant and herculean effort to ensure that life is respected at all stages.
I will forever remember this great and holy priest and bishop as one who strove to make the Lord's Will for life known to and accepted by as many as possible. How grateful I am to Father Charles Connor for bringing all of this to light in his excellent book, John Cardinal O'Connor and the Culture of Life. --Rev. Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York
Cardinal John O'Connor was a man with a mission, and his mission was the defense of life. It would be no exaggeration to say that during the 16 years he served as archbishop of New York, from 1984 until his death in 2000, he was the best-known spokesman in the United States on behalf of the right to life.
A recently published book, John Cardinal O'Connor and the Culture of Life, examines the spiritual and intellectual foundations of the cardinal's convictions about life, as well as his tireless work as a pro-life leader. The author is Father Charles P. Connor, a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, PA, and a theologian and Church historian who appears regularly on EWTN.
The book begins with a preface by Archbishop Dolan who praises both the author and his subject. He writes that Cardinal O'Connor, throughout his priesthood, "worked tirelessly to promote and protect life, especially from the scourge of legalized abortion that has blighted our country for almost 50 years now." Archbishop Dolan advises readers that Father Connor is "a gifted storyteller" who "is immersed not only in the historical details of the life and times in which the cardinal lived and worked, but also in the Catholic culture in which the cardinal was formed and thrived."
The book's main section is divided into three chapters: "The Culture and the Man," "The Cardinal's Mind on Abortion" and "The Sisters of Life."
The first chapter provides biographical information on the cardinal's early years, his pastoral work and his military service. It shows his strong convictions about the dignity and worth of human life, and his dismay as American culture drifted from an ethic of respect for life to an ethic of relativism and expediency in which life no longer had absolute value.
Father Connor portrays Cardinal O'Connor's outspokenness and his lack of concern about criticism, such as the charge that he was a "single-issue" bishop. "A single-issue mentality could be accepted, O'Connor argued, if that issue were life," Father Connor writes. He also quotes from a letter that then-Bishop O'Connor wrote to his priests while he was head of the Diocese of Scranton whre he served for nine months before being named to New York. "At the very top of my priorities," he wrote, "is the absolute necessity to give total support to the pro-life movement. About this there can be no compromise."
The second chapter analyzes the cardinal's public image as a staunch defender of life and his interaction with public figures on the issue of abortion. Father Connor covers the cardinal's controversies with then-Gov. Mario Cuomo and with Geraldine Ferraro, vice presidential candidate in 1984. He examines Cardinal O'Connor's rejection of the notion that a Catholic politician can be "personally opposed" to abortion in public life.
The third chapter is an excellent, concise history of the Sisters of Life, the congregation that Cardinal O'Connor founded specifically to pray and work on behalf of life and to oppose abortion and euthanasia. Cardinal O'Connor believed that "the culture of life was missing a particular spiritual component that would combine contemplation and activity," Father Connor writes. He adds that the Sisters of Life "may well be (Cardinal O'Connor's) most enduring legacy to the culture of life."
Father Connor covers all the main points in the congregation's story, starting with the Catholic New York column that Cardinal O'Connor wrote in 1989 in which he announced his plan for the congregation and asked for candidates. The author traces the story step by step, including the congregation's official beginning on June 1, 1991; the cardinal's teaching and meditations about the particular meaning of the sisters' vows in light of their apostolate; and the symbolism of the medal that each sister in the congregation wears, with its image of the Madonna of the Streets.
A fitting companion piece to the chapter on the Sisters of Life is the book's appendix: a reflection on Cardinal O'Connor's spirituality, written by Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General of the Sisters of Life and one of the original eight postulants in 1991. --Claudia McDonnell in the November 3, 2011 issue of Catholic New York
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