DETROIT—Jesuit Father John A. Hardon is finally getting a well-deserved rest.
In the book Fishers of Men (Trinity Communications, 1986), John Janaro writes that the drowning of a seminary colleague during a lakeshore vacation in 1941 profoundly affected Father Hardon.
Afterward, Father Hardon resolved to never take another vacation, and he never did. “The priest must want to share,” Father Hardon often said, “to wear himself out in the sharing.”
Father Hardon, a renowned and tireless teacher and defender of the Catholic faith, died during the hour of Divine Mercy on Dec. 30, after a long illness. He was 86.
Described as a holy priest, a master teacher, a world class theologian, a prolific author, an advisor to the Holy See, and a spiritual giant, Father Hardon's presence is one that will likely be felt for decades to come.
He was born on June 18, 1914, in Midland, Pa. His father, an iron-construction worker, suffered a fatal accident when John was only 1 year old, leaving Anna Hardon, a Third Order Franciscan, to raise her son alone. Anna never remarried, but raised and supported her only child by working as a cleaning woman.
John graduated from John Carroll University in 1936. Inspired by the story of St. Peter Canisius, who preached the Gospel amidst a crisis of faith in 16th-century Germany, John entered the Society of Jesus later that year and was ordained on his 33rd birthday in 1947. He received a master's degree from Loyola University in 1941 and his Theology doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome in 1951.
“I recall Father Hardon saying that he always wanted to be a missionary, but his health did not allow it,” said Fred Blonigen, religion instructor at St. Agnes High School in St. Paul, Minn.
Over the next several years Father Hardon taught Catholic theology and comparative religion at a variety of Jesuit theological schools and Protestant seminaries.
When he was appointed to teach at Seabury-Western Divinity School, an Anglican/Episcopalian seminary, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury sent a representative to Chicago in commemoration of the fact that Father Hardon was the first Jesuit ever asked to teach at an Anglican seminary.
Missionary of the Pen
Blonigen came to know Father Hardon through his retreats, which he attended over the course of four years in the early 1980s. “He realized that his “missionary” work was by way of the pen, through writing, and his mouth, through teaching, spiritual direction, and retreats. That was his calling,” said Blonigen.
“He was the quintessential catechist,” added Blonigen. “He was a true Catholic, a true theologian, and a true Jesuit.
“When you were in his presence you knew you were in the presence of a saint. Everything about him exuded holiness. He was not only a great teacher, but he also lived his faith in complete fidelity to the Pope and the magisterium.”
A prolific writer, Father Hardon authored more than 30 books, including his Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1975.
“Prior to the 1992 Catechism,” said Blonigen, “Father Hardon's catechism was the most important summary of the faith that had been written since the Second Vatican Council. It was desperately needed during a time of confusion and disarray.”
In addition, Father Hardon served as an advisor to the Holy See since 1964, served as spiritual director and confessor to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, and founded Catholic Faith magazine. And as a testament to his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, Father Hardon traveled around the world to institute chapels of perpetual eucharistic adoration in spite of his physical infirmities.
At the request of Pope John Paul II, Father Hardon had been training Marian and Ignatian catechists for the past decade—a task he carried out up until the end of his life.
“Father Hardon was a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola through and through,” Bishop Raymond L. Burke of LaCrosse, Wis., told the Register. Bishop Burke worked with Father Hardon in the area of catechetics since first becoming a bishop in 1995.
Last year, Father Hardon asked Bishop Burke to assume direction of the Marian Catechists Program.
That program, explained Bishop Burke, was an extension of Father Hardon's efforts to prepare Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity to be catechists. Father Hardon's most recent work, The Marian Catechists Manual, published last fall, outlines the history of the association, its purpose, and provides instructions for faithful members of the association.
“He gave his all to the Church in every respect, but he was tireless in particular in the promotion of sound catechetics for children and young people,” said Bishop Burke. “I admired him very much and will do my best to imitate his tireless dedication and zeal in carrying on the work of the Marian Catechists Program.”
Through his work, Father Hardon exerted a profound influence on countless students, priests, catechists, and others. According to Catholic writer Thomas A. Droleskey, Father Hardon was directly responsible for thousands of conversions, including the high-profile conversion of the late Lee Atwater, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
At least two organizations, Inter Mirifica and Eternal Life, were established to distribute his catechetical work.
Father Hardon founded Eternal Life with friend William J. Smith and colleague Father Edmund J. McCaffrey nearly 20 years ago as a way of distributing Father Hardon's books, pamphlets and audiotapes.
“Father Hardon was very conscious of the need for good evangelization, prayer, and sacrifice,” said Eternal Life secretary Martha Spalding. “He will surely be missed. The work that he began here, and with so many other organizations, will bear much fruit for many years to come.
“He was a remarkable, holy priest,” added Spalding. “When you met him you knew you had just met someone special. He was a person worth knowing.”
“We may tend to think that we lived in bad times,” said Catholic writer Donna Steichen, “but Father Hardon is evidence that we lived among giants too. He was a sweet, dear, and fearless man. He always defended the faith and it he taught it to everyone. He was very quiet, but he said it all.”
Tim Drake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org