Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J (1914 - 2000)
By Thomas A. Droleskey
Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J., has gone home for Christmas. He was called from this life shortly after the Hour of Mercy on the afternoon of December 30, 2000, the sixth day in the Octave of Christmas. While I am one who is repulsed by the contemporary trend on the part of priests and family members to canonize people at the time of their deaths, I believe I speak for many faithful, orthodox Catholics by saying that if anyone got the straight ticket up to Heaven without having to go to Purgatory, it was Father Hardon. Mind you, we do not presume his entrance into Heaven immediately after his death, which is why it is important to have Masses said for the repose of his immortal soul and to remember his soul in our prayers, especially in the Rosary. However, I cannot imagine anyone more prepared to meet God in the face than Father Hardon. I have no doubt that Father Hardon, who lived a life and a death of the white martyrdom he had spoken about so eloquently in recent years, will one day be canonized by Holy Mother Church.
I knew Father Hardon for over twenty-two years, although I had known of him for longer than that. I met him when he was giving a day of recollection at St. Ignatius Church in New York, New York, on a hot Sunday afternoon in August of 1978. His soft speaking style was very distinct. He forced you to listen attentively to him. In true Ignatian style, Father Hardon carefully and meticulously prepared every single word he used in his reflections. There was never any wasted verbiage in his talks. He used his facial gestures (especially his tendency to look from side to side and to smile wryly) to punctuate his points. He made his points clearly and without affectation. He would repeat them ("Let me repeat myself so as to be understood." "Do you hear me?" "Do you understand what I am saying?") for the sake of emphasis in a very deliberate and studied manner. For uppermost in the mind of Father Hardon was his desire to educate souls in a way which would help them to remember what he wanted them to learn. He was a teacher without peer in this regard.
The theme of Father Hardon's conference back in August of 1978 was the love of God. His distinctive style of speaking drilled his points into your memory. I remember the essential point of that conference as though it was yesterday: "We must love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole strength until the day we die. Do I make myself clear? Let me repeat myself: We must love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole souls, and our whole strength until the day we die." Can anyone doubt that this is exactly what Father Hardon did with every beat of his heart until the moment of his death on December 30, 2000? He labored hard for the love of God and the salvation of souls through the true Church with every fiber of his being until he died, offering up the intense suffering he experienced as cancer ravaged every part of his body for the needs of Holy Mother Church.
Space does not permit an exhaustive listing of all of his written works. However, suffice it to say that the legacy of writing Father has left us will be converting souls to the true Faith for centuries. His catechisms are masterpieces of Catholic scholarship and apologetics. His many articles (on such topics as Eucharistic adoration, the Mass, the priesthood, Our Lady, Fatima, secularism, the necessity of martyrdom to build up the Church) are a treasure trove of Catholic wisdom. Indeed, his Lifetime Catholic Reading Plan provides a ready source for Catholics to refer to the great works of the Fathers and the Doctors and the mystics of the Church. Father Hardon published the Lifetime Catholic Reading Plan to help Catholics know their Faith better so as to equip themselves with the ability to defend the Faith better in the midst of the world. A longtime associate of Father Hardon's, Daniel P. Giroux, has a room dedicated in his Catholic Shop in Madeira, Ohio, to Father Hardon's lifetime reading plan for Catholics. Every single book listed in Father Hardon's tome is found in one room of Giroux's Catholic Shop. It is Dan's way of perpetuating the work of Father Hardon in a little enclave in the greater Cincinnati area. Others will no doubt do the same.
Father Hardon leaves behind not only a legacy of written work. He leaves behind numerous audio and video tapes of his talks and retreats. His series on the Seven Sacraments is a masterpiece, containing profound insights into each of the sacraments instituted by our Lord and administered by His Holy Church. Although his style was decidedly different, he is probably second only to the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in the sheer number of audio-visual material which will be shaping souls, including many young people, for years and years ahead. His close friend William Smith, the President of Eternal Life, has amassed the definitive collection of Father's audio and video legacy. While Father Hardon is gone from us physically, his image will be seen and his voice will be heard in homes across the United States and the world, especially in home-schooling families.
Indeed, Father Hardon was a champion of home schooling. He worked closely with Dr. Mary Kay Clark, the fonder of the Seton Home Study School, based in Front Royal, Virginia. He had become convinced of the necessity of home schooling as early as the late 1970s, understanding the moral dangers posed by all forms of sex instruction, including so-called "abstinence-based chastity education." Father Hardon's unstinting opposition to all forms of sex instruction earned him the enmity of some recent converts to Catholicism, people who rejected Father's sagacious advice about the moral harm done to souls by classroom sex instruction of any kind. This did not deter Father Hardon, however. He spoke out fearlessly in opposition to the plague of sex-instruction, and he would spare no effort to speak at conferences in support of home schooling. His trademark virtues of patience and charity led him to listen attentively to the horror stories told him by parents who had encountered all manner of doctrinal deviancy and moral relativism even in the Catholic schools they had thought were safe to instruct their children. He would tell them, " I understand completely." Indeed, Father's Ignatian-Marian program of catechetical instruction has helped equip many parents with the means to educate their children (and it has helped thousands who are involved in parish religious education programs and who teach in orthodox Catholic schools).
