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Remembering The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor


Fr. Bernie in attendance during the 2013 graduation ceremony of the Graduate Theological Foundation

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our friend and colleague, The Reverend Dr. Bernard Joseph O’Connor.  Born March 13, 1951, Fr. Bernie was a native of Nova Scotia and ordained to the priesthood in 1977 for the Diocese of Antigonish. He was Fellow and John Henry Cardinal Newman Professor of Theology and Ecclesial Mediation at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana, USA, where he served from 1996 to 2015. Fr. Bernie was named John Henry Cardinal Newman Professor Emeritus in the spring of 2015 prior to his passing. A renowned expert on papal diplomacy, he authored two books on the subject, Papal Diplomacy: John Paul II and the Culture of Peace (St. Augustine’s Press, 2005) and a forthcoming book from St. Augustine’s Press on Pope Benedict XVI (autumn 2015). He also taught on the Oxford Theology Summer School of the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford and the Summer Programme in Theology of the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge.

He received his B.A. in history/philosophy from St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia; his M.A. (Spirituality) from Creighton University; the M.Div/S.T.B. from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa; the M.C.L./J.C.L. (Canon Law) from the University of Ottawa and S.T.L. and S.T.D. (Systematics) from the Gregorian University. In 1994 he received the J.D. from the University of Tennessee. His numerous certifications and awards over the past 20 years include an Advanced Negotiation Certificate from Harvard Law School and certificates in international diplomacy and conflict management from the U.S. State Department at the Foreign Service Institute and from the UN Institute for Training and Research. He was twice named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie/CASE Foundation. In 1998, he was the recipient of a Templeton Award for curriculum design in religion-science dialogue. Between 1994 and 2004, Fr. Bernie was Assistant Dean at Eastern Michigan University and Visiting Professor for the Straus Institute at Pepperdine Law School and for Ave Maria College and Law School. He was designated a “national expert in Constitutional philosophy” by the We The People Program in civic education, served on the State of Michigan Board of Ethics, and was appointed to the U.S. Army National Committee on ROTC Education.

Fr. Bernie (left) meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican

Fr. Bernie (left) meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican

In 1999, Father Bernie received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa from the Graduate Theological Foundation for “exceptional accomplishment in conflict resolution education.” In 2004, Fr. Bernie was called to the Vatican to serve the Congregation of Eastern Churches. In 2011, Fr. Bernie was appointed Chancellor’s Visiting Professor of Law and Humanities at Indiana University (Kokomo).  In the summer of 2011, he served as Scholar-in-Residence at the Graduate Theological Foundation for his book on Pope Benedict XVI, later joining the GTF’s administration in 2014 as Chief Counsel for Catholic Affairs to the President. In May of 2013, Fr. Bernie served as Runcie Lecturer in the Graduate Theological Foundation’s annual Lord Robert Runcie Convocation Lecture Series where he spoke on the topic of “The Papal Resignation of 2013: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Emmaus.” A video of his lecture is available here, and the text is available here.

Following an extended illness, Fr. Bernie passed away on Sunday, May 10, 2015, in Mishawaka, Indiana, with friends at his side.

15 Responses to Remembering The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor

  • Dr. Ann V. Graber says:

    Saddened that our dear colleague, The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor, is no longer with us, it is comforting to know that he made his transition peacefully in the company of devoted friends. May the Grace of God welcome him HOME after a life dedicated to the service of humanity. Although we will miss having him among us in the physical dimension, I sincerely hope he will send his blessings from a higher plane of awareness. Thank you in advance, Fr. Bernie!

  • michelle holda says:

    i am so saddened by Rev Dr. Bernard O’connor he meant the world to my son Joshua Holda. He called when he got out of the hospital and talked with him. Are they having a service for him?

    • Kyna says:

      Ms. Holda, that sounds just like the kind of person Father Bernie was! It appears as if there will be a service for Fr. Bernie held in his hometown of Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, but we do not yet have any details. Thanks so much for your concern.

  • Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R. says:

    My heart goes out to the family and friends of Father Bernard O’Connor— and to the entire GTF Community. He played a very important part in the life of this intellectual community, and he will be sorely missed. He was a man of many gifts and talents, and shared them with great generosity with all who asked. Our loss is heaven’s gain. My prayers are with you, Fr. Bernie, as you continue your journey. May you rest in peace.

  • I am saddened at the loss of my friend, former Nova Scotian, not to mention, Cape Bretonner. Bernie was a true Celt. May he rest in peace of his loving God. Job well done, R.I. P.Dear Fr. Bernie. In Christ, S. Mary Shaw, asc, D. Min, Springfield, Il. Former Cape Breton

    Assurance of prayer for colleagues.

  • David B. Couturier, OFM. Cap., PhD, DMin says:

    The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor was the kind of wise scholar that the GTF invites and provides to its students so well. With a broad knowledge of civil law, canon law, and theology, he offered his students and colleagues a powerful analysis of the challenges facing churches today. But, more, he gave us his kindness and generosity and his wonderful sense of humor. A wonderful man, a dedicated priest, a powerful scholar… oh, how we will miss him.

  • Those of us who knew Bernie will miss him, there was always a sense of mischievious fun in his presence, but also our understanding of him as a dedicated priest, academic and friend. It is certainly appropriate that he went to his rest from Mishawaka, he loved the GTF and its place in his life as his many friends and colleagues can well attest.
    This week his CHurch celbrates the Ascension of Jesus, the leave taing of the Lord, an ‘au revoir and adieu’ not a goodbye. Bernie’s deep faith reaches out to us in that hope that one day we shall meet in God. May he rest is peace!

  • Dr. Vivian Dettbarn-Slaughter says:

    My heart goes out to everyone at the Foundation in Mishawaka. Dear Fr. Bernie was such an important and beloved part of the GTF community, but I know he was especially loved by those of you who had the opportunity to work closely with him. We know that he is caring for everyone now that he is released from illness and limits. I am sending my love to all of you.

  • Vivienne MacLean says:

    I first knew Bernie O’Connor when I was a young teacher at Sydney Mines High Schoo and he was a young studentl. He was a friendly, chatty young man with a wicked sense of humour. I followed his career after he left school and effortlessly he became a dear friend of ours. The fact that we were Presbyterians only added to the fun and he attended many functons at our Church where he knew so many people. The picture in his obituary shows theFr. Bernie we have known for so long before he grew so ill. He was a modest man and kept his many accomplishments to himself. We will miss his smile and hearty laugh, the visits we shared and not seeing him for coffee at “Tim’s”.
    Fr. Bernie was one-of-a-kind.

  • GTF says:

    For those who have expressed an interest in knowing if a service will be held for our late friend and colleague, The Rev. Dr. Bernard O’Connor, please note that an obituary has been published by the Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia with details, including where you may direct your words of comfort for his family. Thank you all for your kind words about our friend and for remembering with us what a kind and treasured person he still is for all of us.

    Obituary for Fr. Bernie

  • Dave Ivers says:

    I met Fr Bernie in 2000 when I started teaching at EMU. Like everyone who knew him [or even met him I assume] I considered him a dear friend. We shared a love of bad jokes and puns and helping students outside the classroom. I think he may be the best all-around human I’ve ever known on a personal level. After he Left EMU in 2005, the St Louis Cardinals [my team] won the World Series in 2006 and I purchased an all red Cardinals ball cap and sent it to him in Rome. I told him that “maybe the Pope won’t present you with a red hat but I can and do.”

    I got back a brief note saying that I had given him the laugh of the year. I’ll treasure that note forever, as I will my memories of him and his work.

  • Lynn Tindall says:

    May bands of angels sing thee to thy rest, Dear Father Bernie. You leave a empty space here that no one will fill.