Harrigan, Father Eugene

1936, August 7

Date of Birth:   1889, July 21

November 12, 1936

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

At the moment when our General Chapter was to open, very bad news reached Father Fenlon, Provincial Superior of St. Sulpice in the United States. Father Harrigan, former Superior of the minor seminary of St. Charles had died at Baltimore some days previous. The deceased, as you are going to learn, had held a very high place in the life of St. Sulpice in America. His death deprives the United States province of a confrere of exceptional worth.

Eugene Francis Harrigan was born in Baltimore on July 21, 1889. His father, Mark John Harrigan, was a policeman. Eugene had the pain of losing him two months before his priestly ordination. He was a just man, truly Christian, one of perfect integrity, whose character was reproduced in the son he gave the Church. His mother, Cecilia Wallace, whom God had kept in His love, had the sadness of seeing her son struck down by a nearly always fatal illness, and of being present in his last moments. The poor mother courageously climbed this sad Calvary accompanied by her two daughters and helped by the prayers of her sister, Reverend Mother Mary Placide Wallace, Superior of the Visitation Nuns in Baltimore.

Within his family Eugene F. Harrigan was early noted for the liveliness of his spirit, the firmness of his will, and especially his solid piety. In 1896 he entered St. Paul’s School in Baltimore. Then his parents moved and he went to St. John’s where he was to remain until 1902. Those able to follow the intellectual, religious, and moral development of our future confrere – particularly the pastor of St. John’s, Monsignor Devine – said, it would seem spontaneously: “The boy will make his way.” Eugene F. Harrigan’s life showed that this prophecy was well founded. In 1903 he entered the minor seminary of St. Charles. During the six years he spent there, he gained the esteem and affection of his teachers, whose life he later wished to share. He was recognized as having a brilliant mind, a generous and already manly heart, a well-formed character. In class, among his fellow students, he often held first place, and was always one of the most distinguished.

As he was at St. Charles, so he remained at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. So when he asked Father Dyer, then Provincial Superior, to be allowed to prepare himself for the duties of the Society of Sulpice, his request was immediately acceded to. It was, it seems, the result of a promise which he had made to God to obtain the cure of his father, at the time gravely ill. As a consequence of that promise, Father Harrigan’s father regained his health, but a new illness felled him shortly before his son’s ordination to the priesthood. Father Harrigan was ordained priest on June 17, 1913. He entered the Solitude the following September. The Solitude at that time was in Washington, a short distance from the Catholic University, in St. Austin’s College, which for long had served as a house of study for American Sulpicians. It [i.e., the American Solitude] was of recent foundation, and it was only for the second time opening under Father Havey’s superiorship, with Father Dumont as socius. Father Harrigan enthusiastically began there the exercises which were to prepare him for his Sulpician vocation. Unhappily, in that year his health broke down. Father Dyer sent him to St. Charles in March, 1914. He was assigned to teach second year high Latin.

In the years following he added to that assignment the teaching of English and Speech. Meanwhile, there was question of sending him to Rome to obtain a degree in one or another of the ecclesiastical sciences. But, at that time, since the Great War was far from over, it was deemed wiser to keep Father Harrigan in the United States. Our confrere was sent to the Johns Hopkins University for higher studies in Latin, English, and the History of Philosophy. In 1922 he became Vice-superior of St. Charles and Prefect of Discipline. Three years later, in 1925, he succeeded Father Hogue as Superior of this minor seminary while continuing some teaching. All who knew Father Harrigan agree in acknowledging his great talents as an educator.

As a teacher, he had mastered to a notable degree the matter he was to teach his students. He had a very refined teaching instinct. His methods were completely adapted to the subjects assigned to him as well as to the students he was to teach. He had authority. His presentation was as clear as his thought. He knew how to keep control and at the same time make himself liked.

As a superior, Father Harrigan was on top of the difficult details connected with the office. Without thinking of it, he drew his own picture the day he preached his successor’s eulogy: “Anyone,” he said, “who takes up the ministry of St. Sulpice takes on himself a heavy responsibility. He is a priest who teaches those who aspire to become priests: and the teaching he does in class is the least important part of his task. He finds himself [he was imagining St. Charles] in the presence of 350 young men who have come together because they think they have been called to the service of the altar, and who expect to see the priesthood concretely realized in the Superior and his fellow workers. Verba movent, exempla trahunt [Words arouse, but example carries along]. 

