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Mary Alice O’Connor: A Life of Seeking Truth

With deep gratitude, the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph honor the life of a dear friend and benefactor, Mary Alice O’Connor, 1929-2015. For over forty years, Mary Alice was a faithful parishioner at the Dominican church of St. Mary’s in New Haven, Connecticut, and a personal friend to many of the friars. BlackFriars spoke with her son, Kiernan O’Connor—a speaker, author, and educator on wealth and legacy planning—about his remarkable mother and her decision to bequeath her IRA to the Dominican Friars. 

How did your mother come to know the Friars? 

My mother was orthodox in her faith and extremely well read—she was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions on her deathbed. I’m the youngest of nine and all our middle names are either Dominican or Jesuit saints (mine is Aquinas). When we moved to Connecticut from the Midwest in 1972, the parishes were in turmoil after Vatican II, and it was a very difficult time for my mother. As soon as she learned that St. Mary’s was a Dominican parish, she started attending daily mass there.

So that became your family parish? 

Yes. My mother was a great lover of classical music and had a very sophisticated taste in art, so everything about St. Mary’s appealed to her. It became the heart of her life for her last 40 years. As it turns out, Dominican friars make great dinner guests, so we always had them in our home growing up. In my mother’s last 10 years, she moved within walking distance of St. Mary’s, which helped because of her bad knees. After having two artificial knees put in, she would spend hours in Adoration there.

“You cannot stop learning about your faith. You have to study constantly, because otherwise it will start to erode.”

How did she decide to leave her IRA to the Dominican Friars? 

My father, who managed the finances, passed away in 2013. As a wealth advisor specializing in legacy planning, I was the most qualified in the family to help my mother. Looking at her IRA, I realized that, with nine children, the single biggest beneficiary would be the government. This was not appealing to her. She did want to provide a monetary bequest for her children, but it wasn’t her main goal. To her, generosity meant not writing checks but having children, being open to life. So we settled on the Dominican Friars. After we documented the gift, she received a statue of St. Dominic in honor of her and my dad—she loved that.

What did she hope her gift would accomplish? 

She loved the intellectual life of the Church and wanted to help the Friars carry on the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. She knew her Summa! For her, theology was not some abstract subject for a minority of people to study. What she loved about the Dominicans is that they make theology accessible to everybody and that strengthens and enlightens your faith. She once said, “You cannot stop learning about your faith. You have to study constantly, because otherwise it will start to erode.” So she wanted to support the friars in that constant seeking for truth.

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