Harvey, Father James

1953, December 29

Date of Birth: 1900, August 13

October 11, 1954

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

Father James J. Harvey, a Sulpician of the American Province, died on December 29, 1953. The February 1954 issue of The Voice magazine of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore gives us in two articles a portrait which will not lack interest to his confreres in Europe.

The sermon preached at his funeral depicts him for us as the good and faithful servant, one who could be trusted in his dispensing of God’s mysteries. He was nothing more in his own eyes than the servant appointed. He did but fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to him. The very core of sanctity for him was doing what God wills us to do, wherever he has posted us through the medium of his representatives, our superiors. Our own feelings about the difficulties along the way mattered little.

No doubt he had drawn from his family the basic qualities which made him that faithful servant.

Born on August 13, 1900, at Republic in the State of Washington, he had one brother and one sister. She became a Holy Cross nun.

One evening as he was sitting on the edge of his bed in the dormitory deep in thought with his eyes lost in space, the prefect came along and standing over him asked, “James, what are you thinking of?” “I am thinking of God,” the thirteen-year-old boy replied. It is not astonishing, after that meaningful story, to find in the adult a deep and clear faith, unblemished and, so to speak, unquestioning. “Christ is God; that is all that matters. All the rest flows from His divinity: His Church, His Sacraments, the Real Presence.” The wonder and love that he had for the supernatural and for the mysteries of faith were soaked into his soul, and more and more grew into the solid basis of his priestly ministry.

He made his four years of Theology at Theological College in Washington, D.C., from 1921 to 1925. It was there that he took his first degrees. In 1924 he was a Bachelor of Arts (equivalent to our baccalaureate), and in 1925 he obtained his Master of Arts degree, which roughly corresponds to our license. The same year, at the end of his seminary course, he won his bachelor’s degree in Theology. On June 20th he was ordained priest.

He made his Solitude the following year, 1925-1926, at St. Charles College.

Putting his intellectual talents to good use, his superiors sent him to Paris where he attended the Sorbonne and the Catholic Institute. In 1929 he went back to America with the degree “Licencié ès Lettres.”

All his life he taught Philosophy, first at the seminary in Baltimore, St. Mary’s, from 1929 to 1938. Then at St. Patrick’s, Menlo Park, his old minor seminary which, with the passage of time, had become a Seminary of Philosophy. Finally, in 1946, he returned to St. Mary’s where he worked until he became ill.

Most of his life, like that of every faithful servant, was very busy, and all the more so since he was a Sulpician and a trainer of priests.

Last year, during one of his classes, he took time to explain to his students his ideas on training in the seminary. “Why are you in the seminary?” he asked. And, like a good Sulpician he gave the answer in three points. “First of all, you are here to learn to pray. And since you must become effective ministers of God’s Word, you are here to acquire a fund of knowledge and, therefore, to study. Finally, your way of life here must be the basis of your life in the priesthood and your work in the priesthood, a work which will constitute your whole life.” These words expressed nothing new, but the deep conviction which underlay them left no doubt in the minds of the students about the concreteness of the knowledge that Father Harvey had on the principles of priestly training.

In his dealings with seminarians he applied his principles with skill. The seminarians soon realized that Father Harvey expected of them that they would always be Christian gentlemen, and that he took it for granted that they would live up to his expectations. He was kind to them, slow to think or say anything derogatory of them, and extremely objective and just in judging their fitness for priesthood. Those who had the privilege of being his penitents knew how careful he was with them in the delicate business of their spiritual formation. As long as strength and health allowed him, he took his recreations with the students. It was during those times of games that perhaps they best came to appreciate his manliness.

God endowed Father Harvey with a very penetrating mind. It was precisely as a gift of God that he regarded it for he had no vanity in his make-up. Long years of work in the pursuit of truth – a pursuit with openness of mind as well as firmness – made him capable of bringing to his classes a deep and well-thought-out knowledge of Philosophy and its history, a knowledge prized by his students and by his friends in the Newman Club at Johns Hopkins University, and also by the Catholic Philosophy Society of San Francisco, when he was teaching at Menlo Park. However, although he approached perfection in his work, he was never satisfied with his instruction. He was always on the watch for new ideas and continually pressing himself to improve his methods of teaching.

The deep knowledge that Father Harvey had of Philosophy predisposed him to play an important role outside the seminary. The chaplain of the Johns Hopkins Newman Club asked his cooperation. So it was that Father Harvey left the seminary every Friday night to betake himself with his pipe and his St. Thomas to the site of the discussion he was going to moderate. The discussion might range from Aristotle to Bergson, from the origins of man to the nature of truth.

The purpose of the Newman Club movement was to establish some centers of instruction and spirituality on the very grounds of secular universities so as to encourage a melding of the best of secular education and the essentials of the Catholic intellectual tradition by uniting Science and Philosophy, Theology and teaching in general, spirituality and preparation for careers in the arts and sciences.