The presence of a stout heart, noble and generous, in an institution such as ours is a beacon and a force. It elicits gratitude and obedience without having to speak or command; and those who have known it never lose faith in the worth of virtue. In seminaries which are entrusted to them, the Sulpicians constitute the force which sets it in motion, accelerates it, aims it aright, or – God forbid that that ever happen! – kill it in the souls of those whom they are training for advancement in the priestly spirit. So it is their strict duty to impose on themselves a high standard of personal perfection if they want to lead those in their charge up to the heights.”

It is understandable that with such an elevated outlook and so deep a conviction of the grandeur of his vocation, Father Harrigan was for St. Charles the incomparable superior whom all admired and loved.

For nearly nine happy, pleasant, and always very priestly years, he governed his house with uncontested authority. He formed the souls of aspirants to the priesthood in his enlightening and encouraging spiritual readings. He became everything to everybody by the goodness and intelligence which charmed minds and won hearts. And looking to the future of St. Sulpice in the United States, much was expected of him.

But during the 1934 vacation, Father Harrigan after some days of weariness was afflicted with paralysis. He was immediately brought to Baltimore and taken to Bon Secours Hospital. There for nearly two years the nuns and the nurses lavished on him all the care which his condition called for. He suffered very little, and his mind remained as clear as in the past. He prayed, he read, he did a little work, hoping always (and his confreres with him) for the cure which would enable him to return to his post. He never murmured nor complained. With great simplicity he acquiesced in being replaced by one of his co-workers and dearest friends as head of the house which he had run so well. If he freely submitted to the care which his condition demanded, and if he was forced to put up with the natural and supernatural means intended to restore his health, he always and thoroughly did so in submission to the Divine Will.

Father Harrigan spent the last months of his illness at home under the eyes of his mother and his two sisters. Two male nurses from the hospital came each day to the house to provide what care he needed. Both admired the evenness of his disposition, his patience, his goodness, his faithfulness; and they were deeply attached to him. That was clearly seen last August 7th, at the moment the dear patient breathed his last – those two men, though very much used to sickness and death, could not restrain their emotion, and they showed it in their sobbing.

Father Harrigan’s funeral was held on Wednesday, August 12th in the chapel of the minor seminary of St. Charles in Catonsville. His Excellency, Bishop McNamara, Auxiliary of Baltimore, consented to sing the Requiem Mass and to preside at the burial. His Excellency, Bishop Fitzmaurice of Wilmington, was present. Also crowding the chapel – although it was vacation time – were sixty Sulpicians and nearly two hundred priests. Among them were Monsignor Nolan, pastor of Corpus Christi; Monsignor Monaghan, pastor of St. Ambrose; and Monsignor Quinn, rector of the Baltimore Cathedral. Also present were the Very Reverend Father John Harney, Superior General of the Congregation of St. Paul; the Very Reverend Brother Paul, Superior General of the Xaverian Brothers; the Fathers Keenan, Canning, Long, Wiesel, of the Society of Jesus, etc. Monsignor Monaghan preached the eulogy. He had known Father Harrigan since boyhood. He recalled the highlights of our confrere’s life with a delicacy which must have touched to the core the hearts of those attending, if one may judge by the reaction which was evident and by the emotion which revives when the eulogy’s text is read.

On September 23rd, after the return to the United States of the American members of the Chapter, a second Funeral Mass was said for the repose of Father Harrigan’s soul. The Mass was sung by his successor, Father Gleason, with the St. Charles students present. Many Baltimore priests and a hundred or so seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary attended. Present also were Mrs. Harrigan and her two daughters as well as several people who were representing the Visitation Nuns of Baltimore.

In union with all those who knew and loved Father Harrigan, we shall pray for our deceased confrere and for the minor seminary of St. Charles, which he governed so well and loved so much.

Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my respectful affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Vice-Superior General of St. Sulpice