Gael Gratitude: Joe O’Connor ’56, Four Generations of Gaels and a Lasting Legacy


Joe O’Connor ’56 remembers his days at Saint Mary’s fondly. He describes the College as “such a unique place—there is none other quite like it.” Joe has always appreciated the quality of education provided here, and is in awe of the Christian Brothers, their mission, and how they strive to serve the underserved. Joe’s wife, Jane, shares that desire to see the College thrive, which is behind their most recent gift—a Charitable Remainder Trust valued at more than $1 million. Their gift will benefit scholarship students from Orange County, California.

President Donahue says, “We are so appreciative of the O’Connor family. They have been generous donors and enthusiastic volunteers of the College for decades. They embody the true Gael spirit. Thank you, Joe and Jane, for this most recent commitment to Saint Mary’s.

Joe is not the first—or the last—in his family to attend Saint Mary’s. Four generations of O’Connors and dozens of Jane’s family have called Saint Mary’s home. Joe’s father began the tradition and graduated in 1916.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Joe first attended college in southern California before transferring to Saint Mary’s as a junior. The school was small and impacted by the draft for the Korean War. All students lived in Augustine and De La Salle halls. Joe recalls the close relationship he shared with his classmates, and the outstanding professors, especially Dr. James Haggerty and Brother S. Robert. Joe also had a great appreciation for the small class sizes and utmost appreciation of the Christian Brothers, especially Brother U. Albert Rahill (former president).

Joe believes that attending Saint Mary’s was a great maturing experience where he gained the skills to be a real self-starter; he learned to “think, speak, and defend himself.” Joe played baseball for the College, coached by Lou Guisto, and has had a lifelong fondness for the Gael baseball and basketball teams. He still keeps in contact with today’s coaches from time to time staying current on the programs. In 2012, he and Jane stepped forward to provide a gift to help build the new baseball field named after his coach. Joe and Jane O'Connor

Following graduation, he attended the Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. Joe served on various ships in the Pacific and ended up with shore duty at Pearl Harbor where his daughter, Colleen (a future Gael), was born. Upon discharge in 1960, the family returned to Los Angeles and he joined the family business, Cunningham & O’Connor Mortuary, founded by his grandfather in 1898. In 1975, the family of now seven children moved to Orange County where he founded O’Connor Laguna Hills Mortuary, eventually expanding to three additional locations.

Three of the O’Connor children are Gaels! His oldest, Colleen, graduated in 1981 with a degree in English and might just be Saint Mary’s number one fan. A special education teacher, Colleen says, “I am so grateful to my dad that he gave me the opportunity to attend Saint Mary’s where I was inspired by the Brothers and professors to become a teacher.” Daughter Rosemary graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1984 with a Psychology degree. She is a Hazelden author, Certified Professional Coach, and a Certified Addiction Coach. Rosemary founded ROC Recovery Services, Sober Mom’s Guide, and speaks worldwide on topics related to women and mothers in recovery from addiction. Their son Joey (Joseph III) graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1986 with a Spanish degree and earned a master’s degree in leadership development. Joey is a conference speaker, author, and founder and Executive Director of The Grove Center for the Arts & Media, a ministry dedicated to cultivating the spiritual life and creative work of artists in the Church.

Joe’s grandsons, Connor and Riley Sell, are both Gaels and they mark the fourth generation of descendants to attend the College. Both boys played on the National Championship Rugby team of recent years. Riley is majoring in Political Science and plans to attend law school. A lasting legacy of Gaels!

Joe has been an ambassador for Saint Mary’s College for over 60 years. He has assisted in student recruitment, hosted College receptions at his home, sponsored golf tournaments, and volunteered at auctions, alumni socials, and pre-basketball game parties. He is actively involved in the Los Angeles 1863 Society and President’s Circle events. In 1985, Joe lobbied and made it a point to get lighting in the Chapel tower at night. He raised the money with a group of Orange County Chapter members, so the tower would shine. Additionally, Joe was actively involved in setting up the first Orange County Scholarship endowment for Saint Mary’s College students. Joe and his family have been staunch supporters of the College over the years, not only donating financially, but with time and talent.

Joe embodies the true Lasallian spirit: Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve. In addition to all of his volunteer work on behalf of Saint Mary’s, he is very active in his local community. He serves on two boards to help the underserved in southern Orange County and is an active member of the Serra Club that promotes vocations to the priesthood and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which he first joined as a SMC student.


Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRT)

A CRT enables a donor to make a gift to Saint Mary’s, usually a highly appreciated asset such as real estate or securities, and in return receives a lifetime of income. The donor receives an immediate income tax deduction and does not pay capital gain taxes on the asset. CRTs can provide higher income from lower income producing assets. At the end of the trust term, Saint Mary’s College receives the remaining principal as a donation. Learn more >