In Loving Memory of Leo Francis O'Connor, Ph.D
July 24, 1936
Jersey City, New Jersey
March 30, 2018
Spear-Miller Funeral Home
39 South Benson Road,
Fairfield CT US 06824
Spear-Miller Funeral Home, Tuesday 4-7 p.m.
39 South Benson Road,
April 03, 2018
Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola
Saturday, April 21, 2018 11:00 a.m.
Doctors Without Borders
Leo Francis O'Connor, Ph.D
Dr. Leo Francis O’Connor, 81, died peacefully on March 30, 2018 with his family by his side. He was born in Jersey City, NJ on July 24, 1936. Leo attended St. Peter’s College Prep, graduated from St. Peter’s College and went on to serve in the U.S. Army Infantry, obtaining the rank of Captain. After his military service, he worked at CBS News and Prudential Insurance. While at Prudential, he took a risk and “followed his bliss” (his personal mantra) by enrolling at New York University, where he would go on to receive his PhD in Literature.
In 1963, Leo began his teaching career as Assistant Professor at the New York Institute of Technology, where he went on to Chair the English Department. In 1965, he joined the English Department at Fairfield University. His career at Fairfield spanned 50 years, during which time he founded the undergraduate American Studies Program and reinvented the graduate American Studies Program. He also established the Film Society and was Chairman of the General Faculty and the Honors Program. Leo made many cultural contributions to the University including film series (“Classic Foreign Films” and “America in Film”) and panel discussions (“Novelist’s America”). He proudly helped create the Jesuit Plaza, an outdoor meeting ground for faculty members and students. Leo wrote two major publications: “Religion in the American Novel: The Search for Belief,” and “The Protestant Sensibility in the American Novel.” In his early years at the university, he loved participating in faculty vs. student sporting contests. In 1989, Leo was the recipient of the Fairfield University Alumni Award. This award was especially meaningful to him because teaching was Leo’s passion. He never felt that he was working because teaching was his calling, and he truly enjoyed every single hour he was in the classroom with his students.
Although Leo spent his adult life in academe, he always fondly remembered his early working years. He was a ball boy for the Jersey City Giants, a busboy on the Jersey shore, a teamster for Safeway Supermarket, a barrel maker for Inland Steel, and an ironworker for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. All of these jobs laid the foundation for his strong work ethic and “salt of the earth” sensibility, one of the many characteristics that made Leo so well-liked by all that knew him.
In his retirement, Leo was still a devoted sports fan, a voracious reader, and continued to have an avid interest in American history and politics. Perhaps his greatest passion was spending time with his two grandsons, each of whom carry on a part of his name, Leo and Conor Del Priore.
He is survived by his loving wife of 41 years, Karen Duggan O’Connor. He is also survived by six children - Meg O’Connor, Ryan O’Connor, Mary Del Priore, James O’Connor, Katherine Kline, and Deirdre Coolidge.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Doctors Without Borders at www.doctorswithoutborders.org. A wake will be held on Tuesday, April 3rd from 4-7pm at Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield. A memorial service will be held at Fairfield University Egan Chapel on a date to be announced. Please check www.spearfuneralhome.com for memorial service updates in the coming week.