skip to main content

In Remembrance of Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., Fordham’s Longest-Serving President

26

As president of Fordham from 1984 to 2003, Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., made a defining impact on every aspect of the University, ushering in both academic renewal and physical expansion that lifted the University’s standing in New York City and nationally. He was a respected civic leader and renowned intellectual but also a humble priest, beloved for his surpassing good will and grace, who perfectly embodied the Jesuit ethos of service to the human family.

A memorial Mass for Father O’Hare will be celebrated in the University Church when public health considerations permit.

Tributes to Father O’Hare

“He placed all of his considerable intellect, integrity, and vision in service of the University, and in doing so transformed Fordham into a powerhouse of Jesuit education. We will miss his wisdom, steady counsel, and warm wit.”
—Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University

“Father O’Hare is one of my heroes. Brilliant, witty, kind, gentle but firm, he lived his life caring and giving to so many.”
—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who worked with Father O’Hare as one of the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s founding appointees

“He helped mentor many Fordham colleagues into their own presidencies, including me. He said something to me once that guides me still: ‘You choose to see the limits or the possibility in Catholic higher education. What you choose determines how you lead.’”
—Fordham Trustee Donna Carroll, Ph.D., University secretary under Father O’Hare and current president of Dominican University in Chicago

Read More Tributes in Our Obituary 

Share Your Own Tribute to Father O’Hare

The full measure of Father O’Hare’s life and legacy can be seen in the outpouring of personal tributes that followed his passing on March 29. Please feel free to post your own tribute in the comments section below.

Share.

26 Comments

  1. KARINAH SANTIAGO on

    I traveled far and wide looking for the right school during my senior year of high school in 1999-2000, and the moment I sat in the Rose Hill Gymnasium and heard Father O’Hare speak as president to us, prospective students, I knew right then and there that Fordham was the place I wanted to call home. Father O’Hare’s words struck me so hard that inexplicable tears were streaming down my face. I knew that was the sign, the sign that this is my place. And it was because of that moment, hearing him so poignantly offer me reasons to love Fordham like he did, that I chose to love it too. Thank you, Father O’Hare, for being the center of my Fordham experience for the last three years of your post as president. We will always love you and miss you and you will be forever in our hearts and prayers.

  2. Julianne Nukk on

    May you rest in peace forever, Fr. O’Hare. You were such a positive spokesperson for the University I loved so much. I loved seeing you around campus, having you celebrate Mass, my interactions with you on various committees, and most importantly, the day you married Randy and I in the University Church on Sept. 10, 1994. Several guests at our wedding who were not Catholic commented on how warm and welcoming you were and made them feel so “at home” in the church that day. Thank you, you will be missed and always remembered! Sincerely, Julianne (Judge) and Randall Nukk, GABELLI ’91

  3. Robert Parmach on

    I’ll always remember one Thursday afternoon in particular, many years ago. I caught up with Fr. O’Hare at the corner on Eddies Parade. We were on our way to the same meeting in McGinley. As he was soon to retire as University President, I asked him what he considered his top two accomplishments at Fordham. We only had about 30 seconds before we reached the building.

    Fr. O’Hare said that he “worked hard to help make a Fordham Jesuit education accessible to more students over the years.” And the second accomplishment? I asked. Without losing a beat, he looked me in the eyes and said humorously, “Well, hiring you, of course, so let’s get to work at this meeting!” He was always filled with purpose and wit, a contagious sense of gratitude, and an encouraging smile. Requiescat in pace. (Robert J. Parmach is FCRH Dean for First-Year Students.)

  4. William Arnone on

    During his year as President of Regis HS, our alma mater, Fr. O’Hare lent his support to my effort to have the Regis Board of Trustees consider going co-ed. My dream was to enable my daughter to benefit from the same Jesuit high school education that has meant so much to me. He acted with courage in so doing and I remain forever grateful to him for that, as well as for his overall leadership of Fordham and his major contribution to New York City’s well-being.

  5. Memories of Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J.

    by Tom Kane, GABELLLI ’61, Retired Investment Banker; Former Chair, Fordham University Board of Trustees

    A Philippine Tale
    My long friendship with Father Joe O’Hare began in the mid-1980s when I joined the Fordham Board as a trustee in 1986. We kept a friendly banter going between us about our two alma maters, Regis and Xavier high schools, throughout our time together.