This program requires men of high quality, capable of putting Catholics and non-Catholics at ease, and of skillfully – from their philosophical and theological expertise – being of help without ruffling the feelings of those who have not been trained in the same discipline.

Here is a long extract from an article by the chaplain of the Newman Club, Father Walter Gouch, C.S.P.

“Father Harvey was in control of the situation. Quiet, retiring, almost shy, showing discretion in the presentation of his ideas, he spoke only when all the others had expressed their viewpoints. The whole discussion on Friday nights was summed up in the few words he spoke. Naturally, he was an authority in his field. He knew and loved Philosophy but in such a way that he never felt obliged to prove his teaching nor to defend it vigorously when entering into debate. He listened, he reflected, he weighed the words of the others without taking into account their age, their scientific reputation, their personality. Never excited, never disturbed, never letting a rude word fall, nor an unjust retort, nor even a pleasantry made at another’s expense. He helped his hearers to understand their own views and to grasp those of the Catholic philosophical tradition.

“He quickly gained the respect and affection of all. Some of us thought that it would have been much better for everyone if he said more, that time would be saved if we forewent our interruptions since they seemed slight in comparison to what he had to offer. But he took pleasure in seeing the others express their viewpoints, he helped them to express themselves more completely, he built on what they brought and directed the discussion along the lines on which they presented it. This was not only charity, it was education quite in accord with the Hopkins’ tradition.

“In the opinion of the professors and university students who took part in our discussions, what was most remarkable about Father Harvey was his flexibility. The power he had of entering the minds of others was particularly appreciated by men whose work was constant research in the fields of experimental sciences. Many students were deeply impressed by the interest he brought to their work, the informed questions he put to them, the ability he had of entering their field, of reading such books as they suggested to him, and one or two weeks later of expressing his arguments in the language proper to that field, not only from the point of view of Philosophy but also on the scientific plane, arguments they had difficulty refuting. In a few weeks he did not become a specialist – that would be to exaggerate – but his mastery was sufficient for him to rank among amateurs qualified in those fields so different from his training and experience.

“There were other aspects in the personality of this man which merit consideration. Perhaps the most noteworthy was his humanness. Complete priest-scholar that he was, he was warm, human, and kind. To spend some leisure time with him was a rare experience. Some of us had the pleasure of spending an afternoon and an evening on his sailboat with Father Harvey. Tacking or reefing in the wind, he had some moments of keen silence and afterwards some periods of lively conversation, of scintillating humor, which made that day a memorable one for us.

“It was there that Father Harvey seemed most himself. He loved sailing, either alone or with others. That is what appealed to some of us, for he was a very engaging companion. Nevertheless, he could cut himself off very readily, all alone on a solitary voyage, a long trip, or an excursion to an out-of-the-way place, like the voyage he made one winter’s day to the wild coast of Cape Hatteras to see the ocean in all its impressive grandeur. Those who heard him talk about that tossing around will not soon forget it. Particularly amusing was the description of a poker party to which he was invited by a group of duck hunters on board their own boat. “Hey, say now,” one of the men said, “what do you do in your regular job? You play poker like a preacher!” The stifled laugh which followed was enjoyed by all. It goes without saying that he was invited to spend a week hunting with those men. But in that easy way of his, without offending anyone, he continued on his solitary voyage.

“There again, he was a remarkable man, calm, in spite of his reserve, people of all classes loved him instinctively. On our boat trips, dressed in old clothes, we would stop for a meal in one of the many little restaurants which abound on the shores of the creeks. Quite different are the people found in them, eating steamed shrimp or fried crabs, and drinking beer. Father Harvey loved those places. He enjoyed looking at the people, keeping to himself, smiling peacefully, sometimes laughing inside, chatting with the children, or even discussing fish and boats with some of the old-timers who lend atmosphere to the pier. Father Harvey was as much himself here as he was in the seminary, in a Paris restaurant, or the dining room of a faculty club. He loved people and people loved him. But in these settings his name was not known, nor his business; and although he had little to say, all were impressed by him. His companions were often questioned, for everyone wanted to know who this very engaging man was.

“One of the traits which he most admired in others was manliness. Strength tempered by gentleness was one of his traits. He expected it of the priest. Priests must be men first of all – that was his viewpoint. If at times he seemed to show some concern, it was about the great danger of softness, of sentimentality, of effeminate tendencies in students setting out to be priests.”

The priesthood was for him his whole life, the binding force of his personality. It was the source of his strength and of his dignity, giving the final touch to the inner charm of his person and permeating all his qualities. He was genteel, understanding, sympathetic, hard-working, open-minded, and in full possession of himself. He owed all that to the deep faith passed on by his mother, whom he loved with a tender and manly love.

When he learned, without any possibility of doubt, that his illness and its outcome were fatal, his only human concern was the care of his mother. His last moments were for her. She deserved them completely.

Please, Fathers and dear confreres, pray for the repose of Father Harvey’s soul, and accept the expression of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.

Pierre Girard, S.S.

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice