Three years ago today, on Sept. 14, 1998, John Cardinal O’Connor visited Georgetown for the last time. He came to celebrate a Mass during which he blessed the crucifixes that were to be placed in most campus classrooms.

On May 3, 2000, after a bout with cancer, Cardinal O’Connor died. Despite the significance of his death, his passing was barely noticed at his Alma Mater. That’s right, John Joseph O’Connor, Navy Rear-Admiral and Cardinal-Archbishop of New York, received his Ph.D. in government from Georgetown in 1970; he was a proud Hoya.

For more than a decade, Cardinal O’Connor was the uncontested voice of Catholicism in America, taking full advantage of the media coverage that his towering pulpit on Fifth Avenue demanded. Whether it was as a military chaplain risking his life to bring the sacraments to men and women in conflict or as “archbishop of the capital of the world” (as Pope John Paul II once described him) shepherding one of the largest and most diverse cities in America, John O’Connor was a man of compassion and conviction.

At Georgetown, we have a tradition of naming things after outstanding individuals. A plaque near Dahlgren Chapel, a scholarship for students with disabilities or perhaps even an endowed chair are all appropriate possibilities to pay tribute to this late giant of the Catholic Church in America.

Over the summer, I went to a ceremony in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral where President Bush posthumously conferred a Congressional Gold Medal on Cardinal O’Connor, in a stirring tribute to his yeoman efforts as “Priest, Chaplain, Humanitarian,” as the inscription on the medal reads. Surely someone worthy of Congress’ highest civilian honor deserves the university’s recognition as well.

So, what was so great about Cardinal O’Connor that would justify such accolades? Shortly after the Cardinal’s death Bishop James McCarthy, his former secretary, suggested the apt metaphor of the Cardinal as a prism. A prism appears to be the source of a brilliant array of color. Upon examination, however, one learns that it is merely an instrument that converts invisible light from the sun into the visible rainbow. Similarly, Cardinal O’Connor functioned as a prism for the brilliant divine light. And, while firmly rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition, Cardinal O’Connor’s concern for others was by no means limited to his own Church.

Central to Cardinal O’Connor’s philosophy was the concept of imago Dei, that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. From that doctrine came the motivation for his efforts to establish a society that respects, welcomes and loves all human life as sacred. While recognized mostly for his defense of the most vulnerable segment of our society, the unborn, the Cardinal was also a champion for the labor movement, victims of prejudice, those with AIDS, women in crisis pregnancies and indeed every last one of us.

If Cardinal O’Connor could send one message to Georgetown students today, I have no doubt that it would be: “Give God permission!” Too often, today’s culture would have us believe that success and meaning in life is entirely dependent upon the number of digits in our paycheck and to what country club we belong. Cardinal O’Connor’s life, however, testifies to the fact that it is in giving God permission that we achieve happiness and value in our earthly lives.

This was the advice that the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta gave to Cardinal O’Connor at the ceremony in Rome when Pope John Paul II made him a bishop. The newly consecrated Bishop O’Connor was in procession when he saw Mother Teresa pressed against a wall in St. Peter’s Basilica. He broke the line and went over to introduce himself to the nun he so admired. When he reached her, she gave him a set of rosary beads and challenged him to “Give God permission!” Cardinal O’Connor would often credit this advice as having shaped all his years as a bishop and he often challenged others to follow that maxim, as he did at Georgetown in 1998.

“Give God permission.” This should not be a foreign idea to students at a Jesuit university charged with educating “men and women for others.” Often, though, this poetic slogan remains only unrealized words. We all have our particular interests, area of study, passions and so on. Imagine the good that could be done if we, regardless of our individual faiths, would each resolve to “give God permission” to use our talents, our gifts, and our entire lives Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam inque Hominum Salutem. (For the Greater Glory of God and the Salvation of Mankind.)

Georgetown fittingly created the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Chair in Catholic Social Thought. Similarly appropriate would be the John Cardinal O’Connor Chair in Church and State Studies in the Government or Theology departments. What better setting could there be for such a position than Georgetown, America’s oldest Catholic university, situated in our nation’s capital? O’Connor wrote extensively on this topic and even co-authored a book (His Eminence and Hizzoner) with then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch, which explores the Church-State relationship.

I sincerely hope that Georgetown pays official tribute to Cardinal O’Connor. In the meantime, however, perhaps the best way to honor his legacy would be for us to “give God permission,” applying to our own lives those words that meant so much to John Cardinal O’Connor, our fellow Hoya.

[This piece was originally scheduled to run on Sept. 14, but was postponed due to the events of Sept. 11.]

Stephen M. Feiler is a senior in the College.

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