Michael O'Connor (bishop)

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The Right Reverend
Michael O'Connor, S.J.
Bishop Emeritus of Pittsburgh
Bishop Michael O'Connor.png
A lithograph portrait of Bishop Michael O'Connor from The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography
Archdiocese Philadelphia
Diocese Pittsburgh
In office August 15, 1843 – July 29, 1853; December 20, 1853 – May 23, 1860
Successor Michael Domenec, C.M.
Other posts Bishop of Erie (July 29, 1853 - December 20, 1853)
Ordination June 1, 1833
by Archbishop Costantino Patrizi Naro
Consecration August 15, 1843
by Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni
Personal details
Born (1810-09-27)September 27, 1810
Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Died October 18, 1872(1872-10-18) (aged 62)
Woodstock, Maryland, United States

Michael O'Connor, S.J., (September 27, 1810 – October 18, 1872) was an Irish-born prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and a member of the Society of Jesus. He served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh (1843–53, 1853–60) and briefly as the Bishop of Erie (1853).

Early life and education[edit]

O'Connor was born in Cobh, near the city of Cork, in County Cork, Ireland.[1] His younger brother, James, would serve as the first Bishop of Omaha, Nebraska, from 1885 to 1891.[2] He received his early education in his native town, where he attended a school attached to the Cathedral of Cloyne.[3] At the age of 14, he was sent by William Coppinger, the Catholic Bishop of Cloyne, to begin his studies for the priesthood in France.[4]

O'Connor continued his studies at the Urban College of the Propaganda in Rome.[4] He completed his courses in philosophy and theology with distinction, and won a gold medal for being the first in mathematics.[3] Among his fellow students at the Propaganda were Paul Cullen, Francis Kenrick, and Martin Spalding. He finished his studies before reaching the canonical age for ordination, and spent the interval as a professor of Sacred Scriptures at the Propaganda. He earned a Doctor of Divinity degree following a public disputation, in which he underwent the same test made by Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure at the University of Paris in the 13th century.[3]


O'Connor was ordained a priest in Rome on June 1, 1833 by then-Archbishop (later Cardinal) Costantino Patrizi Naro.[5] He was then appointed Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Irish College in the same city.[4] He also served as an agent of the Irish bishops with the Holy See, and gained the friendship and esteem of both Pope Gregory XVI and Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman. In 1834, he returned to his native country and served as a curate in Fermoy.[4] He was also chaplain at for the convent of the Presentation Sisters in Doneraile.[3] He applied for the position of professor of dogmatic theology at Maynooth College but was persuaded by a colleague, Peter Kenrick, to pursue a teaching position in the United States.[6]

In 1839, Patrick Kenrick's brother, Francis, a former schoolmate of O'Connor in Rome, was by then the Bishop of Philadelphia and invited him to join the faculty of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, which served his diocese. O'Connor accepted the offer, and arrived in Philadelphia later that year. He immediately assumed the Chair of Theology at St. Charles, of which he became president soon afterwards.[4] In addition to his academic duties, he ministered at the missions in Norristown and West Chester twice a month.[3] He also founded St. Francis Xavier Church in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia.[4] In 1840 he was relieved of his duties as a professor and missionary, but continued to serve as President of St. Charles Seminary.[3]

In June 1841, O'Connor was appointed Vicar General of Western Pennsylvania and Pastor of St. Paul's Church in Pittsburgh.[4] He there established a parochial school and organized a literary society for young men.[4]


The coat of arms used by O'Connor as bishop.

