Cardinal John O'Connor was honored for being an outstanding role model by the St. John's University School of Law Alumni society at its annual luncheon Friday.
The 80-year-old archbishop, who already holds an honorary doctorate of law degree from St. John's, was given the St. Thomas More award for moral leadership at the society's luncheon at the New York Hilton in Manhattan. About 200 were in attendance.
Standing throughout his keynote address, O'Connor, who is recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor, was upbeat and humorous. But at the same time he called for the assembly to not forget the poor and needy throughout the world, and to give all the help they could to them.
O'Connor was introduced by Judge Joseph Bellacosa, the dean-elect of St. John's School of Law. St. John's is the largest Catholic university in the city.
Bellacosa described O'Connor as "an archbishop, cardinal and admiral," later referring to his "distinguished record of chaplaincy" in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines. O'Connor served in both services for a total of 27 years and was ordained bishop of the armed forces by Pope John Paul II in 1979.
"The reasons you were chosen for this recognition are public," Bellacosa said, singling out faithfulness as a consistent trait of O'Connor's.
"You have never lost your head or your root focus about your mission and your responsibility and the chain of command, faithfulness and fullness of your energy to God . . . That has been your hallmark and your consistent message," Bellacosa said.
"You have given the full measure of yourself still everyday by tireless showing of yourself how to live and act in accordance with your own homilies and instructions, and not by the words alone."
Bellacosa mentioned the cardinal's merriment as an additional human quality" . . . that has ensured your selection and endears you to me and so many countless others."
Bellacosa then presented O'Connor with the St. Thomas More Award, which is made of glass crystal.
O'Connor began his speech by making light of the red cap he wears, saying "after all these years of my life, I wondered what in the world this thing was for?"
He then recalled the proverb "there can be no love without justice," which he said was important to remember these days. "Justice is imperative, desperately needed in the world today" O'Connor told the assembled law school members.
"We have people who are twisted and distorted by our society, we have so many people who are not given opportunities, we have so many terribly poor people in what has to be one of the most affluent societies ever developed in this Western world," the cardinal said.
O'Connor, whose office is at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, mentioned the need to help those who have been deprived of decent education. "It is to this that I would hope you would continue to give your attention," he said. adding, "I know you already do."
The cardinal appeared to pause to catch his breath only a few times during the course of his speech, one time remarking humorously about poor lighting conditions he implied made it hard for him to read from his prepared speech outline, which drew laughs from the audience.
He called on all present to remember "the sacredness of the human person" regardless of race or economic status. "This is where I think the law is of enormous importance and where you can play a major, major role," O'Connor said.
"This is particularly true of the unborn," who he said "can just be lacerated, ignored not by the thousands or hundreds of thousands, but over the years by the millions."
O'Connor mentioned St. Vincent De Paul, "who gave himself unconditionally to the poor," and quoted the Vincentian priest as saying: "Even though the poor are often rotten and unrefined, we must not judge their external appearances . . . on the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor . . . we must take care of the poor. Console them, help them, support them in every way.
The cardinal concluded his remarks by suggesting the assembly be prepared always to help others in need.
St. John's president, Rev. Donald Harrington, thanked O'Connor for showing his affection for St. John's by accepting the honor bestowed on him and allowing St. John's to count him as a friend.
Harrington extolled O'Connor as "a friend who stands as a great model of moral leadership in our midst."
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