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Martin J. O'Connor


'76 B.A., History
Associate Professor and Campus Minister 
University of New Haven 
 
Marty O’Connor grew up in an Irish Catholic family in New Haven, one of five children whose mother was determined that they attend college. Little did she know how many colleges Marty would attend, or that he’d end up teaching at  one, too.

But the pathway to his career took its inevitable twists and turns. He felt certain, as a young man, that he was destined to be a priest. He attended Fairfield University with that intent, and subsequently talked himself out of the priesthood and Fairfield. He joined the Army, then took a test for the New Haven Fire Department in 1968.

“I walked into that firehouse and just felt that I was with people who liked what they did, and I grew to like – then love – what I did, working for the community in which I live,” he said.

Three and a half years later, Marty stepped onto another college campus, at UNH. “I felt I was where I belonged,” he said. He graduated in 1976 with a major in history and minor in Fire Science. “It made my mother happy,” he said.

Smitten with education, he pursued a law degree at the University of Connecticut while working full time for the fire department. He married Mary O’Leary (“I always had my eye on her,” he says) became director of the Fire Science program at UNH, and retired from the fire department. But his retirement was premature: Mayor John DeStefano asked him to return to become New Haven’s fire chief.

Four years later, he felt he knew enough about firefighting to train the next generation of leaders. He returned to UNH to teach, and to serve as the president of the Alumni Association’s board of directors. But his childhood leanings toward the priesthood, and his mother’s passion for education, propelled him into Yale Divinity School, where he earned his master of divinity degree.

Today, Marty teaches Fire Science, is the University’s campus minister, and sees his legal skills emerge in all kinds of ways, particularly when helping students judge what career to pursue. Says Kim Fallon ’08 Criminal Justice, “Whenever I find myself stressed out or about to make a difficult decision, I know exactly who I will go to – Marty O’Connor – and I know that there are many other students who do the same thing.”

He runs the internship program for the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, and has helped the College grow to become renowned throughout the world. Yet whatever his accomplishments, it’s no surprise that he is back to school again, juggling teaching at UNH with his pursuit of a doctorate of ministry degree at Fordham University in the Bronx.  “I want to be a better conversation partner,” he said.

Most of the people who know him would say he just can’t get any better. He’s beloved, respected, and sought after for all kinds of conversation.  But for Marty O’Connor, when it comes to education, more is always better.

“If you had asked me at the beginning, is this any way to get an education, I would have said no,” he said. “But it’s been great for me.”