LEFT: Reverend Thomas O’Connor, the 1993 Lumen Christi Award recipient.
RIGHT: Father O’Connor, shown here with parishioners, was instrumental in keeping an inner-city parish in Fort Wayne vital and growing.
“How Compassionate Can You Be?”
Father O’Connor was honored in 1993 for serving the poor in Fort Wayne by helping found a soup kitchen that served 1,400 per day, a free medical clinic that treated 8,000 patients per month, and Vincent House, which kept homeless families off the street and helped them become self-sufficient. He was instrumental in keeping St. Mary’s, an innercity parish in Fort Wayne, alive by involving the laity – calling them to serve by saying, “I cannot visit all the sick people in the parish. But, because of your baptism, you have an obligation to visit one another.”
Among the many programs Father O’Connor initiated in Fort Wayne was “Eastside-Westside,” which joined youths of all races from across the city in friendship; a scholarship program that allowed needy children to attend Catholic schools; and “Urban Plunge,” which invited students from the University of Notre Dame to volunteer at St. Mary’s. Said Father O’Connor, “When you serve the poor, the Gospel is brought to you every day. Then you find out, ‘How compassionate can you be? How non-judgmental?’”
Postscript: Reverend Thomas O’Connor died in 2004.