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O'Connor, Michael


First bishop of Pittsburgh, Pa., diocese; b. Queenstown, Ireland, April 27, 1810; d. Woodstock, Md., Oct. 18, 1872. He was the eldest son of Charles and Ellen Kirk O'Connor and brother of Bp. James O'Connor, first bishop of Omaha, Nebr. Michael entered the College of Propaganda, Rome, in 1824, was ordained on June 1, 1833, and received his doctorate in 1834. He then became vice rector of the Irish College and professor of Scripture of the Propaganda College. His mother's death in 1834 led him to refuse the rectorship of St. Charles Seminary, Philadelphia, and he returned to Ireland to care for his family. While he was preparing for a professorship at the College of St. Patrick, Maynooth, the Philadelphia invitation was renewed in 1838. He accepted and was rector of St. Charles Seminary from 1839 until he went to Pittsburgh as vicar-general of the diocese in 1841. When his appointment as first bishop of Pittsburgh was pending in 1843, he hastened to Rome to ask permission to become a Jesuit. Pope Gregory XVI's answer was: "You will be a bishop first and a Jesuit afterwards." He was consecrated on Aug. 15, 1843.

During his episcopate the number of priests in Pittsburgh increased fivefold and the number of churches more than doubled. He opened a chapel for African Americans, founded the Catholic, a weekly diocesan newspaper, and built a cathedral. A number of religious communities, including the first Sisters of Mercy to establish a convent in the United States, were invited into the diocese. Two colleges and St. Michael's Seminary were opened. The bishop advocated the right of Catholic education to share in public funds and encouraged development of parish schools. In 1853 the diocese was divided and O'Connor was transferred to Erie, but a year later the Holy See, moved by petitions of the clergy and laity, restored him to Pittsburgh. His health began to fail, and he took long trips to Europe, the Near East, and the Caribbean.

He resigned his see in 1860 and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Gorheim, Sigmaringen, Germany. Two years later he made his solemn profession. At first assigned to Boston College in Massachusetts, O'Connor later became assistant to the Jesuit provincial of Maryland. As a Jesuit he was an active preacher, lecturer, and retreat master. In 1870 he went to London to consult physicians about his health and returned to the United States on the same ship that carried the future Cardinal Herbert Vaughan and the first Mill Hill missionaries to African Americans. His last public appearance was at the black church of St. Francis Xavier, Baltimore, which he had been instrumental in acquiring. He retired to Woodstock College, Maryland, six months before his death in 1872. Although O'Connor excelled in theology and patristic studies, his busy life left little time for writing and he published nothing except some newspaper articles and printed lectures.

Bibliography: a. a. lambing, A History of the Catholic Church in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and Allegheny (New York 1880). w. p. purcell, Catholic Pittsburgh's One Hundred Years (Chicago 1943).

[j. j. hennesey]

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