by Gail Quinn
January 7, 2000
When he was 63, my grandfather told me that the older you get the faster birthdays seem to come. I told him, of course, that was silly because after all a year is a year is a year. But now that I'm not too far from the age he was then, birthdays do seem to roll around pretty quickly.
On January 15, Cardinal John O'Connor celebrates a birthday. A big one. And I would guess that, like my grandfather, the Cardinal thinks this birthday turned up pretty fast.
The papers have been saying for months that when Cardinal O'Connor reaches 80, the Pope will accept his resignation so he can retire. In fact, I read such an article in the New York Times about a week ago. As I was reading along, the thought crossed my mind: I've read this before, haven't I? First they say that the Pope will accept the Cardinal's resignation. Then they list various bishops that Church people "in the know" think might be the Cardinal's successor when he retires. Sometimes the language changes a little bit here and there, and one or another bishop is added to or deleted from the list. Perhaps articles about Cardinal O'Connor sell papers, or else bookies are arranging with the papers to print candidate lists because they're taking bets.
Frankly, if anyone deserves to be able to sit back and have some time to read and think and pray without interruption, it's Cardinal John J. O'Connor. He certainly has earned it. And yet, for the sake of the rest of us, I hope that is not his plan--the sitting back that is.
Of course, he's already well read. He manages to pepper most homilies and talks with quotes not only from Scripture, but from the likes of Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, and the religious and political figures of our time. With a schedule that would do in most mere mortals, he comes to a halt for ordinary people who need his attention. When folks stop him in hospital hallways to ask for prayers for someone who is sick, I've watched him take their names so he will not forget, and even stop to visit them.
Cardinal O'Connor's career has been a tour-de-force of teaching about the value of God's gift of human life, and our need to protect the lives of innocent human beings at every stage, beginning at the very beginning. His leadership in this area has earned him the admiration, love and respect of millions. Those who criticize, and there are some, insist that he's not in touch with the people. Interestingly, about ten years ago, the Cardinal wrote a column on abortion, and over a thousand people wrote to him about it: 84 in opposition; 927 in support. Not bad for a guy who's out of touch! To those of us in the pro-life movement he is someone we would like to be more like: a charismatic and well informed leader who never loses his humility or his "common touch."
In 1984 I was at St. Patrick's Cathedral for the new archbishop's installation. I had been to installations before, but nothing came close to this. It was joyful and exuberant and just plain fun. As he came into the church, Archbishop-designate O'Connor virtually skipped down the aisle, stopping every few seconds to share a laugh or say hello to a friend. And New Yorkers got a glimpse of his now-famous quick wit and self-deprecating humor.
For his birthday this year, I wish Cardinal John J. O'Connor another such day, a day filled with joy, and surrounded by family, friends and fans.
Ad multus annos! Felicidades! Auguri! Slainte! Happy Birthday Cardinal John J. O'Connor!
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.