Fairfield Now - Summer 2008
Class of '52 profile
Jack O'Connor: The Jesuit tradition
By Nina M. Riccio
The third generation: Jack O'Connor '52 with daughter Janet '80 and grandson George Peter Cornell '11
If ever there were awards given out for being "Jesuit by association," Jack O'Connor would surely be in the running.
"The Jesuits believe in educating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, and I think they do a fantastic job," he says. "Every success I've had I owe to my Jesuit education." With that kind of conviction, it's probably no coincidence that six of his eight children ended up graduating from Jesuit schools, though he swears he gave them free rein to decide for themselves. "I suppose you can't say that I didn't have any influence on their choices," he admits. "I was very involved in alumni events and fundraising, and during the winter I would take them sledding on the hill. Certainly, I was always talking about what a great place Fairfield was."
Despite his not-so-subtle Boston accent, O'Connor considers himself a Fairfield native, having moved to town when he was just 10. After high school, he enlisted in the army and spent a year and a half in occupied Japan before using the GI bill to enroll in Fairfield's second class of students. It was a school, he recalls, that was far different from the one he visits today. There were only a couple of buildings in those days, and even though all students were commuters, "we had a great sense of camaraderie. We hung out downtown because there was really no place on campus to congregate." Though most of "the boys" were local, a few came from farther away and rented rooms in private homes in the area. Many of the students were married, and most professors were Jesuit. The only problem? "There were no females. That was kind of a bummer," O'Connor says. "In the last few years, I've gotten to meet some of the gals at Fairfield, and they are so bright and such a great addition to the whole legacy of Fairfield."
In his senior year, O'Connor married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Walsh, and the two settled in Fairfield to raise their eight children. As the years went on, their checkbook register began to read like a roster of Jesuit schools, with three tuitions paid out to Fairfield Prep; three to Fairfield University; three to Boston College; and one to Fordham, not to mention an assortment of Jesuit graduate schools. Fortunately, O'Connor was well respected in the insurance business - he was a partner in the Bridgeport firm of Beardsley Brown and Bassett until his retirement in 1992.
"To me, Fairfield was a little school in my hometown," says O'Connor, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in social science. "I'm impressed at how it has grown, and constantly amazed at the reputation it has around the country." It's a growth he attributes largely to former President Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., who headed the University for 26 years. "Fr. Kelley was so committed and so dedicated to the school, and I think that his message got across loud and strong so that most people found it difficult to say no to him."
O'Connor moved to Florida a few years ago, but has never severed his Fairfield ties. When Barbara died suddenly in 1988, the family asked for donations to the chapel, where a plaque now hangs in her memory. When granddaughter Katherine Poniatowski '05 graduated from Fairfield, Grandpa "got to suit up in the robes and the whole bit" to march with the Golden Stags. And when he comes to visit Fairfield now, he can pop in on grandson George Peter Cornell and granddaughter Elizabeth Mainiero, both enrolled in the Class of 2011.
O'Connor and his second wife, Hope, volunteer at a local school in Florida, and he has done some work with the United Way. "You just have to look at the success of so many of our graduates to understand the value of a Jesuit education," said O'Connor. "Much of my money has gone to the Jesuits for education, but it's the best money I ever spent!"