James O'Gara, 85 editor of Catholic journal

October 26, 2003

James O'Gara, a longtime editor of Commonweal, an opinion journal edited and managed by lay Catholics, died of a heart attack Wednesday at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. He was 85.

Born in Chicago, Mr. O'Gara earned bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology from Loyola University Chicago in 1948 and 1951, respectively. Before that, he served four years in the Army during World War II.

He retired as Commonweal's editor in 1984 after 32 years with the magazine -- 16 years as managing editor and another 16 years as editor -- where he frequently wrote about the church's teachings on social justice and the challenges facing the faith.

Previously, Mr. O'Gara worked at what was then called Voice of St. Jude and now is known as U.S. Catholic magazine. He also co-founded Today, a national Catholic student magazine no longer published, and worked as an associate editor of the Chicago Catholic Worker newspaper.

"He wanted to put his beliefs out to the world in hopes of helping the church reflect his beliefs about the Gospel," said his youngest daughter, Monica O'Gara of Woodbine. "He saw his work as a Catholic journalist as a vocation. It was an extension of his very strong beliefs, and his strong faith and belief in the social teachings of the church."

After his retirement, Mr. O'Gara served as a resident scholar at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn., from 1984 to 1985, and served as a visiting professor for the American studies department at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., during the next year.

Mr. O'Gara also wrote a column for The Long Island Catholic from 1991 until last year.

He moved to the retirement community in Catonsville in 1995.

He was married for 53 years to the former Joan F. Smith, who died in 2000.

Mr. O'Gara was a communicant of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Catonsville, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow .

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Margaret O'Gara of Toronto, Ontario, and two grandchildren.

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