Otto Paul Kretzmann was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1901 and grew up in New York City in a Lutheran family. His father, grandfather, and five brothers were all Lutheran pastors. He was called ‘John’ by family and close friends, but later went by and published under his initials, ‘O. P.’
O.P. graduated from Concordia University, Bronxville, New York in 1920. He attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated in 1924 with a master’s degree in sacred theology. He also pursued further graduate study at Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Chicago Universities and was the recipient of ten honorary doctorates.
From 1924 to 1934, O.P. was a faculty member at Concordia Theological Seminary, located in Springfield, Illinois. He became executive secretary of the Walther League—an international Lutheran youth organization named for theologian C. F. W. Walther—in 1934 and served until 1940.
In 1940, O.P. became president of Valparaiso University, a position he held for 28 years. His inspiring inaugural address, delivered in the shadow of World War II, set the tone for his presidency: “Clearly aware of the magnitude of our problems, deeply committed to the importance of our work, humbly certain of our destiny, we may hope, under God, to prepare a growing number of men and women who will go out of this community into the darkness of a dying world as the living embodiment of the motto of this University, “In Thy light we shall see light.”
O.P. was one of the most influential figures in the history of the University, presiding over a tenfold growth in enrollment. And it was at the invitation of O.P. Kretzmann that the Lutheran Deaconess Association training school found a home at Valparaiso University.
In a July 1943 letter to the members of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran University Association, O.P. writes, “Several months ago the Board authorized us to proceed with negotiations concerning the training of deaconesses on our campus. I am now happy to report that the negotiations have been completed and beginning in September 1943, the Deaconess Association will establish a training house on our campus. …it will provide another effective channel through which the University can be of direct service to the Church.” Under the completed agreement between VU and the LDA, deaconess students could enroll at the University at one-half of the regular tuition rates.
O.P. was a visionary, not only for Valparaiso University but also in the dreaming he did about the LDA. In a letter to the LDA Board dated June 13, 1966, he says, “I have had a personal interest in the deaconess program for a long time… I do not think we have yet found the answer to the question of the ministry of women in our Church. I feel the present arrangement is a compromise, and that until we develop something with more of a specific character to it, we will not realize its maximum potential… I would like to assure you and the members of the Board of Directors of the L.D.A. that we are still very much interested in the deaconess program and that we hope to be of every possible assistance to you in continuing it and even making it better than it has been.” After stepping down from the presidency in 1968, he served as chancellor until 1974.
A prolific author, O.P.’s works include 16 works in 27 publications, as well as numerous articles, sermons, and devotions. Many of these publications are still in print today. In an address to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in New York City, O.P. included a now-famous quote on the state of the world in the post-World War II era: “If we are to survive the atomic age, we must have something to live by, to live on and to live for. We must be neither ignorant of the past nor ashamed of it. “We must stand aside from the world’s conspiracy of fear and hate and grasp once more the great monosyllables of life: faith, hope, and love. Men must live by these if they live at all under the crushing weight of history.”
O.P. had three sons with his first wife, Flora Rosenthal, and after her death, he remarried to Elizabeth Brohm. O.P. Kretzmann died on Holy Cross Day, September 14, 1975.
Thanks to O.P. Kretzmann’s innovative thinking, deaconess and deacon students have been active members of the Valparaiso University campus for over 75 years.