He was appointed bishop of Rockford Aug. 19, 1968, becoming the first native-born priest of the diocese to serve as its bishop. He served in the position for more than 25 years until retiring in 1994.
Rockford Bishop David J. Malloy said in an interview on a Rockford radio station that Bishop O’Neill’s tenure as bishop occurred during a time of social upheavals and challenges in American society.
Bishop O’Neill has been “impacting our spiritual and, in a particular way, our family lives,” he said. “It is greatly to his credit that he kept everyone on the same page (and those benefits have) passed on to Bishop Doran and, frankly, to me, and I’m very, very grateful for that.”
Bishop O’Neill was a strong advocate for Catholic communications efforts. He became editor of The Observer, the diocesan newspaper, in 1954 and served in the position until 1968. Other media-related efforts included the establishment of the Office of Communication and a weekly television Catholic Mass for shut-ins.