NY Cardinal O'Connor's Mother Was Born Jewish

Friday, 02 May 2014 07:17 AM

By Cathy Burke

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The mother of New York's beloved late Cardinal John O'Connor — a stalwart supporter of the Jewish community who once called himself a "spiritual Semite"— was born a Jew and converted before she married the prelate's father, genealogical research has found.

The cardinal's sister, Mary O'Connor Ward, told Catholic New York she doesn't know if her brother knew that their mom, Dorothy Gumple O’Connor, was born Jewish.

"I just don’t understand, if he knew, why something wouldn’t have come up before," she told the newspaper. "He was so close to the Jewish community. I think he would have been very proud of it."

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Ward said she discovered her mother's heritage researching their family tree, discovering maternal grandparents Tina and Gustav Gumple had been buried in a Jewish cemetery in Bridgeport, Conn. When they died in the 1800s, non-Jews could not have been buried in a Jewish burial site, she said.

She then went to the archives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — where the five O’Connor children were raised in a row house — and found their mother, Dorothy Gumple O’Connor, converted to Catholicism when she was 19, more than a year before she met and married their father, Thomas O’Connor.

"What brought it about, I’ll never know," Ward told the newspaper. "None of us will ever know why she became a Catholic."

Ward told the newspaper that her brother, who died in 2000, might have thought their mom was originally Lutheran, because the Gumples came to the United States from Prussia.

O'Connor became a champion for the Jewish community, famously joining a May 3, 1987, march and rally in New York City protesting the oppression of Soviet Jews.

"As I stood on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning and watched you stream by, I could only be proud of those who streamed out of Egypt several thousand years ago, winning freedom for themselves and for all of us. They are your ancestors, and they are mine," he told participants. "I am proud to be this day, with you, a Jew."

O'Connor played a key role in the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Israel in 1993, The Washington Post noted.

And he wrote a book, "His Eminence and Hizzoner," with close Jewish friend Ed Koch, who was mayor during part of O'Connor's time as archbishop. Koch, who died last year, was such a fixture in the front pew at the Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that O’Connor joked he wouldn’t start the service until Koch was seated, the Post noted.

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