When a kid named Jack Egan graduated from Chicago’s Quigley Preparatory Seminary in the 1930s, it didn’t look as if he would ever be ordained. Latin and Greek were simply too hard. Only through the kindness of a professor who remembered Jack from his altar boy days at Our Lady of Lourdes parish did Jack go on to the major seminary.
"Egan, you didn’t quite make it," Father George Beemsterboer told the graduating student. "But I’m shading your grades a few points because we need priests who are kind more than we need priests who know Latin."
The seminary rector was less sanguine. "We’re letting you go to Mundelein [the major seminary]," he told Jack, "but we don’t think you’ll make it."
When Monsignor John Egan died just a year ago, his teacher was proved right. Monsignor Egan was kind. More than that, he had spent a lifetime in Chicago enfranchising lay people, women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, the poor, and the homeless. The Chicago Sun Times called him a hero for our times who never lost his passion for doing good, "a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged and champion of civil rights."
Egan enfranchised my husband and me about five minutes after we were married, as I used to tell the story. This unfamiliar priest appeared at our door with a bottle of wine and a request that we edit the monthly newsletter for the Cana Conferences, of which he was the first director. (My husband was a reporter...