Archbishop O’Brien considered popular as a seminarian

As a seminarian in the 1960s, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien was considered serious, yet jocular, and fellow classmates wouldn’t have necessarily picked him out as the cleric in their class to become one of the most respected U.S. Catholic leaders.
The future head of the premier see was extroverted, smart, athletic, popular and responsible during his years at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, N.Y., said Monsignor James K. Vaughey, 70, a fellow seminarian.
“He was not a follower, by any means, and he did have some leadership qualities,” said Monsignor Vaughey, who is currently pastor of St. Theresa, Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. “But, if we were thinking about any of us becoming a bishop before too long, we wouldn’t have thought it was going to be him. He was too much of a regular guy.”
The two men met as seminarians, were ordained priests together in 1965 and have remained good friends ever since.
Though Monsignor Vaughey said he and his classmates didn’t accurately predict Archbishop O’Brien’s rise among the U.S. Catholic brass, they did notice something special about him.
“He’s always been an impressive fellow, even as a very young guy,” the pastor said with a thick New York accent. “He was considerate, thoughtful, loved a good joke and fell into laughter easily. But, he was also a serious student and very responsible.
“After awhile, it became evident he had those indefinable qualities people need to have a good future in the Church,” Monsignor Vaughey said.
While he said Archbishop O’Brien was a seminarian who appreciated a good sense of humor, he wasn’t necessarily a practical joker.
The future archbishop of Baltimore had the ability to mingle as comfortably with the Catholic aristocracy as with his teammates on the many sports that he played, Monsignor Vaughey said.
“He was always very well received. People just always seemed to like him,” he said. “He is a very nice guy. There are no airs about him. He’s confident and takes himself seriously, but he’s not puffed up or anything.”
After their 1965 ordination, everyone in the graduating class was assigned a parish, except for the future Archbishop O’Brien, who was named a chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“That was a sign to all of us that he really stood out,” Monsignor Vaughey said. “I think that is when I realized he had that certain quality that you can’t fully articulate. That quality that allows you to mix all of the elements you need to be decisive and compassionate at the same time. He blends that beautifully.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.