By Mary Claire Gart
||Msgr. Egan delivers a speech at St. Ann Parish, 18th Street.
sgr. John J. Egan was remembered as a priests priest or a laypersons
priest depending on who was recalling the 84-year-old monsignor
whose funeral Mass was celebrated May 23 at Holy Name Cathedral.
Msgr. Egan died at Holy Name Rectory on May 19, at the same time
10 men were being ordained in the cathedral. He was very weak
and he had difficulty breathing, said cathedral pastor Father
Robert McLaughlin. But he wanted to pray for those being ordained,
that theyd be good priests.
Learning of Msgr. Egans death during the ordination liturgy,
Cardinal George told those in attendance that a great priest
has gone back to God.
Though the priesthood and the Eucharist were central to his life,
said his biographer Margery Frisbie, he wanted to be known as
a laypersons priest, she said.
At his first assignment, St. Justin Martyr, he introduced himself
in the neighborhood, visiting homes and asking people what he
could do for them, said Frisbie, whose biography, An Alley in
Chicago was published in 1991.
Chicago was his life, she said, and he wanted to bring the
church to all of the city. When he was pastor of Presentation,
he brought in seminarians to help him visit parishioners and that
resulted in the Contract Buyers League (which helped end exploitative
Tom Sheridan's thoughts on Msgr. Egan, in this week's Observations
Fair housing practices were only one of the issues that concerned
the activist priest, said McLaughlin, ticking off a list that
included labor, racial justice, support for the Chicago Coalition
of the Homeless and Deborahs Place.
He was furious that payday loans were permitted when he saw what
they did, said McLaughlin. He maintained his passion for the
cause of justice until the very end.
Cardinal George echoed that thought, saying, Up to the end of
his life, Msgr. Egan was very concerned for the poor and about
the social dimension of the Gospel.
The man who became so identified with urban issues in Chicago
was born in New York City on Oct. 9, 1916. His family moved to
Chicago when young Jack Egan was 6 and enrolled him at St. Mel
School on the West Side. He completed grade school at Our Lady
of Lourdes Parish (North Ashland) and then attended DePaul Academy.
After a year at DePaul University, he left to study for the priesthood
at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. He was ordained in 1943 for
the Chicago Archdiocese.
In addition to parish ministry during his first years as a priest,
then-Father Egan was chaplain to the Young Christian Workers from
1943 to 1955 and the Christian Family Movement from 1947 to 1953.
From 1946 to 1959, he served as the first director of the Cana
Conference of Chicago, a ministry established to serve the needs
and enrich the marriages of young Catholic couples. The first
pre-Cana conferences that formally prepared couples for Catholic
marriage grew out of this ministry.
Named a monsignor in 1957, he became the director of the archdioceses
new Office of Urban Affairs, a post he held until 1969.
Msgr. Egan was a member of many church-related and communication
organizations during this time, including the Chicago Conference
on Religion and Race, the Archdiocesean Committee on Poverty,
the Interreligious Council on Urban Affairs, and the board of
governors of the National Housing Conference and the Metropolitan
Housing and Planning Council. He also served a year as chairman
of the Association of Chicago Priests
He was also one of the first priests to march in the civil rights
campaigns in Alabama in the early 1960s.
At a 1972 conference in Toronto on urban and social issues, Msgr.
Egan said it was the primary responsibility of the church to
be on the side of the poor.
God places himself with the weak, the sick and the ugly, he
said. Christ in his ministry actively sought them out, (but)
the time is long past when Christians only help the poor on a
one-to-one basis. What we must have now are organized interrelated
ministries. The act of social justice is organization.
In 1970, he joined the faculty at the University of Notre Dame,
and served as a special assistant to the university president
and as director of the universitys Institute for Pastoral and
In 1983, Msgr. Egan returned to Chicago to direct the archdioceses
human relations and ecu
menism initiatives, simultaneously becoming a permanent archdiocesan
member of the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race.
He was founder and former chairman of the Catholic Committee on
Urban Ministry, and helped form the Council of Religious Leaders
of Metropolitan Chicago.
Rabbi Robert Marx, founder of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs,
said Msgr. Egans work was much larger than the walls of any
church. In the world of action for social justice, he played a
role that spanned religious beliefs and influenced an entire nation.
Msgr. Egan also served on the boards of the Industrial Areas Foundation,
the Mexican American Cultural Center, the Parish Renewal Institute,
the National Catholic Reporter weekly newspaper, the National
Center for Law and the Handicapped, and the Interreligious Foundation
for Community Organization.
In a 1976 talk in Cincinnati on the role of the laity in the church,
Msgr. Egan said ``priests must be prepared to let their image
die and to see that all members of the church must be about
the same work.
Among his awards are Notre Dames first Reinhold Niebuhr Award
in 1973, De Pauls St. Vincent de Paul Medal in 1979, and a religious
leaders award from the Rev. Jesse Jacksons Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
At the 1999 Catholic Press Association convention in Chicago,
Msgr. Egan said What it means to be Catholic is to be sacramental,
scriptural and social. The social is the way we respond to the
gifts and empowerment given to us through the Word of God and
the power of the sacraments.
He retired from active ministry in 1987, and joined De Paul University
as assistant to the president for community affairs.
But, according to McLaughlin, He never thought of himself as
retired, just changing careers. He was always working.
The day before he died he dictated five letters, he added.
He was always writing to encourage people.He believed in the
apostolate of the short note.
Bishop Timothy J. Lyne, a classmate, was scheduled to offer the
funeral Mass for Msgr. Egan and preach the homily. Interment was
to follow at All Saints Cemetery, Des Plaines.
Msgr. Egan is survived by a sister, Kathleen Egan Martin; nieces,
nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
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