What was less well known about Father Hardon's life and work is the extent to which he worked behind the scenes with bishops and Vatican officials to combat doctrinal heresy and liturgical reverence. He worked very closely with John Cardinal Wright and Silvio Cardinal Oddi, both of whom were Prefects of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, which has jurisdiction over catechetics. He helped priests who were being persecuted by their bishops or religious communities for their orthodoxy, finding ecclesiastical homes for scores of his brother priests. He worked with bishops and their staffs to fend off the efforts of the apparatchiks in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference to attack solemn Eucharistic Adoration and to revolutionize the liturgy by instituting so-called "inclusive" language in the English translation of the Roman Missal. Each of these efforts provides enough fodder for five of six chapters in a book about his life. It was these behind the scenes efforts to defend the faith that resulted in his being called back by his Jesuit Provincial in 1988 to his home province of Detroit. It was thought that Detroit would be a more difficult place than New York or Washington, D.C., from which Father could travel to the far quarters of the Earth. Obviously, the attempt to thwart Father's work did not succeed. Father not only continued to do his behind the scenes work, he established a thriving apostolate in the Detroit area at Assumption Grotto.
Closest to Father Hardon's patient and gentle heart, however, was his promotion of Eucharistic adoration and deep devotion to the Mother of God. Father Hardon worked with the late Mother Teresa, the foundress of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, to promote the establishment of chapels of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. Although appearing weak and frail physically, Father traveled all across the world to institute such chapels. And he himself spent countless hours each day in fervent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, which was the bedrock of his priesthood. Father Hardon was present in Rome in 1984 when Pope John Paul II instituted a chapel of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in the Piazza Venezia at Mother Teresa's behest. Father worked with scores of others over the years to establish chapels of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration around the world. He traveled to crime-ridden Russia a few years ago to open a chapel there.
One of the greatest retreat masters in recent memory, Father Hardon gave retreats for the clergy and laity alike. His Ignatian retreats plumbed the depths of the mysteries of salvation, and he took time with each person who went to him in the Sacrament of Penance. He continued to give these retreats until just a few months before he died. Many of these retreats have been recorded for posterity. This was probably the first time he did not spend the days leading up to Christmas giving a retreat to nuns in New Mexico. He really did work hard to demonstrate his love of God until the moment of his death.
Another essential element of Father's work was his effort to form those in the consecrated religious life. He was Mother Teresa's spiritual director–and one of her principal confessors. He spent hundreds of hours giving conferences to the members of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Indeed, I had the privilege of driving him to several of Mother Teresa's convents in the South Bronx on Thanksgiving Day in 1987, attending the talks he gave to the nuns. One of the most memorable reflections he offered that day was as follows: "The more we love God, the more He loves us." He went on to explain that there is no such thing as equality with God, that the souls who loved God more here in this life will have a greater appreciation of the glory of the Beatific Vision in Heaven.
While Father Hardon was consulting with Sister Frederick, then second in command to Mother Teresa, at the convent on East 138th Street in the South Bronx, a nun sought me out in the convent's chapel. She asked me if my car was parked in front of the convent. I responded affirmatively. She then said that the car had been broken into. My winter coat had been stolen. And one of Father Hardon's two suitcases was stolen. At first, Father was a little ashen. One of the two suitcases contained original manuscripts of his of which there were no duplicates. It turned out, however, that the suitcase which had been stolen "only" contained his heart medication! It is a moment we would share off and on in the years ahead.
Father Hardon was conducting his formation programs with the Missionary Sisters of Charity at a time he was teaching in the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine at Saint John's University in Jamaica, New York, and when he was teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. As a Jesuit, he was an educator to his core. He was very much at home in the college classroom, using his deliberate, studied style of teaching to great effect with his students. He influenced the work of hundreds of young scholars, priests, catechists, and just ordinary Catholics who wanted to know more about their faith and to grow more steadily in the paths of personal sanctity.
As one who labored long and hard for love of God, Father Hardon was fervently in love with the Mother of God. He was especially devoted to the promotion of Our Lady of Fatima's requests, serving as the chaplain of the World Apostolate of Fatima, the Blue Army, for many, many years. The late Bishop Jerome Hastrich, who served as President of the Blue Army until his death in 1994, and Fargo, North Dakota, Bishop James S. Sullivan, relied heavily upon Father Hardon's advice and direction, never more so than dealing with administrative and personnel problems which required Father's wisdom and deft touch. His articles in Soul magazine spoke movingly of how we must be totally consecrated to Our Lady through her Immaculate Heart. He had profound theological insights into the nature of total Marian consecration.