The Fifth Provincial Council of Baltimore, which was held in May 1843, recommended the erection of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and nominated O'Connor as its first Bishop.[3] When Pope Gregory XVI accepted the recommendation, O'Connor traveled to Rome for consecration as a bishop, but he petitioned the pope to revoke his appointment and to allow him instead to enter the Jesuits instead. Pope Gregory, however, refused and said, "You shall be bishop first, and a Jesuit afterwards".[4] He accepted the pope's will and was formally appointed the first Bishop of Pittsburgh on August 11, 1843. On August 15, he received his consecration from Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni at the Church of Sant'Agata dei Goti.[5]

On his return to the United States, O'Connor passed through Ireland to recruit clergy for his new diocese, obtaining eight seminarians from Maynooth College and seven Sisters of Mercy from Dublin.[4] He arrived in Pittsburgh in December 1843, where he found a diocese comprising 33 churches, 14 priests, and about 25,000 Catholics.[4] To organize the new diocese, he held the first diocesan synod in 1844, and the same year he founded a girls' academy and orphan asylum, a chapel for African Americans, the Pittsburgh Catholic and St. Michael's Seminary.[3] To serve the German immigrants in his diocese, he welcomed the Benedictine monks who founded Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe,[3] the first Benedictine monastery in the United States, and to further education he invited the Franciscan Brothers of Mountbellew in Ireland, who established the first community of religious brothers in the United States in Loretto.[7]

On July 29, 1853, O'Connor was appointed the first Bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Erie by Pope Pius IX.[5] The dividing line of the new diocese ran east and west along the northern boundaries of Cambria, Indiana, Armstrong, Butler, and Lawrence Counties, giving thirteen northern counties to the Diocese of Erie and fifteen to the Diocese of Pittsburgh.[3] Father Joshua Maria Young was named his successor in Pittsburgh, but Young's reluctance to accept his new charge and the petition of Pittsburgh Catholics moved the Holy See to reverse its decision.[4] Five months after his transfer to Erie, O'Connor was re-appointed to Pittsburgh on December 20, 1853, and Young accepted the leadership of Erie.[5]

In 1854, he was summoned to Rome to take part in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and it is said that changes in the wording of the decree were due to his suggestions.[3] His health entered into a steady decline and, on the advice of his physicians, traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and North America in search of a more hospitable climate.[3] At the end of O'Connor's tenure, the diocese contained 77 churches, 86 priests, six religious congregations, one seminary, five institutions of higher education, two orphan asylums, one hospital, and a Catholic population of 50,000.[4]

Later life as a Jesuit[edit]

O'Connor resigned as Bishop of Pittsburgh on May 23, 1860.[5] Pursuing his desire to join the Society of Jesus, he sailed for Europe the following October and was admitted into the Jesuit novitiate at Gorheim, (now part of Sigmaringen), in the Kingdom of Prussia, on December 22.[3] In 1862, when he had completed the novitiate, by a special dispensation of the Jesuit Superior General, Peter Jan Beckx, O'Connor was permitted to make his solemn profession of the four religious vows unique to the Society immediately, bypassing the normal 15 years of full formation in the Society.[3] Assigned to the Jesuit community in Boston, Massachusetts, he then journeyed there, where he made his religious profession on December 23, 1862.[3] When Boston College was formally founded the following year,[8] he became a member of the faculty for the new school, where he taught theology. Additionally, he was appointed socius (counselor) to the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in the United States, a position in which he remained until his death.[4] He took a special interest in the spiritual welfare of African Americans, and delivered lectures in many parts of the United States and Canada.[4]

His health failing, O'Connor was sent to rest at the former Woodstock College in Maryland during the spring of 1872.[3] He died there some months later, at the age of sixty-two.[1] He is buried in the Jesuit cemetery at Woodstock.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Former Diocesan Bishops". Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. 
  2. ^ "Catholicity in Nebraska: 1854-1931". The Franciscans in Nebraska. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Clarke, Richard Henry (1888). Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States. III. New York: P. O'Shea Publisher. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Pittsburgh". Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Bishop Michael O'Connor, S.J.". Catholic-Hierarchy.org. [self-published source]
  6. ^ Szarnicki, Henry A., Rev. (1975). Michael O'Connor, First Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh...1843-1860. 
  7. ^ "History". Sacred Heart Province. 
  8. ^ "History". Boston College. 

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bishop of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Bishop of Erie
Succeeded by
Joshua Maria Young
Preceded by
Bishop of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Michael Domenec