Studs Terkel once said of Monsignor John J. Egan, for over forty years a field commander in battles for social justice: "He never met a picket line he didn’t like." The Chicago Tribune once editorialized, "The man is a bit like flypaper: Touch him once and you are captured."
Ever since this eighty-four-year-old, bantam-sized giant of American Catholicism died on May 19, at home in the rectory of Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, tributes have been flooding in from religious leaders high and low. But these strictly secular sources captured the two sides of Jack Egan that made him so special.
He knew the necessity of prophetic, even confrontational deeds. Which is why he marched in Selma; why he told moderates in 1963, begging for more time to prepare Chicagoans for integration, that "in all the years I have studied race relations I have yet to come across a community that declared it had enough time"; and why practically his last act was a public plea for justice for women within the church itself.
But he also knew the necessity of personal, political, and, yes, institutional action. Which is why he spent so much time bolstering spirits, passing out compliments, shaking hands, making phone calls, and building networks.
"You fight injustice wherever you find it and for as long as you find it. Because you never, never can stop loving, right until the very end." Jack Egan offered that summary of...