James O’Gara, the former editor of the Catholic journal Commonweal, died on Oct. 22 from a heart attack. He was 85.
O’Gara served four years with the U.S. Army infantry fighting in the Pacific during World War II, then earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from Loyola University in Chicago. After graduation, he became a Catholic journalist at the Voice of St. Jude, which is now known as U.S. Catholic magazine. He worked as an associate editor of the Chicago Catholic Worker newspaper and founded Today, a national Catholic student magazine.
In 1952, O’Gara became an editor at Commonweal, a Catholic opinion journal. He remained at the magazine for 32 years and frequently wrote about the challenges facing his faith. When O’Gara was criticized for the liberal direction the magazine was taking on issues like the McCarthy witch hunt for Communists, O’Gara staged an editorial coup at a stockholders meeting to protest further interference with editorial policy. He eventually convinced one owner, Edward Skillin, to buy out the other stockholders. The magazine became a nonprofit corporation at the end of O’Gara’s tenure as editor.
Although he retired in 1984, O’Gara couldn’t just toss in the pen. Instead, he became a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and a resident scholar at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. He also served as a visiting professor for the American studies department at the University of Notre Dame.