Last year, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, was back in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. During the course of his busy four-day visit, he officiated at a Rite of Blessing for the office of the Fr. John A. Hardon S.J., Archive and Guild, for which I am privileged to serve as Executive Director . The event was attended by more than one-hundred locals, along with a handful from other states, who braved the St. Louis sun and humidity to participate in a unique event in the history of the Church in the United States. The day marked a new beginning to an exciting process in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States. In his brief reflection given during the blessing, Archbishop Burke described Fr. Hardon as a “tireless preacher of the Gospel, both in and out of season” – words that encapsulate the entire life and work of Fr. Hardon.
Getting to Know Him
To serious Catholics, it is no secret that the Church in America has, for the past forty years or so, been undergoing a period of deep confusion. This confusion manifests itself in many parishes, where improvisations in liturgy often border on the absurd and outrageous, and also in large swaths of so-called Catholic schools and universities, where Catholic identity regularly takes a back seat to prestige and cultural accommodation. The result of this confusion, evident to anyone who takes the time to investigate, is a catechetical void that runs far and wide in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Anyone who knew Fr. Hardon understands how acutely he perceived these problems. By the strength of his peerless intellect and example of his saintly life he sought to push back against them. He was a peripatetic priest, a loyal successor to the missionary zeal embodied in St. Francis Xavier. Fr. Hardon was often jetting from one city to another, sometimes internationally, to offer spiritual direction, give talks, meditations, or deliver lectures on a wide range of theological topics.
So why is Fr. Hardon’s message so timely for today? Fr. Robert T. McDermott, Postulator for the Cause, observes that there is a Providential overlapping and partnership between the liturgical “back to basics” emphasis of the current pontiff and Fr. Hardon’s relentless drive to catechize the lay faithful in the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine. “Fidelity to the solemnity of the Liturgy goes hand-in-hand with the properly catechized Catholic.” He observes, “Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has always recognized this connection, as is evident from his voluminous writings and sermons, and Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. clearly understood this as well.”
Although it will be a decade since Fr. Hardon’s passing back in December 2000, the devotion and evangelical zeal among his thousands of followers has not abated in the least. If anything, his renown has only grown since 2000. In fact, Fr. Dennis Brown, a friend to the Archive and Guild started a Facebook page for Fr. Hardon’s Cause for beatification and canonization and, within only a couple weeks, there were already over 1,000 members, and the number continues to grow by the day. I am certain that this zeal for the faith and for evangelization has a lot to do with his well-known adage to never waste a moment of time in spreading the Good News. I am told he would often say to his loyal collaborators, “There’s a lot of work to do!” Indeed, and the work rolls on today.
While I never met Fr. Hardon, I have been blessed to listen to numerous anecdotes, the treasured memories from various folks who call into the office. Many make mention of his deep devotion to the Sacrament of Penance. Since Fr. Hardon didn’t drive, he would often rely on lay faithful to pick him up or take him to the airport. I am told that he would typically ask his driver to assist him in locating a priest to hear his confession. Fr. Hardon was a man of deep prayer and quiet meditation. My colleague, Fr. Robert McDermott, drove Fr. Hardon on a several occasions. I once asked him whether Fr. Hardon chatted or engaged in small talk while being driven here or there. If so, I was curious to know what he would talk about. Father’s reply: “Oh no, he was usually praying the rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.” Others who have called into the office recall Fr. Hardon’s sage counsel and his numerous practical tips to live an authentically Catholic, lay witness in the midst of the world. I have also been told that he strongly encouraged educated Catholics to write for different venues in order to advance the catechetical cause among the lay faithful.
Making a Saint in the City
A couple years prior to the office blessing, Archbishop Burke, having obtained the imprimatur of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, gave his consent for the Cause of Fr. Hardon’s beatification and canonization to begin work within his own Archdiocese. And so with that, the centuries-old wheels of canonization protocols were set in motion. Gradually, Fr. Hardon’s vast assortment of stored manuscripts, letters, recorded lectures, books and personal effects began to trickle into St. Louis from the Detroit area and elsewhere.
As the Executive Director of the Archive and Guild, I work closely with Archbishop Burke, who is still very much involved in the process, despite his relocation in 2008 to the Vatican to serve as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. Archbishop Robert Carlson, who was appointed to succeed Archbishop Burke, has been most supportive of the work of the Archive and Guild. Another close collaborator is Fr. Robert T. McDermott, who, as I mentioned earlier, serves as Postulator to the Cause. Fr. McDermott is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and he received his Master’s degree in theology under the direct supervision of Fr. Hardon in New York City.
It is difficult to summarize everything that goes into such a momentous project as this one, but a short run-down of the basics will help to give a basic idea. Our goals here at the Archive and Guild are principally threefold: First, to spread awareness of the Cause of Fr. Hardon’s beatification and canonization, as well as to encourage spiritual and financial support for the many projects and expenses of the Archive and Guild. Fundraising is a constant priority for us. Second, and closely related to the first goal, is the need to encourage devotion to Fr. Hardon. This is achieved primarily through our website, and by sending out newsletters, prayer cards and other information about our work in St. Louis. Eventually, we will begin the important step of gathering testimonies from those who knew Fr. Hardon personally.
The final goal is more in-house related, and centers on the organization and cataloguing of Fr. Hardon’s immense collection of manuscripts, as well as his personal library. Given Fr. Hardon’s voluminous output, resulting in thousands upon thousands of pages of letters, course notes, books, charts etc., this challenge is a particularly daunting one. While challenging, it is vital, since the Congregation for the Causes of Saints requires a meticulous examination and filing of every single page of writing, both published and personal. Our manuscript room at the Archive and Guild is filled to the brim with filing cabinets and boxes containing Fr. Hardon’s papers that have been accumulated over the course of fifty years. We also have an overflow collection of boxes that are safely stored downstairs. In addition to the papers, the Archive and Guild houses numerous boxes filled with audio cassettes containing talks given by Fr. Hardon to various Catholic gatherings. These too must be examined, organized and transcribed. Just a few weeks ago in fact, a friend of the Archive and Guild drove down from Michigan to drop off five large boxes of tapes that he had been storing, containing over 600 hours of recordings.
Those desiring to learn more about Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. and the work of the Archive and Guild are encouraged to visit the website: www.hardonsj.org. There, visitors will find a short biography of Fr. Hardon, prepared by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, Notary and Expert to the Cause. In addition, the official prayer for Fr. Hardon’s beatification and canonization is posted on the site, as well as information about the Archive and Guild and a list of the officers working on the Cause.