11 August 2021

Comerford O’Malley,
the priest who shaped
DePaul University, Chicago

The Very Revd Professor Comerford Joseph O’Malley (1902-1991) … President and Chancellor of DePaul University, Chicago

Patrick Comerford

My explorations of former Comerford family homes in Co Clare and Co Galway during this summer’s ‘road trips’ have led to finding the interesting stories of more members of the Comerford family.

Earlier this week, I was recalling the interesting life of Judge Frank D Comerford (1879-1929), a judge in Chicago and a Democratic politician who was expelled from the Illinois State Senate, whose parents and elder siblings from Kinvara, Co Galway.

Judge Comerford was an uncle of the Very Revd Professor Comerford Joseph O’Malley (1902-1991), who was a professor, president and chancellor at DePaul University, Chicago, where he spent 47 years of his academic career until he retired in 1981.

Father Comerford O’Malley was born in 1902 in Chicago, a son of Austin O’Malley (1851-1932) and his wife Alice ‘Ella’ Comerford (1863-1941).

Alice Comerford was born in Kinvara, Co Galway, on 24 March 1863, a daughter of Isaac Comerford (1829-1900) and his wife Mary Jane Linnane (1841-1914). Isaac Comerford was a younger brother of Henry Comerford (1827-1861), a prominent Galway merchant and magistrate who lived at Merchant’s Road, Galway, and Ballkeel House, Kilfenora, Co Clare. Henry bought up the Gregory estate in Kinvara in the 1850s and his post-Famine efforts to impose exorbitant rent increases in the town brought financial ruin to Kinvara and brought the Comerford family to the brink of social and economic disaster.

Alice Comerford emigrated ca 1866 with her parents and siblings to Chicago, where more brothers and sisters were born, including Judge Frank Comerford.

On 29 November 1883, Alice married Austin John O’Malley (1850-1932) from Co Mayo. They had a large family of eight children, including three doctors, three priests and a nun: Dr John Gabriel O’Malley (1888-1935), of Columbus Hospital, Chicago; Sister Mary Paulina ‘Jennie’ O’Malley (1888-1942); Dr Austin J O’Malley (1894-1954); Dr Francis Xavier O’Malley (1895-1974), whose children included Judge Paul Augustine O’Malley (1927-2006); Charles Bernard O’Malley (1898-1974) of Tallahassee, Florida; Father George A O’Malley (1899-1960), a Vincentian priest and President of Saint Vincent’s Seminary and College, Cape Girardeau, Missouri; the Very Revd Professor Comerford Joseph O’Malley (1902-1991); and Father Paul T O’Malley (1904-1980).

Three of these brothers joined the Congregation of the Congregation of the Mission, the Vincentian community that founded DePaul University as Saint Vincent’s College in 1898. It became DePaul University in 1907, and conferred an honorary LL.D. on Eamon de Valera in 1919, DePaul’s first honorary doctorate for an international figure.

Father Comerford Joseph O’Malley was the only member of this large family to continue the Comerford name, which was given as a first name at birth in 1902. After joining the Vincentians, he was ordained priest in 1928 and received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology in 1929 from the Colegio Angelico in Rome. He joined the faculty of De Paul University in 1934 as Professor of Philosophy, and two years later became the Dean of the College of Commerce (1936-1944).

He was elected the seventh President of DePaul University in 1944, and had the distinction of being the longest-serving president of the university, from 1944 to 1964.

While Comerford O’Malley was president of DePaul, the university saw tremendous growth, partly due to the GI Bill after World War II that sent many former soldiers to college. Enrolment ballooned to 11,500 by 1948.

During these years, DePaul acquired the Lewis Center and developed its Loop Campus. Father O’Malley also oversaw the building of Alumni Hall, which allowed sports to take a greater part in campus life.

But DePaul also faced some uncertainty in these years. The North Central Association, which accredits universities, recommended in 1947 that DePaul lose its accreditation, due in part to a poor library and a shortage of professors with PhDs.

