Knights Remember Cardinal O’Connor (1920-2000)

Cardinal O’Connor

Cardinal O’Connor at the pulpit in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


Cardinal O’Connor with Mother Teresa

Cardinal O’Connor with Mother Teresa and Virgil Dechant at the inaugural Gaudium et Spes Award presentation in 1992.

More than ten years after his death, His Eminence John Cardinal O’Connor is remembered this week by the Knights of Columbus for his loyal service to the Church, for his courageous promotion of the Culture of Life, and for his long friendship with the Knights of Columbus.

Cardinal O’Connor, New York’s archbishop from 1984 to 2000, died on May 3, 2000, eight months after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. He was 80 years old at the time of his death and was a member of Our Lady, Star of the Sea Council 6701 in New York City.

One of the most notable points of collabforation between Cardinal O’Connor and the Knights came while Cardinal O’Connor served as chairman of the Pro-Life Activities Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Seeing the need for a robust pro-life effort led by the nation’s bishops, Cardinal O’Connor turned to the Knights of Columbus to serve as partners, asking the Order to provide the seed money for the USCCB Pro-Life Education Campaign.

To this day, the Supreme Council continues to provide in excess of $700,000 a year to support the annual budget of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

In 1992, Cardinal O’Connor served as host ordinary for the Knights of Columbus 110th Supreme Convention held in New York City. During the convention’s opening Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal O’Connor challenged local K of C units to begin erecting memorials to unborn children killed by abortion. Delegates to the convention unanimously adopted a resolution to promote the program Orderwide.

By the time of Cardinal O’Connor’s passing, more than 2,000 councils and assemblies reported establishing such memorials.

During the same Supreme Convention, Cardinal O’Connor joined with then-Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant in hosting Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Order’s inaugural Gaudium et Spes Award prior to the States Dinner.

In 1994, the Board of Directors presented the second Gaudium et Spes Award to Cardinal O’Connor, in large part for his leadership of the pro-life movement, citing his “unflinching and eloquent championing of the cause of unborn human life in the face of the evil of abortion” and his “dedication to the spiritual welfare of his people,” with “compassion for the poor and the sick.”

The cardinal donated the award’s $100,000 honorarium to the Sisters of Life, the active and contemplative religious community he founded in 1991. In addition to the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Sisters of Life take a fourth vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson recalled Cardinal O’Connor as “a man of great courage, and of great faith.

“Cardinal O’Connor truly was a giant in the history of the Catholic Church in America. No one did more for the cause of life that Cardinal O’Connor, and his contributions live on through the prayers and works of his Sisters of Life.”

The supreme knight continued, “We are proud to have helped the Sisters realize Cardinal O’Connor’s dream of a pro-life retreat center with the establishment of Villa Maria Guadalupe in Stamford.”

In 2004, with the support of future Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, the Order purchased the Villa Maria Retreat Center from the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, located on a beautiful parcel of land in Stamford, Conn.

Following several months of extensive renovations, with countless volunteer hours contributed by local Knights, the renovated retreat center was renamed Villa Maria Guadalupe and dedicated by Bishop Lori and then-Supreme Chaplain Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn on Oct. 20, 2004.

Today, the retreat center is in high demand, offering retreats for all facets of the pro-life movement, serving everyone from college pro-life leaders to post-abortive women and men. A bronze plaque in the entrance way of Villa Maria Guadalupe memorializes Cardinal Cardinal O’Connor.