Now is the Time to Write a Biography of Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara

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by Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.

On 29 November 1954, three days before Senator Joseph McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate, Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara and two other Passionists participated at the pro-Joseph McCarthy rally held at Madison Square Garden. Bishop O’Gara, writes Donald F. Crosby, S.J., in God, Church and Flag: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the Catholic Church 1950-1957, “delivered a stirring conservative invocation that kicked off the rally.” (p. 204) Both the New York Times and Christian Century made reference to this Catholic connection.

At Bishop O’Gara’s funeral homily fourteen years later, 17 May 1968, at St. Michael’s Monastery Church, Union City, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen called Bishop O’Gara “a dry martyr” because of his prison experience in China from 1951-1953. Sheen used O’Gara as an example of an individual who “can pass the breaking point and not break.” The life of Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara became linked to the anti-Communist Catholic culture of the 1950s and l960s.

There, however, is more to Bishop O’Gara’s life than anti-Communism. The personal papers of Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara in the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City chronicle his experience in China from 1926-1953. One is able to gain insight into Passionist mission policy in Hunan, China, local social history in Shenchow (Yuanling), Hunan, ecclesiastical relations in China, prison experience under the Japanese (1941) and the Communists (1951-1953). The latter experience is illuminated by combining Department of State documentation available from the 1950s in Record Group 59 at the National Archives in Washington, DC, with the file Rev. Cuthbert, O’Gara RG 25, Vol 2251, File l7-AEV-40 from the National Archives of Canada, Ottowa, Canada.

Born 1 April 1886, in Ottowa, Canada, he was the son of Martin and Margaret Bowes O’Gara. After he received his A.B. in 1910 from Ottowa University, he graduated in 1913 from the Grand Seminaire in Montreal with a Baccalaureate in Canon Law. By 17 October 1913, he had entered the Passionist Monastery at West Hoboken, NJ, and was professed 18 October 1914; he was ordained in West Hoboken, NJ, on 26 May 1915.

Between 1917-1924, he taught Theology, Canon Law and Sacred Scripture to Passionist students. On 22 July 1924, he departed for China. He was director of the minor seminary in Shenchow, Hunan, from 1925-1927. He was vicar delegate from 1925-1929. From 1927-1930; he was a missionary in Wuki, Hunan. On 12 February 1930, he was appointed Prefect Apostolic of Shenchow. He was named Vicar Apostolic of Yuanling and Titular Bishop of Elis on 28 May 1934. On 28 October 1934, O’Gara was consecrated by Apostolic Delegate Marius Zanin. Throughout his years in China O’Gara was a regular contributor to The Sign magazine. During the Sino-Japanese War he became known as the “Stretcher-bearer Bishop” because he would frequently be seen carrying stretchers bearing victims of Japanese bombings. Bishop O’Gara established 13 refugee camps, two hospitals, and housed, clothed, and fed some 100,000 refugees. In 1941 he was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. Yuanling became a diocese in 1947, and O’Gara was installed as the first bishop of the diocese on 15 May 1947. In 1950, O’Gara was confined to Mission; and by 1951, he was put under “house arrest” by the Communists. After a brutal imprisonment on 23 April 1953, he was released from prison; expelled from China he returned to the United States where he preached and lectured until his death on 13 May 1968.

Essentially the life of Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara challenges the writer and the reader to think “world.” I am asking members of the Passionist Congregation or other interested parties to assist me in gathering information for this biography.

  • Please release to me any correspondence of Bishop O’Gara for the Archives.
  • If there are any family or friends who should be interviewed, please contact me.
  • Personal impressions of Bishop O’Gara would be appreciated.
  • Studying the life of Bishop O’Gara will also give insight into the lives of Passionists Linus Lombard, Ronald Norris, Caspar Caulfield, and other men and women who helped shape the Passionist experience in China.
  • Finally, financial assistance or an opportunity to lecture on this topic would be welcome.

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