ON A TECHNICALITY
It happened again! Less than a week ago, it was discovered that yet another prominent Catholic had Jewish roots. Only in this case, the prominent Catholic has been dead for well over a decade. Moreover, referring to him as “prominent” would be akin to referring to Einstein as a scientist. It turns out that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York had a mother who was born a Jew!
Dorothy Gumple O’Connor converted to Catholicism at age 19, more than a year before she met and married Thomas O’Connor. Dorothy’s parents are buried in a Jewish cemetery in Bridgeport Connecticut.
In all likelihood, there will be headlines in some Jewish publications, that the Cardinal is Jewish. Yet, such headlines miss the point. Cardinal O’Conner did not have to rely upon Halacha, when it came to his Jewishness. The Cardinal’s Jewishness was pervasive throughout his very neshomah, his very soul. Twenty-seven years ago this week, the Cardinal joined a rally in New York City, protesting the oppression of Soviet Jews. “As I stood on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning and watched you stream by, I could only be proud of those who streamed out of Egypt several thousand years ago, winning freedom for themselves and for all of us. They are your ancestors and mine. I am proud to be this day, with you, a Jew.”
Yet, the Cardinal’s “Yiddishe neshomah” was not limited to his archdiocese. While many of us take the Vatican’s recognition of Israel for granted, it would do us well to know, that it was Cardinal O’Connor, who was out there championing Israel’s cause. On January 8, 1992, Cardinal O’Connor met with Pope John Paul II and recommended that steps be taken towards establishing diplomatic steps with Israel. Granted, Pope John Paul II was a mentsch summa cum laude in his own right, but it is no small thing for a Church with an agenda and concerns of its own, to establish ties with a country that was not only a political hot potato, but a spiritual hot potato as well. As far as Cardinal O’Connor was concerned, the time had come for such concerns to be regarded as “small potatoes.”
Perhaps most moving of all was the fact that close to a decade before being elevated to Cardinal, Father O’Connor visited Dachau. No doubt there are those who will point to the fact that the prelate had his own reasons for the visit, in that close to 3,000 priests were imprisoned in Dachau during the Holocaust, with over a third of them succumbing to death, because of hunger, disease or ill treatment. However true this may be, I for one cannot help but imagine that John O’Connor felt a certain amount of pride, knowing in his heart that those priests who died at Dachau met their end, because they dared to stand up for Jews and speak out for Jews.
So, Cardinal John O’Connor is technically a Jew. I doubt very much that the Cardinal was admitted to heaven on a technicality.