    In 1986, after joining the Board, my wife, Judy, and I traveled to Manila for a reception hosted by a fellow trustee, Jose Fernandez, who at the time was minister of finance for the Philippines. The high point of the trip, aside from the reception given by Jose, was our visit to Malacanang Palace and an audience with the new president, Cory Aquino. Father Joe had been ordained at the Ateneo de Manila and so was friendly with the president and her late husband, Benito, and family for years. (Yes, after the meeting, we did get a Cook’s tour of the shoe collection of Imelda Marcos.)

    During the visit, Father O’Hare issued an invitation for President Aquino to visit Fordham while in New York for the opening of the U.N. in September. She graciously accepted and plans began.
 With the ascension of Cory Aquino to the presidency, Philippine nationalism in the world became renowned. In New York, the fervor was rising with her pending arrival. On September 22, 1986, Fordham held a special convocation in honor of President Aquino’s visit to Rose Hill.

    Edwards Parade was packed with Filipino and Filipino Americans numbering in the thousands and bedecked with yellow ribbons and scarves. The press estimated the crowd at 5,000. When the crowd spotted President Aquino, they went wild with celebration and chanted her name—Cory, Cory! The air was electric. The hair on my arms stood up from the emotional energy generated as we sat there spellbound. Finally, after the perfunctory remarks to open the convocation, Father O’Hare presented President Aquino with her honorary doctorate. Then, as Father Joe moved to the microphone to introduce President Aquino, it was obvious to all that he was quite emotional—understandable to me after our recent visit to Manila and his return to the Philippines.

    
Gathering himself for a few moments, Father O’Hare then began his remarks in fluent Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, and spoke for over five minutes before switching over to English. To say the crowd went wild with emotion at Joe’s linguistic gesture would be a massive understatement. The love fest continued throughout the rest of the ceremony and, when over, everyone was joyous at heart and emotionally exhausted. Those moments have been embedded in my memory bank for 35 years—thanks to Father Joe O’Hare.

    An Irish Tale
    This tale is more like a shaggy dog story—the original humorous incident and sequels that continued to pop up as time went on.

    In 1991, during my chairmanship, I managed to organize the Fordham-Holy Cross football game in Ireland. The appointed time was Saturday, November 16, in the GAA Stadium in Limerick. At the time, Judy and I owned Adare Manor, a hotel in Limerick County, Ireland. Since it was a no-cost trip to Ireland for the teams, and more importantly, Father O’Hare’s father was from Limerick, the convincing required was minimal. Joe handled negotiations with Father Brooks, who was president of Holy Cross at the time and less than enthusiastic about the journey.

    Arrangements went smoothly, and the teams departed for Shannon from Boston and New York on Wednesday evening, arriving very early on Thursday. The Holy Cross team was based at Dromoland Castle in County Clare—15 minutes north of Limerick City, site of the match on Sunday. For obvious reasons, Fordham was based 15 minutes south of Limerick at Adare Manor and the Dunraven Arms in the town of Adare.

    Due to the passing of one of the Jesuits at Murray-Weigel Hall, Joe’s departure for Ireland was delayed by 24 hours, so he arrived early Friday morning. The City of Limerick had a parade for the visiting teams and supporters at midday on Friday—Father George McMahon carried the standard for Fordham and almost choked to death from exhaust fumes following the team bus! Although a bit jet-lagged, Father O’Hare enthusiastically participated in the parade and other festivities. Afterward, we returned to Adare Manor and after some much-needed rest, gathered for dinner and a pregame celebration.

    President Mary Robinson and her husband arrived at Adare Manor late in the evening from Dublin and went directly to their suite. As a barrister herself, she was due to preside at a 9 a.m. breakfast hosted by the Fordham Law alumni who had gone to Holy Cross. Since Father O’Hare and most everyone else was still on Eastern Standard Time, the after-dinner festivities moved down to the Tack Room and singing went on into the wee hours of the morning.

    Breakfast time came early. The residents and guests trickled into the gallery for the 9 a.m. event.
    After a reasonable wait for Father Brooks, the host, who never showed up, the breakfast began with welcoming remarks by Father O’Hare, who was now the replacement host for the event. Still suffering from jet lag, Father Joe began with a humorous defense of his late hours the evening before by blaming his Cousin Henry, a mythical stand-in for Joe when he chose to employ him. He was hilarious in describing how he has had to deal with the antics of his Cousin Henry over the years. Mary Robinson took mental note and then presented her remarks and best wishes to both teams and, of course, to “Dear Cousin Henry”!

    
The game ensued and was considered a success, although Fordham lost, 24-19.

    Fast forward a year or so later to the annual September opening of the U.N. President Mary Robinson was in New York and hosting a reception which included Father O’Hare as a guest. Joe tells about standing in the reception line and after a formal introduction, Mary Robinson smiled and asked him how his Cousin Henry is getting along these days. Her staff had no idea what she was referring to at the moment.

    Fast forward again a few years, and I am sitting on the steps overlooking Edwards Parade for the annual commencement and honorary degree award ceremonies. This was in 1992, my last year as chair. The principal honoree that year was Mary Robinson, the sitting president of Ireland. Father O’Hare took great pleasure in introducing President Robinson and welcoming her to Fordham. In his remarks, Joe made special mention of Fordham’s visit to Ireland in 1991, where he first met the president, and introduced her to the several thousand graduates and their families at Rose Hill for the Big Day.

    
When he was finished, Mary Robinson was awarded her honorary doctorate and moved to the dais for her remarks. After the perfunctory acknowledgements, she referenced the game back in Limerick and, turning to Father O’Hare, inquired how his Cousin Henry was doing these days. The tale of Father O’Hare’s legendary Cousin Henry around campus was certainly well known amongst the students, if not their families, and the audience erupted with spontaneous laughter and applause. It was a light, enjoyable, and very memorable acknowledgement of the personal relationship that existed between President Mary Robinson and Father Joe O’Hare.

    Father Joe O’Hare spawned many similar friendships during his lifetime and touched many people in ways only they know. What a blessing for Judy and I to be able to call him a friend.

    My 35-year friendship with Father Joe O’Hare is filled with anecdotes, but alas, after our move to Florida, the meetings were limited to the annual visits every winter. But when we did meet, as all Irish are inclined to do, we told the same tales over and over again. Judy and I miss Father O’Hare but relish the times we spent together all those many years ago.

  6. Michelle Fadlalla Leo on

    I was blessed to have Father O’Hare as my President while a student at Fordham College at Rose Hill. He was a wonderful man, priest, and leader. I am so grateful for the friendship we had and the memories I will always cherish. May he rest in peace.

  7. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., forged, among several of the defining hallmarks of his presidency at Fordham, a renewed and growing re-embrace of the Bronx community, within which Fordham’s original and historic Rose Hill campus had been planted 150 years before, at its founding. This expanding recommitment had begun in embryonic form under his predecessor, Father Jim Finlay, S.J., but Joe O’Hare brought a personal dimension to this outreach, stemming from his status as a native son of this borough that was still in the process of recovering from over two decades of socioeconomic forces that had led to the neglect, and in some cases devastation, of many of its neighborhoods.

    He firmly planted and oriented Fordham to be a leader in the renewal of neighborhoods of this borough as reconstituted communities, in a way that engaged all of the different human and institutional resources of Fordham, from its students to its faculty, alumni, schools, and administrators, in this great initiative to support the Bronx in all of its community-based efforts to rise once again as a vital borough. In doing so he established the Office of Government Relations and Urban Affairs as an institutional entity within his own office, and later under the direction of the vice president for administration. Through this office he launched the student community service program that engaged thousands of students in community service at all levels. He supported efforts in the area of affordable housing undertaken by University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP), and the building of affordable housing for Bronx seniors and handicapped by the Rose Hill Housing Management Corp. He also led in the area of supporting the establishment of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District, as well as pulling together the Four Bronx Institutions Alliance with the other world-class institutions of the North Central Bronx, comprised of the New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), and Montefiore Medical Center, all while serving on the borough president’s overall Bronx planning effort launched by then Borough President Fernando Ferrer to renew the borough. All this in addition to his other civic engagement activities on the broader NYC level.

    In many of these efforts I was honored and privileged to serve as the director and later associate vice president for government and urban affairs under his passionately supportive leadership. I will never forget the generosity, strength, and acute vision that he brought to this and all of the other dramatic efforts that he undertook as president of Fordham. We have all been enriched and invigorated by this leadership. He will always be remembered for all of this, but especially for the relationships that he forged along the way.

  8. Ken Phillips on

    Many years after leaving Fordham I had several pleasant dinners with Father O’Hare. We are both sons of New York City policemen and appreciated our father’s dedication to service.

