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Margaret O'Gara, R.I.P.

On August 16, after a two-year struggle with cancer, the theologian Margaret O'Gara died at the age of sixty-five. You can read a brief obituary in the Catholic Register of Canadahere. From that piece:

The characteristic aim of Margaret's 37 years of work as a theologian was to foster dialogue among Christians for the sake of overcoming divisions between the churches. Besides her teaching, research, writing, and extensive public lecturing, she was a member of official ecumenical dialogues in Canada, the United States, and at the international level. She also served as president of the North American Academy of Ecumenists and the Catholic Theological Society of America. Her effectiveness in all these arenas came from a combination of her scholarly rigor, her ability to listen sympathetically, her uncommon energy, and her contagious delight at the growth of mutual understanding and friendship.

Margaret was a long-time contributor to Commonweal -- a genetic predisposition inherited from her father Jim, who edited the magazine for thirty-two years. (Read Margaret and her sister Monica's piece, "Growing Up Commonweal," here.) In addition to her considerable intellectual gifts, she had an apparently bottomless store of kindness. We mourn her passing.Requiescat in pace.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Yes, Margaret was a lovely person and a fine theologian. I first met her over lunch in the mid-1970's near Columbia University to discuss her desire to study theology. I always took a certain vicarious pride in her considerable accomplishments.

Margaret along with her sister wrote this sterling article "Growing up Commonweal" in the November 5th issue in 2004. haven't seen a better description of the Commonweal Catholic. Wonderfully edifying and informative. Margaret would have been happy to see that First Things took note of her death in a fine tribute as she was fervent in uniting the whole church.

She also was a role model and a teacher for others- including both Commonwealers and women- who wanted to study theology too! God bless her, she now sees the ground and source of theology face to face.

I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Toronto when Margaret was a graduate student in theology. I came upon her one day at the Newman Center leafing through a copy of Commonweal; not knowing about her family, I asked her, Why, Margaret! Are you a Commonweal Catholic? She answered something like Im about as much so as you can get, and suddenly I connected her surname and the magazine: You mean . . . your father . . . is . . . So she told me how as a girl she listened to Catholic intellectuals spar at the dinner table and solicitously guided Monica in the proper technique of selling Girl Scout cookiesthe story that the two sisters told in Growing Up Commonweal and that Peter Steinfels, in his obituary of Jim OGara, summarized as his lively but modest gardening-and-Girl-Scouts existence on Long Island.Margaret OGara and Michael Vertin had been married less than a year when my fiance and I asked them to do the required tutorial part of preparing us for our Catholic-Lutheran marriage; we said their wisdom about ecumenism and their love of learning made them the natural choice. They scheduled not one but two sessions; Michael outlined all of the subjects meticulously on paper, and Margaret drew up a reading list. They told us how they cooked the weeks dinner casseroles together every Sunday afternoon, in the cookware that hung in a wondrously symmetrical arrangement on pegboard, and they said that they devoted some time every week to talking about how their relationship was going. Despite not having followed the latter practice, were still together. And the Rosemary Haughton pamphlet they gave us is still in our library.Margaret knew then what she was after: she was insistent about the importance of a ministry of teaching, distinct from preaching, within the Church, and about the special mission of married people and lay people within that ministry. I dont know whether she ever did marriage preparation again, but it was a blessing to watch all she did over the years.Some years ago, the author of a rather unpleasant article about her (Ive found only one) gave her credit for her wonderful work in the mutual-exploratory phase of ecumenism but said she was ill suited to contribute to ecumenisms final phase, namely conquest. I say thank God for that. And thank God for Margaret.

I am very grateful to the editors for making the article "Growing Up Commonweal," which my sister and I wrote several years ago, available again at this time. Her death is indeed a great loss to the Church. But it is of course a deeply personal loss for me and I will miss her dreadfully. Thank you to all for your kind comments.Monica O'Gara

I just learned of her death. In 1976 and 1977 Margaret was my professor of Theological Anthropology. An introduction to systematic theology at the Faculty of St. Michaels School of Theology. I am forever blessed with the depth of instruction I received. Just two or more years ago I stuck my head in her seminar to question her affirmation of the Resurrection. She rose to the challenge!

I knew Margaret long ago at Trinity College in Washington, DC. She was a wonderful and inspiring woman in her youth and it is gratifying to read that she continued until her death to contribute to the great good of God's creation. She was an inspiration then and now.

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