The Society mourns the passing of Professor James B. O’Hara, a long-serving Society Trustee and Chair of the Library Committee who was laid to rest on April 1, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jim would be the first to marvel at the life that unfolded for a boy who was born in West Virginia steel country and grew up in Southwest Baltimore’s Irvington neighborhood. Opportunities seemed to fall in his lap—he was given a chance to attend Mt. St. Joseph High School by earning his tuition working for the school. This led to a full scholarship to attend Loyola College, where he discovered a love for history. Jim had an extraordinary mind—a mind that loved to puzzle over deep theological concerns and loved to engage with history. This caught the attention of a Bishop when he was studying at seminary to be a priest. As a result, he was sent to the North American College in Rome to study theology. Jim was ordained as a Catholic Priest in Rome and was known for his engaging homilies. He also served as the Catholic clergy representative on a Weekly TV Show “To Promote Goodwill.”. He was joined by a rabbi and protestant minister as they explored ways to improve understanding and relationships across faith traditions.
Jim stepped away from the priesthood in 1973 and returned to his alma mater, playing key roles in Loyola University’s Executive MBA Program. In later years, Jim taught as an adjunct faculty member there. More recently, he taught history courses, especially courses about Supreme Court History, in The Johns Hopkins University Adult Education Programs.
Jim attended law school in his mid 50’s with no intention of practicing law. Instead, treasuring the life of the mind—he became a curious and highly-skilled legal scholar. This kindled a long love affair with the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court captured Jim’s imagination because of its rich history and the intellectual rigor involved in intrepreting complicated questions of constitutional law. A voracious reader, Jim began collecting books about the lives of Supreme Court Justices in secondhand bookstores all over the country. His passion for reading and collecting biographies of Justices outgrew his home and office space and he generously donated the finest collection of books privately assembled (more than 2000 volumes) concerning the Supreme Court and its Justices to the Supreme Court Historical Society’s Goldman Library.
Jim was invited to lecture at the Court several times as part of the prestigious Leon Silverman Lecture Series and was proud to have been introduced as the featured speaker on different occasions by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A testament to his scholarship and speaking abilities is that fact that five sitting Supreme Court Justices attended one of his lectures.
In recognition of his many and diverse contributions to the Society, he was presented a special award reserved for only a few of the Society’s most significant supporters. It was presented in the Supreme Court Chamber by Associate Justice Scalia at the Society’s Annual Meeting in 2014.
Jim was a great gift to the Society, and his legacy is rich and will be long-lasting in the best possible ways. We will miss him.