    On one evening I confided to Father that when at Fordham I was not always happy to be there. The work was hard, the discipline was tough, and it was the 1960s. I told him that after these many years I was now happy that I had chosen Fordham. He looked right at me and said, “What makes you think we didn’t choose you?” He then explained that the Jesuits had been choosing individuals and educating them for over 400 years and probably had some experience in this area. I shared this O’Hare insight with a young Bill Clinton who was preparing to run for president and you could’ve knocked him over with a feather when he thought of his Georgetown experience in this light. The Jesuits recognized his potential even before he did.

    I’ll always remember Father O’Hare on the dance floor at Jubilee. Surrounded by well-wishers 30 years his junior, his smile and grace was a sight to see. Godspeed, Father O’Hare.

  9. Rebecca Custer on

    As an accepted high school senior in 1995, I went to campus for the Fordham Firsthand experience. At that point I was undecided between Fordham, Manhattan, and NYU. After listening to Father O’Hare welcome us to campus and extol the virtues of a Fordham education and experience, my decision was made. He was so warm and made you feel as if you were already a part of the Fordham community. He will be greatly missed, but always remembered.

  10. Sharon P. Smith on

    Father O’Hare’s leadership was inspirational: he encouraged us to pursue our ideas. We knew he believed in us and trusted our judgment. His approach was a true example of love in practice. (Sharon P. Smith, dean of the schools of business—now the Gabelli School—under Father O’Hare, and president emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg)

  11. I recall his kindly face and easy smile around campus. I always looked forward to doing the liturgical or Eucharistic ministry when he was the celebrant. Our chats of his life, studies and work in the Philippines helped put me at ease when I first came to Fordham mere months after immigrating. Thank you, Fr. O’Hare.

  12. Bernie Stratford on

    A great man, a great spirit, and a great leader. Father O’Hare, through his example, taught me more about “servant leadership” than I could have ever imagined. I was blessed and privileged to serve the University as his Dean of Students for ten years. He touched my heart, he challenged my mind, and he filled by soul with devotion and dedication to the care of others. Now, with the city he loved so so very much in such unthinkable pain, I seek solace in his words: “We can learn from September 11th important lessons about the fragility of life and the resilience of the human spirit. We can recognize, more vividly that each day is a gift full of promise, but we can never take that gift for granted. We can learn again that we must live in our particular moment in history and not retreat into wishful thinking about another time and another place. In other words, we must continue to grow in wisdom and learning about our world and ourselves.” God Bless. Peace be with you, Father President.

    • Megan Delaney on

      Bernie. My heartfelt thanks to you for sharing this. I don’t have the words to convey what it means to me personally, as a member of the O’Hare family and as an alumna of Fordham. Bernie, much like my uncle, you always get to the heart of what’s important.

  13. Joseph J. Sullivan, Jr. on

    Eight bells for Fr. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J.

    Were it not for Fr. O’Hare, Fordham would have no Sailing Team today. When nine students from the Classes of 2000 through 2003 had completed all requirements, including an Annual Budget and Five-Year Plan, for Sailing to be resurrected as a Club Sport in January 2000 and were denied the opportunity, Fr. O’Hare declared “Fordham and Sailing go together!” and the logjam was broken. He had compassion for the students, who had worked so hard to fulfill their dream. Before he passed away, Fr. O’Hare saw Sailing become a national championship contender in 2017, placing 7th among all varsity and club teams, and #1 among all club teams in the country.

    Eight bells is a nautical euphemism meaning a sailor has “finished his final watch” or died. The team members in 2000 and all those who preceded and followed them will, with gratitude, always keep his memory alive.

    May eight bells always ring for the Sailing team’s most important benefactor, Fr. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J.

  14. Thanks Fr. O’Hare. I remember when I arrived as a transfer student, during his first semester as president. In my second year he volunteered to be a star in the “Fordham University Movie” in May 1986. What a great man. Always giving and role modeling to students. Prayers to the Jesuits!

  15. Robert A. O'Hare on

    Fr. O’Hare will be deeply missed for so many reasons, including his keen awareness of the people around him and his uncanny attention to every detail. I learned that my grandfather and his father were NYPD mounted police officers together and, coincidently, both of the surname O’Hare. Upon my graduation from FCLC in 1988, at the commencement ceremony, Fr. O’Hare noted during his remarks that he was happy to see that I was graduating among what was his first full graduating class since he had taken the helm at Fordham in 1984. We had never met before. He said he had followed my path after scanning the rolls of attending students upon his arrival at Fordham. After that we became acquainted and chatted many times over the years, especially at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick annual dinner, at which he was a fixture on the dais. We shared our families’ stories and relished in our NYPD and Fordham connections and, of course, our common last name. I will remember him most fondly.