Father Hardon was also on the front lines of the pro-life movement. He spoke out against the evils of contraception without compromise, understanding that the denial of the Sovereignty of God over the sanctity of marital relations is what led directly to the killing of innocent babies in their mothers' wombs under cover of civil law.
To wit, Father told the story during an evening of recollection at Saint Ignatius Church in Manhattan in March of 1980 about a married woman he had encountered on an airplane. She had approached him because he was wearing his collar (and Father stressed the fact that a priest is always "on duty." "There are no days off for priests. I was ordained to be bothered, even when I am dog-tired"). She questioned him about contraception. She wouldn't have approached him unless he was had been recognizable as a priest. Father patiently explained to her why contraception was wrong. And then he said to her, "Now, the next time I see you, young lady, I want to see you pregnant." She later wrote to him to tell him that she was indeed carrying her first child. Father was sought out frequently by pro-life groups around the world to speak about the issues of life and death which are facing us in this culture of death.
Father Hardon was noted for his kindness and patience. He exuded the love of Christ. He had a tremendous, wry sense of humor. As noted earlier, his facial mannerisms said more than many people say in hours upon hours of talks. And he was as kind and as patient with lowly as he was the mighty. He saw the Divine impress in each person, treating them as he would have treated our Lord Himself.
Father's zeal for souls knew no limits. He was responsible directly for thousands of conversions (and is indirectly responsible for countless others through his writings and tapes). One of these was the late Lee Atwater, who ran then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush's campaign for the Presidency in 1988–and who became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Some of those close to Atwater were upset that Father Hardon had brought him into the Faith as he was dying of brain cancer in 1990. One of Atwater's political flunkies even tried to block Father Hardon from entering Atwater's hospital room to given him the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and Final Viaticum. Father Hardon would not be deterred. "I am a Catholic priest. There is a Catholic in need of the Eucharist inside that hospital room. I have the Eucharist on me. I am going into that room, do you hear me? And into that room he went, where Atwater met him with great warmth.
On a personal level, I was so very privileged to work with Father Hardon on a number of projects over the years, including some of the behind the scenes work mentioned earlier. He was always so generous with his time, never failing to agree to participate in some endeavor. We worked together on the Quincentennial Crusade of Prayer campaign in 1992. He agreed to speak at the National Wanderer Forum I helped to organize in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1994. I had the great honor of sharing a joint evening of recollection with him at Saints Cyril and Methodious Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, in July of 1997. (True to form, Father spent every waking moment he had during that evening speaking to the many people who wanted to drink from his wise spiritual direction.) And it was just a few months afterward that I saw Father at the Wanderer Forum in Washington, D.C., from which he departed almost immediately to fly to Calcutta for Mother Teresa's Mass of Christian Burial. And at his behest back in 1994 that I sought out Mother Teresa via telephone to have her, at Father Hardon's specific instruction, to call the Holy Father in an attempt to forestall Papal approval of female altar servers.
Father Hardon was a dear friend of mine. He was a mentor and a spiritual director. His advice and direction came in handy during those many times I made real mistakes in the past twenty-two years. And though a kind and gentle soul, Father could tell you when you were wrong, when you had to shape up and change for the sake of the salvation of your immortal soul. One could always count on Father Hardon's complete and total honesty.
It was, therefore, with great joy that I stopped in to see him at the Saint Joseph Home in Detroit on August 5, 2000, just before giving a talk at Assumption Grotto. He was napping when I arrived. However, he came out just in time to concelebrate afternoon Mass in the chapel at the convalescent home. He was in full charge of his mental faculties. And he recognized me immediately when I visited him in the sacristy after Mass. "Oh, Tom," he said. "So good to see you. God bless, you, Tom." We visited briefly. I knew at the time that I had seen Father Hardon for the last time in this life. And I was so very grateful to our Lord that he permitted me the grace to have received one of Father's "big blessigns" one more time.
Father Hardon taught consistently that there is no such thing as a coincidence. "Everything occurs in God's Providence," he taught over and over again. "God uses all of the moments of our lives. He even uses our mistakes to effect His greater honor and glory." It was no coincidence that friends of mine introduced me to Father Hardon in 1978. None of the things that happened afterward was any coincidence. Each of us who was privileged to know Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J., were given that privilege by God Himself to help us grow in our love of the Catholic Faith so that we would imitate his zeal in loving God with all of our mind, heart, body, soul, and strength until the moment we die.
Although Father Hardon will be missed, he remains with us in his books and tapes. And without for one moment presuming the judgment of God on his soul or that of the Church about what I truly believe will be a future canonization, his prayers from eternity will do even more good for the sake of souls that all of the many things he accomplished by cooperating with God's grace to the moment of his death, which came after accepting all of the sufferings he was asked to bear in order to be a co-redeemer of the world with the One to Whom he was espoused at the moment of his priestly ordination. Thank you, Father Hardon, for your life of service to Jesus through Mary. I am glad you are home for Christmas.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul–and all the souls of the faithful departed–rest in peace. Amen.
(Photo of Fr. Hardon courtesy of David Armstrong)