I was Governor in 1983 when AIDS suddenly struck like a plague and our great New York City nearly panicked. People thought to be suffering from AIDS were treated as pariahs; it was difficult to get beds for the victims, or doctors and nurses to treat them. With no need for prodding, JOHN CARDINAL O'CONNOR made St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan a haven for AIDS victims, and that example helped encourage the city's aggressive response to a uniquely severe crisis. For many years after that, without publicizing it, the Cardinal visited AIDS patients, sought to comfort them and even changed bedpans.
Cardinal O'Connor was best known as one of the Vatican's favorite conservative dogmatists. Most New Yorkers, however, had scant knowledge of his equally vigorous struggle for the traditional Catholic social-justice agenda. His New York archdiocese has educated, housed and cared for hundreds of thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics. He was a proud advocate of workers' rights and a supporter of unions. And his insistent importunings have advanced ecumenism, particularly with the Jewish community. He was an extraordinary prince of the church but always a priest first.
--Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo