Professor Margaret O’Gara, a prominent Catholic ecumenical theologian, died on August 16 in Toronto at the age of 65. Prof. O’Gara spent her entire career as part of the Theology Faculty of the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, at the University of Toronto. In addition to her writings on ecumenism, she was personally engaged, as an official representative of the Catholic Church, in a remarkably wide array of bilateral dialogues, both international and national. These included, at various times, discussions with Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, Disciples, Mennonites, and Evangelicals. She served as an advisor to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was President of the North American Academy of Ecumenists as well of of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Beginning with her early writing on the French “minority” bishops at Vatican I, O’Gara remained interested in how the Catholic Church has historically framed her self-identity through her conciliar decision-making. She saw these frameworks as potentially fruitful instruments for resolving Christian division, and devoted creative energy to exploring this with others. Her writing on the ecumenical “gift exchange” proved a key contribution to what is now known as “receptive ecumenism”, and she had been working on ways of locating the Petrine ministry within this approach, something that demanded a reconsideration of the integral relationship between the ecclesiological visions of Vatican I and Vatican II.
Prof. O’Gara taught and mentored several generations of theological students, some of them non-Catholic, including many who were inspired by her ecumenical vision and enthusiasm. Her scholarly standards with high and rigorous, but they were wedded to a contagious joy and Christian passion that sustained the most demanding reflection and discussion. Her deep moral integrity and commitment to the Catholic Church and its practices, from a perspective of generosity and humility, as well as critical openness, proved a powerful witness to all. She often spoke of trying to follow the example of her mother Joan and father, James O’Gara, a long-time editor of Commonweal. Margaret and her sister Monica wrote a graceful piece about “Growing Up Commonweal” (subscription required) a few years ago that provides a window onto this fruitful familial bequest within the Church.
Prof. O’Gara is survived by her husband, Prof. Michael Vertin, a University of Toronto emeritus professor of philosophy.