Genealogy Shows Cardinal O’Connor’s Mother Was Jewish

The Catholic Church’s top official in New York, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, was well-known as a defender and friend of the Jewish people. However, he apparently was unaware that his mother was born Jewish, the daughter of a rabbi. “The basic fact is, my mother was Jewish,” said Mary O’Connor Ward-Donegan, the cardinal’s 87-year-old sister.

You can read more in an article by Alison Leigh Cowan in the New York Times at


Very interesting. Traditionally, Judaism recognizes you as Jewish if your mother was (not if your father was, and the reason for that is rather practical: it’s always possible that your father isn’t your father, whereas it’s a lot easier to prove that one is your mother!).


I have a vague memory of a school of thought which says if you convert to another religion you cease to be a Jew.


The question about Cardinal O’Connor’s grandfather being a rabbi and a butcher came up in a conversation with helpers at our monthly parish community meal yesterday. The article infers that his grandfather’s name does not seem to be recorded in the synagogue’s records. Which brings up the question if his title was due to his knowledge of kosher meat standards. To be truly ‘kosher’ the slaughter of animals has to be done according to the ancient rules of the Hebrews. So, I am thinking that is how and why the grandfather was known as both a butcher and a rabbi.


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