In Memory: Daniel O'Connor

To:                   The St. Lawrence Community
From:               William L. Fox, President
Date:                April 29, 2013
Subject:            In Memory: Professor Emeritus Daniel W. O’Connor Jr.

Read memories of Daniel O'Connor Submitted by Others

I write with the sad news this morning of the death on Saturday, April 27, of the Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies and Classical Languages Emeritus Daniel W. O’Connor, one of St. Lawrence’s most respected scholars and gifted teachers. 

Dan graduated from Dartmouth College, received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University.  He joined the St. Lawrence faculty in 1959.  He led Winterterm seminars in Israel, Athens, and Rome, spent summers on archeological expeditions in Israel, and his 1969-70 sabbatical was in the Middle East, where he supervised an excavation of the ancient Canaanite city of Ai, near Jerusalem. He wrote Peter in Rome: The Literary, Liturgical and Archeological Evidence, published in 1969 by Columbia University Press, and contributed scholarly articles on Saint Peter for the Encyclopedia Britannica

In 1987-88, Dan took a year away from his teaching to serve as Rotary District 704 Governor, devoting, he estimated, 60-70 hours a week to travel and to lead projects that “invest in stock which will never go down, that of human life,” he said.

Dan retired in 1989 but remained active in education and scholarship, leading Elderhostel groups in the Middle East, focusing on Biblical archaeology and, closer to home, teaching SOAR classes on Comparative Religions and Islam to fellow retirees.  In addition to teaching and writing, Dan carved birds. He studied with a master carver in Brockville, Ontario; his Indigo Bunting is on display at the Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg. And, at age 85, Dan began piano lessons.

Last year, he loaned two of his most treasured possessions, a 1591 Geneva Bible and a 1613 Bible published by Robert Barker, to the Owen D. Young Library, for exhibition. He loved that students, faculty, and visitors could share his respect for these rare works.

At the opening of my remarks when I became St. Lawrence’s president, I said, “my St. Lawrence professor, Dan O’Connor, knows that I was not his best student. He may not know, however, that he made me a better student, the one I became after many years of study.”  John O’Shea ’74, who will receive an honorary degree at Commencement in a few weeks, recently recounted that he took Dan O’Connor’s famous year-long course on the Bible. He remembers the experience as being “extremely intimidating, but when you were with O’Connor, you knew you were in the presence of a major intellectual force.  From him, I learned what it meant to be an absolute expert and have complete command of a subject.”

In a profile in St. Lawrence magazine, Dan said, “I loved my teaching at St. Lawrence. I never felt so alive, so with the world.”  He said he treasured the cards, letters and e-mails that former students sent him, notes that told how his classes changed the direction of their lives.  Indeed, Dan changed the lives of countless Laurentians, whether in professional direction or by private inspiration, to lead a life of the mind and of service.

Lynn and I send our profound sympathies to Carolyn O’Connor, their children Daniel III and Kathlyn, and their five grandchildren.  A private interment service is being held at the convenience of the family.  We hope to have a memorial service on campus in the near future. We will share the plans as soon as we have coordinated them with Dan’s family.

For those who wish to remember Dan O'Connor, the family invites consideration of gifts to the Daniel O’Connor Memorial Fund at St. Lawrence University, which will support junior and senior religious studies majors.