DePaul, which had always seen itself as primarily a teaching and training university rather than a research university, initially balked at hiring more professors with doctorates who would then require research leaves. However, these professors were soon hired, and the academic standards of the university rose. The library was also centralised and improved under one director.

Before Comerford O’Malley retired, he announced a $22 million 10-year ‘Programme for Greatness’ that would expand the Lincoln Park campus, including adding dormitories for the first time, and further improve academics.

When O’Malley began his presidency, enrolment was at about 8,000. During the beginning and middle of his tenure, it rose greatly, but when he retired there were fewer former soldiers to enrol. In 1960, enrolment was at around 9,000 students.

All of these changes have affected the current academic program and student life of DePaul to a very large degree. In a way, O’Malley’s tenure formed the modern DePaul University.

When he retired as President, Comerford O’Malley became the first Chancellor of DePaul University in 1964. He died in Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago, on 27 February 1991.

Comerford O’Malley … his tenure as President formed the modern DePaul University

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
74, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The chapel and cloisters at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, founded in 1584 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is seven college chapels in Cambridge, and my photographs this morning (11 August 2021) are from Emmanuel College.

The chapel in Emmanuel College is an early work by Sir Christopher Wren (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Emmanuel College was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I, on the site of by the Dominican Friary dissolved 45 years earlier. Mildmay was a Puritan and intended Emmanuel to be a college to train Puritan preachers.

Under his instructions, the chapel of the original Dominican Friary was converted into the college dining hall, while the friars’ dining hall was turned into a Puritan chapel.

The original Puritan character of the college gave way to the liberal views of the Cambridge Platonists and the high churchmanship of William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was instrumental in bringing Christopher Wren to design the new college chapel in 1677. This is one of three buildings in Cambridge designed by Wren.

The former Puritan chapel then became the college library. During the 19th century, Emmanuel, like other Cambridge colleges, expanded in numbers and disciplines, becoming once again a notable centre of theology, and for the first time the home of serious teaching in the natural sciences.

Eventually, the old library outgrew its space and a purpose-built library was built in 1930.

The original glass in the windows were plain, but current windows were added as part of a programme of restoration to mark the tercentenary of Emmanuel College in 1884.

The present stained glass is the work of Heaton, Butler, and Bayne and was completed in 1884 as part of the commemoration of the College’s tercentenary. This partnership also designed stained glass windows in a number of parish churches in the Church of Ireland.

The windows in Emmanuel Chapel were probably designed by Clement John Heaton the younger (1861-1940) but the general scheme of subjects was suggested by the Revd FJA Hort, the Dublin-born New Testament scholar who was a Fellow of Emmanuel College (1872-1892).

Hort was inspired by the windows in the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge, planned a decade or so earlier by his friends and colleagues there, BF Westcott and JB Lightfoot. The figures are chosen to illustrate the continuity of the history of the Church, and the special part played in it by members of Emmanuel College.

One window is shared as a pair by William Sancroft, Master of Emmanuel, who became Archbishop of Canterbury, and William Bedell (1571-1642), a former fellow of Emmanuel College and one of the Caroline Divines, who later became Provost of the University of Dublin and then Bishop of Kilmore.

Hort’s time at Emmanuel overlapped with Canon Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), who the Chaplain of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1891-1896), and was briefly the curate of All Saints’ Church while his brother, Joseph Armitage Robinson, was the vicar. Armitage Robinson is often seen as the heir to Hort’s mantle. The Robinsons’ father, the Revd George Robinson, was born in Co Monaghan, which brings another interesting Irish link to the life of Cambridge college chapels.

Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) and Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 18: 15-20 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Evening lights at the chapel and cloisters of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (11 August 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the people of Zambia as they vote in their General Election this week.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Emmanuel College was founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay on the site of by the Dominican Friary dissolved 45 years earlier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Emmanuel College at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)