In Memoriam, Father John Horgan: ‘Faith Was the Driving Force of His Whole Life’

Remembering the expert on saints and angels who was a dedicated ‘priest of Jesus Christ,’ according to those who knew him.

Father John Horgan was well-known to EWTN audiences.
Father John Horgan was well-known to EWTN audiences. (photo: EWTN)

Father John Horgan, familiar to Eternal Word Television Network audiences as an expert on saints and angels, died Wednesday in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

A member of the Board of Governors of EWTN Canada, Father Horgan, 63, was the longtime pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Vancouver. He had been battling stomach cancer.

Beginning in the 1990s, EWTN audiences became familiar with Father Horgan from his many appearances on the network’s television and radio programs. He appeared several times with Mother Angelica and on various shows, including EWTN Live with Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa. He also hosted a number of EWTN series, notably Saints for Today and Angels of God.

In 2016, Father Horgan was one of the concelebrants at Mother Angelica’s funeral Mass in Hanceville, Alabama. At the time, it was his voice that listeners heard daily on EWTN reading the Psalms and Scripture verses.

Michael Warsaw, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of EWTN Global Catholic Network, remembered Father Horgan as “a longtime friend of EWTN” and “a good and faithful priest who loved the Church and devoted his significant intellectual gifts to his work in the field of moral theology and in promoting the witness of the saints.” 

“I recall visiting him at his parish in Vancouver and seeing the stained-glass windows which he personally designed and learning from the stories of the saints represented in each one,” Warsaw said. “Most of all, though, it was clear to me that Father Horgan enjoyed being a pastor.”

His winning smile and sense of joy also attested to that fact as well as to his great love for the saints and angels.

Father Carlos Martins of the Companions of the Cross, a society of apostolic life based in Ontario, Canada, himself an international relics expert and director of “Treasures of the Church,” was the best of friends with Father Horgan. 

“Father Horgan was enamored of the saints and possessed encyclopedic knowledge of their attributes,” Father Martins told the Register. “His ability to analyze and explicate God’s working in each saint was unparalleled. His ability to call up not only given details about a saint, but unravel the meaning of what it meant in his life and what were God’s purposes and designs, left you astounded. He possessed the rationality of a philosopher, the heart of an artist, the language of a poet, and the storytelling ability of a spellbinding sage.”

He continued, “He could unravel the divine artistry in each saint in a manner that mesmerized, explicating the manner in which God accomplished his designs in each saint with the precision of a watchmaker and with the enthusiasm of someone who has just discovered one of the secrets of the universe.” 

The two priests traveled together to shrines in Europe. Father Martins recalled, “Encountering a new shrine, he was like a kid at Christmas.”

Father Martins well remembered his friend as “an expert in the field of saints, their relics, and the priesthood in general. He was my mentor. The only reason I am what I am is because I encountered him.”

Father Hogan served as vice postulator for the cause of Marie Deluil-Martiny, foundress of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus. According to Father Martins, he rescued the cause from oblivion after it was stalled by solving two objections. 

“His own theology was very much in line with the Sacred Heart,” Father Martins said. “He did his thesis in theology on the Sacred Heart. He was kind of a hero formed by the Lord to resurrect an apostle of the Sacred Heart.” 

The cause restarted and led to the nun’s beatification by Pope St. John Paul II in 1989.

Father Horgan himself was ordained in Rome by Pope John Paul II on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. As a 26-year-old priest, he began serving in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, where he became pastor of three parishes. He also served as chaplain for lawyers and physicians guilds at Vancouver hospitals, for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Musqueam Indian Band, and chaplain at Vancouver hospitals. At that time, he also received, in Rome, a licentiate in sacred theology focused on medical ethics and health care.

“He was a moral theologian, a moral expert in that area,” explained Father Martins. “His work was heroic and tireless, pioneering work, dealing with people with AIDS.”

John Horgan was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended Harvard University, where he majored in religious studies, graduating magna cum laude. He then left to study for the priesthood at the Angelicum in Rome. It was there that he volunteered to serve in Vancouver. Later, he was also to receive a diploma magna cum laude from the Holy See’s Studium of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican’s special training course for those engaged in the canonization process. He was then called upon to investigate and advise on many causes for sainthood. He was also a consultant on the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Warsaw also noted that Father Hogan was a best-selling author for EWTN Publishing. His book His Angels at Our Side: Understanding Their Power in Our Souls and the World is perennially popular. His book is also available in a DVD set. He himself loved reading — his personal library contained more than 14,000 books.

“As an angelologist, he was one of the world’s experts on angels, having written perhaps the greatest book on angels in the English language,” Father Martins said. “He had one of the greatest intellects that God ever blessed a single man with, which was surpassed only by the size of his heart and the love that flowed from it.” 

That intellect and love were present at Casa Maria Retreat Center in Irondale, Alabama, near the EWTN campus, where he served as a regular retreat master. There, Mother Louise Marie said the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word first met Father Horgan in the mid ’90s, when he was visiting EWTN. “He quickly became a dear friend of the community and preached retreats at Casa Maria almost annually for 20 years,” she told the Register

“He was a great favorite among our retreatants from every walk of life,” Mother Louise Marie added. She recalled how “one rather-worldly businessman said, after hearing Father preach, ‘I can’t understand how anyone can be so funny, so smart and so pious all at the same time,’ aptly identifying three of Father’s most notable traits: his devotion, brilliance and humor.”

Mother Louise Marie explained that the sisters “benefitted as much as anyone from his teaching during retreats and also from the opportunity for fellowship with him. Each time he came, there was always time for an evening visit with the sisters, at which he would pass around relics for our veneration, regale us with stories of the saints, and drink a seemingly infinite amount of tea!”

In 2007, the sisters felt “extremely privileged” to have Father Horgan as their chaplain on a pilgrimage to Rome. “His immense knowledge, coupled with such tremendous devotion, made for an unforgettable experience,” said Mother Louise Marie.

He also preached the sisters’ community retreat in 2019, telling them his goal was to help them deepen their life of prayer and renew their joy in the consecrated life. 

She explained, “This highlights another outstanding characteristic of Father John Horgan, which was his love for religious life. He recognized and appreciated its value and did everything he could to support it, both for us and for many other communities and consecrated persons.”

Father Martins said, “I can attest to his personal holiness,” adding, “Above everything, however, Father Horgan was a priest of Jesus Christ. From the time he was a young child, he wanted nothing more than to be one of Christ’s priests. ‘Mine was a precocious vocation,’ he once told me. He lived his priestly identity with generosity and fervor, making himself available to every person, whenever the need arose.”

Mother Louise Marie told the Register, “It is rare to know someone so brilliant, yet so courteous; so merry and humorous, but always charitable; and whose faith was the driving force of his whole life. He once told me that he had lost a good deal of his eyesight through his hours of study, but that he did not regret it, because it had enabled him to serve the Church. This he certainly did, placing his manifold gifts completely at the disposal of his Lord. He will be greatly missed, but we pray that he is rejoicing in the company of the saints, whom he loved so much.”

Fittingly, Father Horgan once said, “When we’re in heaven, we will understand God’s plan so perfectly that we will look back on our life and the lives of all who’ve ever lived and we will say: ‘The way you did things was exactly right.’ The angels see the perfection, and we, through them, come to see more clearly the perfection of God’s plan. [The angels can help us pray the words with faith], ‘I may not understand why or how now, but when I see You face to face, I believe You will answer all my questions, and I will have peace.’”