Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, the thirteenth child of John and Mary Ann Milan O’Shaughnessy, was born on July 31, 1885 on the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (the exact date of his birth is questioned by some, as his baptismal certificate states July 30th). His parents had run out of the usual names, so they decided on Ignatius. He later chose Aloysius as his confirmation name.
His father, born in Ireland, moved the family in the early 1860’s from Milford, Massachusetts to Stillwater, Minnesota. There, John set up business in the lumber boomtown, making boots for lumberjacks.
Young Nashe, as he was known to friends and family, grew up in Stillwater, attending local schools. A good athlete and lover of sports, he worked in one of the sawmills that lined the riverbank in order to toughen himself up for football.
While attending the College of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota he was a star halfback and captain of the football team, as well as Secretary of the College during his senior year. After graduating in 1907, he worked for a time in his brother’s insurance firm in Texas. They were successful in getting accounts in Texas, Colorado, and especially Mexico, but many were lost as a result of the revolutions under Pancho Villa and others.
Despite his modest background, I.A. O’Shaughnessy was never impressed by sentimental “rags to riches” stories. He believed success came from a measure of luck, being in the right place at the right time, but more so from strength of character—making the most of opportunities through hard work and determination.
When he left his brother’s insurance firm and struck out on his own in the oil business, I.A. was definitely in the right place at the right time. He saw the opportunity for success and acted on it, establishing his first oil company, Globe Oil & Refining Company of Oklahoma, on February 2, 1917.
Besides being blessed with the “luck of the Irish”, he was a bold and innovative businessman. Over the years I.A. set up a number of companies in refining and exploration, making good use of new technologies and thereby greatly increasing profitability. At one time he was one of the largest independent oil producers in the world.
As I.A.’s wealth grew, so did his desire to share with others the prosperity that he and his family enjoyed. He believed in the idea of stewardship, and that the greater the number of people to benefit from his fortune, the greater would be its value.
Because of the obligation he felt to share his good fortune with others, and the delight he took in doing so, he gave away much of his wealth. Gifts to large institutions such as colleges and hospitals brought him recognition as a philanthropist, but his generosity extended also to simple people in need.
Notre Dame’s Reverend Theodore Hesburgh said that his good friend “loved giving away most of his income each year, loved getting others to give when they really did not want to, and loved surprising those in need with a sudden solution to their seemingly impossible problem.”
In order to formalize and perpetuate his philanthropic work, I.A. established the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation in 1941. Until his death in 1973 at the age of 88, grants were made from the Foundation solely at his direction. His approach to giving was characteristic—one of keen perception and direct action. Once he saw a problem or a benefit to be derived, he moved swiftly to accomplish his goal.
The governance and work of the Foundation were left to I.A.’s five children, who then became its Board of Directors. He had encouraged them to develop and follow their own charitable interests. Initially, grants were made to organizations favored by their father, but gradually the Directors’ own interests began to emerge.
Today the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation is governed by the third and fourth generations, and remains very much a family foundation.