O'Hara, Edwin Vincent

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated


Bishop, sociologist; b. Lanesboro, Minn., Sept. 6, 1881; d. Milan, Italy, Sept. 11, 1956. His parents, Owen and Margaret (Nugent) O'Hara, sent him to public schools for his early education. Later he entered St. Thomas College and the Seminary of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minn. He was accepted for the Archdiocese of Oregon City (later Portland), Ore., and was ordained on June 10, 1905, in St. Paul. His first assignment by Archbishop Alexander Christie was as assistant at the cathedral in Portland. In 1907 he formed the Summer Institute for Teachers and the Catholic Education Association of Oregon. Following a period of ill health in 1910, he spent a year of advanced study at The catholic university of america, Washington, D.C. Upon returning to Portland, he demonstrated a practical concern for social rights characteristic of the Progressive Movement of that period. His initial interest was in the struggle for minimum wages for women and a general minimum-wage law. Supported by the National Consumers League, he led a committee whose report was instrumental in the enactment in 1913 of the Oregon minimum-wage law, which was to be tested in the courts in the case of Stettler v. O'Hara. O'Hara's role in the making of this legislation was indicated when Governor Oswald West named him chairman of the new State Industrial Welfare Commission.

Apart from such achievements, however, it was in the area of rural sociology that O'Hara was to attain his greatest reputation. After his return from service as chaplain with the U.S. Army in France in 1918, he began to promote Catholic education in rural districts. In 1920 at the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), he proposed the establishment of the Rural Life Bureau and became its first chairman. After obtaining a transfer to the rural parish of Eugene, Ore., he devoted himself to the problems of country life, publishing A Program of Catholic Rural Action (1922) and The Church and the Country Community (1927) and convening the first National Catholic Rural Life Conference in St. Louis, Mo., in 1923. O'Hara's interest in rural welfare was combined with concern for education. In 1922 he had organized the first Catholic Religious Vacation School and, when the Oregon School Bill requiring compulsory attendance at public schools was proposed, he led the fight against it with the aid of many noted jurists. As archdiocesan superintendent of schools, he conducted litigation in state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in the Oregon law being declared unconstitutional. From 1929 to 1930 O'Hara was directly engaged in teaching, offering courses in parish sociology at The Catholic University of America and, during the summer, at the University of Notre Dame, Ind.

On Nov. 5, 1930, O'Hara was consecrated as bishop of Great Falls, Mont. From the start of his episcopacy he sought to advance the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. After establishing the confraternity in his diocese on Dec. 17, 1930, he helped to form a Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast confraternity and to establish a national headquarters for the confraternity at The Catholic University of America. He secured the appointment of a committee of the hierarchy to study the question, and he was instrumental in obtaining a letter from the Congregation of the Council on Jan. 12, 1933, requiring the establishment of the confraternity in each diocese. Thereafter a national center for the confraternity was located at NCWC headquarters in Washington, D.C., and on Oct. 31, 1935, the first congress of the confraternity was held in Rochester, N.Y. Catechetical reform and biblical translation also received attention from Bishop O'Hara. He headed a committee of bishops who prepared a revision of the Baltimore Catechism, which had not been changed since its adoption by the Third Plenary Council in 1884. The revision was published on June 21, 1941, under the auspices of the confraternity. In January of 1936, O'Hara organized a committee of theologians and Scripture scholars to discuss a revised English translation of the Scriptures. Subsequently, the Catholic Biblical Association of America was formed on Oct. 3, 1936, and the Catholic Biblical Quarterly began publication in 1938. In 1952, the anniversary of the invention of printing and of the publication of the Gutenberg Bible, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine published its first volume of the revised version of the Old Testament, containing eight historical books. At this time O'Hara received a special letter of commendation from Pius XII.

On April 16, 1939, O'Hara was appointed to the See of Kansas City, Mo. (changed on August 29, 1956, to Kansas City-St. Joseph). There he earned the title of "the building Bishop," adding, within 10 years, 42 churches, 14 convents, 16 grade schools, 6 high schools, and 2 colleges. In September of 1954 O'Hara was made personal archbishop. He died while on his way to the International Congress of the Restored Liturgy in Assisi, Italy.

Bibliography: j. g. shaw, Edwin Vincent O'Hara, American Prelate (New York 1957). t. m. dolan, Some Seed Fell on Good Ground (Washington, D.C. 1992).

[t. t. mcavoy]