Rev. Tom O'Hara, C.S.C. | University of Portland

Rev. Tom O'Hara, C.S.C.

Father Tom O’Hara concluded his twelve-year term as president of King’s College in Pennsylvania (a fellow Holy Cross institution) last summer, and after a year studying and teaching in Africa and India, he is today a professor of political science at King’s, his alma mater. His tenure as president is the second-longest in that college’s history, he is the first alumnus to be the school’s president, and his presidency will long be remembered as a time of tremendous progress and rise in reputation for the school.

During the O’Hara years, King’s saw a steady rise in applications for admission, the largest freshman classes in its history, national honors for student service to the community, and national attention for its commitment to welcoming first-generation and low-income students. The College also added several new buildings (among them a new health center) and green space, worked with the local community to renovate and open buildings and businesses in the community, and opened its innovative McGowan Hispanic Outreach Program to work with Latino families to get students into college. Under Father Tom’s leadership, the College doubled its endowment and conducted the most successful fundraising campaign in its history.

Born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania (a mere 30 miles from the King’s campus), the son of a coal miner and garment worker, Father Tom earned his undergraduate degree at King’s in 1971 and his master’s in theology at Notre Dame in 1977; during his seminary studies at Notre Dame, he taught at Notre Dame College in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and worked with Mother Teresa’s religious community. After his ordination in 1978 he served in a parish in Brooklyn, New York (winning New York’s Award for Dedication to Youth in 1982). He then served as a chaplain at a Holy Cross hospital and school in Washington, D.C., while earning his doctorate in political science at American University and again serving in a parish; you see the boundless energy that is admired and celebrated to this day by his King’s College community.

Father Tom returned to King’s in 1988 as a professor of political science, a job he loved, he says, nearly as much as he loved living in a student residence hall, a habit he maintained all through his presidency. From 1994 to 1996 he taught in Uganda, returning to King’s again, this time as a vice president for academic affairs; he was named the eighth president of King’s College in 1999, and immediately set about celebrating community and creative possibility as the hallmarks of his leadership. “I am at my core a Holy Cross priest who happened to be a president,” he said, as he concluded his tenure last summer, “and I have spent a lot of my time trying to motivate people in spiritual ways to believe in themselves and in their possibilities. I value my priesthood enormously. The deepest moments of my life are when, as a priest, I was privileged to enter into the lives of others.”