  16. Caroline Bartels on

    Years after Father O’Hare left Fordham and he was acting head of Regis, I happened to be at Regis for a meeting and walked past his office and we both gave a startled little shout of surprise and we gave each other a big hug. There was absolutely no reason that he would remember me. I rarely went to Mass while I was a graduate student, but the fact that he did just shows how much he cared and took notice of the students under his care.

    My other absolute favorite moment was on a Holy Thursday one of the years I was still living in the Bronx. I had been dragged to Mass by friends and I was sitting on the inside aisles of the church. At the end of Mass, as he was processing out with the other priests, shaking a few hands as he went, he leaned over and shook my hand and with that little Father O’Hare smile he said: “Well, it must be Holy Week because you’re here. Good to see you, Caroline.” We both started laughing, and I just have that memory of me throwing back my head laughing and him giving a little chuckle, all pleased with himself.

    He was a lovely man.

  17. Kathleen Murphy on

    I am so deeply saddened to learn of Fr. O’Hare’s passing. I have so many fond memories of him, including dancing with him at my late husband’s 20th reunion weekend! The following day, at brunch, he said that must have been his evil twin who often showed up on campus!! Years later he celebrated my older daughter’s wedding at the University Church and eventually baptized her first child, our first grandson. I know he and my husband are raising a glass together as I write this, and I will raise a toast to both of them shortly. Enjoy your peace!

  18. As a scholarship student at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, I was fortunate to sit alongside Father O’Hare at America’s 100 top Irish Americans awards dinner. I was able to thank him personally for the University’s continuing support of my education. A more humble man you cannot hope to find, and he told me personal stories about the struggles of his widowed sister and her children. I also was struggling, bringing up four children, my twin daughters with severe cerebral palsy, and trying to get a degree in political science so as an Irishwoman I could make sense of the system of healthcare and public education for children with disabilities, and fight to improve it. His words gave me great encouragement and strength to continue the struggle. He was a wonderful presence at Fordham, and I will never forget him.

  19. Father O’Hare was a constant visitor to the Gabelli School of Business when William Small was the Felix Larkin Chair of the new Journalism program for MBA students. I was lucky enough to be William Small’s assistant for 8 years and to see Father O’Hare in his office. Fr. O’Hare was a man of integrity, high intelligence and vision. I remember laughing over many jokes that he would share with Mr. Small.

    I am also proud to have a picture of Fr. O’Hare giving me my diploma when I graduated from Fordham at Lincoln Center in 1991 at Avery Fisher Hall. He certainly cut a dashing figure and always had a twinkle in his eyes. He will be missed my many.

  20. Sharon DeVivo on

    I was blessed to have worked for Fr. O’Hare and then to meet him at weddings for fellow graduates. He was a wonderful man who left a lasting legacy that is Fordham University.

  21. Gerard Justvig on

    I was saddened to learn of Father O’Hare’s passing and extend my thoughts and prayers to his family. Father O’Hare has reached his eternal reward.

    Thank you, Father McShane, for your beautiful words about Father O’Hare. They will be a lasting tribute to a great man.

    May God bless Father O’Hare’s family as well as you and your family.

  22. Kyle Weigand on

    Absolutely perfect words, Fr. McShane. The Fordham community is so lucky to have his legacy and your current leadership. He was so inspirational. Truly a blessing.

    Sending all the best from Cleveland. Looking forward to seeing you one day soon. Stay well.

  23. Alan Sperber on

    My wife, Betty, and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Fr. Joseph O’Hare. In addition to his illustrious career, he was an early champion of the Sperber Prize for which we will always remember him and be grateful for. I had the privilege of seeing him at the Homecoming game and when visiting Fr. Raymond Schroth at Murray-Weigel Hall on several occasions. While not in good health, he was able to acknowledge our thanks and best wishes, and I am glad that I could do that while he could still do so.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Fordham community especially at this time, and thank you for your inspirational messages which have helped enormously to bring grace and courage to us all.

  24. Thank you for letting us know of Reverend O‘Hare’s passing. What a wonderful leader he was and how blessed we are to have had his leadership at Fordham University.

    My prayers are with his friends, who will miss him. God Bless.

Share a Memory