It’s hard to think of a Catholic churchman who was more outspoken in defense of Jews and Judaism than Cardinal John O’Connor, the charismatic New York archbishop who died in 2000.
Now research into O’Connor’s family tree has found that the cardinal’s affinity for Judaism apparently went deeper than even he knew: His mother, it turns out, was born Jewish and converted before she married O’Connor’s father. Yet the cardinal likely believed his mother was originally Lutheran.
“I think he would have been very proud of it,” his sister, Mary O’Connor Ward, said of the discovery in an interview published in the April 30 edition of Catholic New York.
The fact that Mrs. O’Connor was Jewish by birth came to light during a genealogical search undertaken by Mrs. Ward at the prompting of one of her daughters, Eileen Ward Christian, who had begun digging into the family’s history. Mrs. Ward said in an interview that when she was growing up she surmised that her mother was a convert, but that the family never discussed the matter.
The discovery of the cardinal’s Jewish background began when his sister, Mrs. Ward, found that their mother’s parents, Tina and Gustav Gumple, had been buried in a Jewish cemetery in Bridgeport, Conn., where they had lived. Mrs. Gumple died in the 1800s, and at the time, no woman who was not Jewish could have been buried in a Jewish cemetery, Mrs. Ward said.
Further research led Mrs. Ward and her daughter to the archives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where the marriage record for Dorothy and Thomas O’Connor revealed that Dorothy Gumple had been baptized at Sacred Heart Church in Bridgeport, Conn., on April 3, 1908. She was 19 at the time.
In 1987, he spoke at a rally protesting the mistreatment of Jews in the Soviet Union. He told the thousands of people there: "“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 they are mine.”
He added, “I am proud to be this day, with you, a Jew.”"
I wonder if he knew how true that statement was?