Skip to main content

O'Connor, Reverend William



Rev. William T. O’Connor graduated from St. Ambrose Academy and St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa. After finishing his undergraduate education he continued his studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1933. That same year, he returned to St. Ambrose Academy as a faculty member. He later joined the faculty of St. Ambrose College’s sociology department after earning a PhD in Sociology. O’Connor’s academic career was interrupted briefly by World War Two, which he spent as a chaplain in the Navy, returning to St. Ambrose after the war. O’Connor’s career as a professor and as a priest was marked by his dedication to the cause of social justice. Known as a “labor priest,” O’Connor supported rights of workers to organize, taught labor education programs, and took out a newspaper advertisement encouraging local workers to vote in favor of union representation. He formed St. Ambrose’s Inter-Racial Club in 1948 and organized the Industrial and Human Relations Council in the Quad-Cities in 1949. In 1949, students from his sociology classes and members of the college’s Human and Industrial Relations Club produced an economic survey of Cook’s Point, a largely Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Davenport. O’Connor and his students used the results to draw attention to housing discrimination, advocate for more city services in the vicinity of Cook’s Point, and fight against the Davenport City Council’s plans to evict the residents. In 1951, O’Connor’s students from St. Ambrose and its sister college, Marycrest, formed the League for Social Justice. Along with his brother Rev. Edward O’Connor, and their fellow priest, Rev. C.F. Griffith, O’Connor taught classes for a Summer Labor School in Davenport. The Labor School, which was open to members of the community, considered topics like unions, labor leadership, and their connection to Christianity. From 1951 – 1966, O’Connor published a Labor Bulletin in which he argued for unions and civil rights from a Roman Catholic perspective and documented local social justice issues such as the eviction of Cook’s Point residents. For years, local business leaders and donors to St. Ambrose College had objected to his activism, and in 1966 Monsignors P.D. Moore and S.E. Menke placed O’Connor on leave from St. Ambrose College. The next year he was reassigned as the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Davenport, Iowa. O’Connor served on the Iowa Civil Rights Board – Clinton in 1969, and was the chaplain of the Quad-City Labor Relations Board. He was a pastor for St. Mary’s Church, Davenport, Iowa; St. Irenaus Church, Clinton Iowa; and St. Anne Church, Welton, Iowa before his retirement in 1979. O’Connor died in December of 1984.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Mary Terronez papers

Identifier: IWA0497

Davenport area community activist and leader in its Mexican American community.

Dates: 1936-2018

Rev. William T. O'Connor papers

Identifier: IWA1184

Roman Catholic priest and labor rights advocate who taught at St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa.

Dates: 1922-1984

Additional filters:

2001-2010 1
20th century 1
Archives (groupings) 1
Boycotts 1
Community activists 1