Pat O'Connor is retired the Senior Vice President Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. He is a graduate of both Augustinian seminaries in Holland, Michigan, and Tolentine College in Olympia Fields, Illinois. He is also a leader in pulling together all Augustinian seminary alumni for the Province. His brother Fr. Michael O’Connor, O.S.A., oversees health care services/management for retired Augustinians. Pat’s other great philanthropic cause is the Illinois Special Olympics. He now also provides pro-bono Human Resources consulting services to non-profit organizations through his Give Back Mission.
You are busy with family, business, and other major charitable commitments. So why are you helping this special Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign for the Augustinians?
I was assured that if I was successful, it was my ticket to Heaven! Seriously, I had not intended to say yes to Fr. Bernie’s request to vice-chair the campaign. But he told me to think and pray about it, which I did. What appeared to be a request for help from me to the Augustinians turned into them helping me. It gives me the opportunity to answer God’s call to be a responsible steward of His gifts and make a true and meaningful l impact on one of the most influential forces on my life, the Augustinians. My relationship with them started over 50 years ago when my brother, Fr. Mike O'Connor, entered the Augustinian novitiate. It was then I was first introduced to the charism of the Order. I attended St. Augustine’s Seminary High School, Tolentine College, the novitiate at Immaculate Conception/St Henry’s, and the Catholic Theological Union (CTU). At the end of my first year at CTU, I knew the Lord had other plans for me, and I ventured out to see where He was leading me. Those years with the Augustinians had a great influence on my future which has been blessed with a wonderful family, great friends, a fulfiling career, and a continued desire to be faithful to the will of God. I believe He gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity to partner with the Augustinians in yet another adventure that could change the lives of all current and future Augustinians of the Province of Good Counsel.
What is the most challenging aspect of volunteering to help raise funds? And, what helps you to push through and ask people?
Over the past 2 years, Fr. Bernie has provided many opportunities for the seminary alumni to re-connect with each other and the Augustinians. Michael Gerrity and his staff have done an outstanding job in communicating with the alumni. A most recent gathering was a reception for our alumni community prior to the Augustinian Gala. But even though the Augustinians have reached back out to the alumni, you never know what is going on with that individual until you make the call. The alum could be ill, or have recently lost his job. He could have left on bad terms or left on good terms but feels no affinity for the Augustinians. So you have to be ready for many different responses and conversations. You also have to be ready to accept that folks will not return your call. But each call gives me the opportunity let the alum know that first of all I have chosen to volunteer my time and resources to a cause that is going to make a difference to the elder Augustinians they know and new seminarians that need support just like they did many years ago. It gives me an opportunity to let them know that whether they donate or not, they are remembered and prayed for by the priests and brothers of the Order. It also gives me an opportunity to invite them to join our alumni group and reestablish that relationship
If you could think of one or two reasons why others (alumni, parishioners, Augustinian seminary alumni) should go the extra mile and make a special gift to this rare effort, what would they be?
My wife Rosemary and I recently visited our good friends, Danny and Kathy Drummond in Holland, Michigan. Dan is an active member of our alumni group and graduated in 1971. Whenever we visit them, I try to get back to the seminary grounds. As I took my walk through the woods and around the property, a startling thought crossed my mind: I am older now than any of the priests who taught me at St. Augustine's. So now when I hear the words “once in a lifetime opportunity,” it seems a little more real now than it had before. This capital campaign for me and many of my alumni brothers is our “once in a lifetime opportunity” to give back or pay forward what has been given to us by the religious order of men who taught us, coached us, counseled us, consoled us, mentored us, and provided spiritual guidance to us. While we did not remain with the Order, we left with gifts of education, friendship, and Christian values that helped shape who we are today. Also this campaign is not seeking funds to build a church made of brick and mortar, but to secure that the real Church, the people of God, have dedicated and trained Augustinian priests and brothers who will serve the Church of the future. Between the Journey of the Lifetime Trust to assist the elder friars or the Fr. Ray Ryan Trust to support the development and training of seminarians, I am sure that the alumni community will see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to say thanks in a very special way.
How do you think the Augustinians are relevant today? Are they? How so?
This almost sounds like the last question on a philosophy test I had at Tolentine many years ago. You asked, so here goes. Relevancy is determined by people as it relates to a specific cause. In this case the people who will make that determination are those who the Augustinians serve and witness to as it relates to receiving and sharing the love of God. From my perspective the Augustinians are very relevant and continue to be so through the impact on the lives of the people they serve in their schools, parishes, missions, and individual ministries. Their commitment to serve the Church through their community life is a tremendous witness to the teachings of the Gospel. We need the Augustinians to continue their mission to bring the Light of Christ into the hearts and minds of young students, the marginalized of society, the lonely senior, the struggling middle class family, and those who doubt their own faith. We need them to continue to celebrate the Great News of the Gospels and to witness to the joy of life. Relevant? You bet they are and we are called to make sure they remain so!