On the night of John Leary’s funeral in Boston in August 1982, I ran into Gordon Zahn in Copley Square. His face was lined with tears. Young Leary, a Catholic pacifist and Harvard grad, had dropped dead a few days before while jogging along the Charles River. He was twenty-four years old.
“I’m Mike Hovey,” I said, sensing Professor Zahn didn’t recognize me. “I lived with John at Haley House [the Boston Catholic Worker].”
“Oh yes,” Gordon responded. “Have you eaten yet?” Then he invited me for a drink and a bite. “I need some company,” he said. It was the beginning of a long friendship.
Gordon died at the age of eighty-nine on December 9, 2007, from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.
He never cut an imposing figure. He dressed like a college professor, which he was, and his demeanor was modest and never overbearing. A hearing impairment that began in his mid-twenties made him strain to follow what others were saying, especially in groups. But whatever he lacked in physical stature, his moral consistency and personal courage made people pay attention. His many contributions to the Catholic Church on issues of conscience and war, peace, and social justice will long outlive him. His writings as a Catholic “public intellectual”—for an audience both in and outside the academy—and his leadership in various peace organizations...