Hogan, Father John

1901, September 30

Date of Birth:  1829, June 21

November 13, 1901

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

We learned several months ago that a serious heart ailment was making Father Hogan subject to a sudden death.  He was himself aware of it and was holding himself ready to answer the call of God.  But that call came at a time when there was no indication of its proximity.  As sad as that death and some of its circumstances were for us, it seemed proper to us – as to many others – to see the hand of Providence in the choice of its time and place.  Father Hogan died at St. Sulpice in the early hours of the day he must have for a long time seen coming, and that day was the day the seminary reopened.  In the house which he loved so much, where he lived so long, his funeral took on a character which made of it the fit crowning of his career.  After his seventeen-year absence, it brought together around his casket (along with the seminary community) a gathering of priests truly remarkable by their number, by the age, the rank, the intellectual and moral distinction, the priestly dignity, of those who composed it.  Nearly all, in spite of the bad weather, opted to go to Montparnasse Cemetery to pay their last respects to their old teacher and to give evidence of the deep affection they had for him.

Father John Baptist Hogan was born on June 21, 1829, at Bodyke in Ireland.  There he spent his early years in the bosom of a large and religious family.  One of his uncles was a pastor in the Diocese of Perigueux.  He brought his nephew to France; the nephew was, from about the age of fifteen, successively a student at the minor and major seminaries of Bordeaux.  We know how readily – without losing the endowments of his race – he took perfectly to the French language and spirit.

In 1849, when he finished Theology, Father Hogan came to pursue higher studies at St. Sulpice for two years which turned out to be his entranceway into the Solitude.  It was at the end of his novitiate that he was ordained priest at Notre Dame of Paris on June 5, 1852.  At the following school year’s opening, he was assigned the Patristic Dogmatic Theology course.

During the following years he had several changes of assignment.  But from 1863 to 1884 he was regularly assigned to Patristic Moral Theology, to which, for thirteen years, he added the course of Liturgy.  Later, in America, he gave again courses in Holy Scripture, Preaching, Church History; and at Washington, much appreciated conferences in Ascetical Theology.

From his year of Solitude on, Father Hogan constantly showed the traits rooted in his heart and mind: thorough fidelity to the rule; thorough promptness at exercises; complete respect for his superiors and friendliness toward his confreres; anxiety to serve them; delicacy and care to the point of taking no account of slights others might subject him to, even though he was by nature a very sensitive person.  A great advocate of clarity of thought, he examined and discussed everything, and freely upheld his opinions with perfect gentlemanliness and without his criticism ever hurting others.

As a disciple of Father Renaudet, his Solitude Superior – who always showed him a great deal of sympathy and trust in spite of the differences in their make-up – Father Hogan steeped himself deeply in the principles of the interior life, of the spirit of sacrifice, of generous and devoted zeal for the work of the Society.

It is enough to have seen him and to have read over his personal writings to know how much he remained faithful up to the end in the humblest, as well as the most solid, practices of the interior life.

It was through that close union of God and that constant personal effort (at the bottom of every real Sulpician’s life) that he made himself capable of doing great good for many souls, good which created between them and himself such close and intimate bonds.  But his rare intellectual gifts; his studies – extending into nearly every branch of Theology; a particular insight and sympathy for understanding the broadest range of spiritual and emotional states and for taking a heartfelt interest in them; all these widened the circle of his doing good beyond the normal limits.

Very well based in theological principles and well aware of their limitations, he lived by the dominant tendencies of his mind, more the psychologist and moralist, the historian and critic, than the dogmatist and metaphysician.  His origin explains why he took special interest in the works of English theologians. In addition, his close association with the clergy of Paris – who in men of the world ran into all the problems raised by modern ideas and tendencies – constantly led his mind to the apologetic aspect of theology.  Besides, his teaching, while completely traditional, took on an atmosphere of reality to which it owed much of its attractiveness and usefulness.  Some of his students quite often wished for more precise solutions, more rigid rules, more positive answers, and fewer questions.  Father Hogan concerned himself especially with stimulating and opening their minds, with making them think for themselves, with training their judgment for the application of principles; and many priests have kept for him a deep acknowledgment for the intellectual profit they gained from him.  It is only right to say, nonetheless, that he might have made his teaching more generally useful by spending more time on theses and giving less to the objections which his mind enjoyed dealing with.

As for his goodness, his piety, the benefit of his talks on prayer and his spiritual readings; as for the edification he gave by this faithfulness to exercises, recreations, walks, his delicate service to others and his forgetfulness of self; as for his spirit of poverty and mortification.  There could never be anything but a single voice.  No one talked about these things with more powerful feeling than those who witnessed his last years.

Thirty-seven years in Sulpician work had given Father Hogan a position which the clergy regarded as unshakable when a great sacrifice was asked of our confrere and found him ready.  The major seminary of Boston was to open for the school year of 1884.  St. Sulpice had been asked to undertake its operation, and some other projects had been asked of it in America.  Father Hogan some years previous, on the occasion of an appeal from Father Icard to the Society, had offered himself unconditionally.  About the same time he told an intimate friend that his happiness in Paris was so great that he felt it a duty to offer God its sacrifice.  However, the years went by and Father Icard remained silent.  It seemed that God had accepted the intention only, when Father Hogan was advised some months in advance that he was to prepare himself for the Boston project.  When the secret was out, the clergy of Paris formed a movement to ask that Father Hogan be kept in Paris.  But he took steps to stop the whole business, and to fulfill his sacrifice with a calm and serenity which added to the admiration of his friends without lessening their regret.  A will which he made on leaving began with these words which reveal his state of mind: “If in the voyage I am about to make, it may please God to end my life … I desire to die in the pure and simple faith of the Roman Church, which has been mine all my life.  I thank God for having called me to the Sulpician life, and for the singular favor He has given me of living in the very heart of the Society.  I am happy to give to Him, on my leaving everything, a pledge of my devotion to it and to the work it is charged with.”

Some time previous he had written for his own eyes only, these other lines in which can be seen in what a spirit he took up his new work: “I leave the work of St. Sulpice in Paris to take it up in another corner of the world, to teach new generations of priests what I have heard preached, what I have seen done, all my life.  Quod audivimus, quod vidimus et manus nostrae connectaverunt annuntiamus vobis.  (We announce to you what we have heard and seen and have touched with our hands.)  I leave everything that binds me to this world to give myself to this work which ever remains for me the most beautiful at which a priest may labor. 

After five years given to the Boston project, Father Hogan was called in 1889 to that most difficult one of the university seminary at Washington; and to it, he gave five more years, advancing the work by his patience, his humility, and his self-denial no less than by his guidance and his zeal.  He was, in the end, called back to Boston.  The seven years in which he was to finish his career there were without doubt for his heart the sweetest of his ministry in America, but not the least laborious nor the least fruitful.  Even his vacations were in great part in preaching priests’ retreats whose simplicity and practicality were singularly pleasing to priests.  It was also in these last years that, after publishing a book on priestly studies, he composed a first volume of Meditations for the use of priests; it had great success.

He began the last school year with an overabundance of work when in January he suffered a lung congestion followed by several relapses which laid him up all winter.  In the spring he was allowed to take a trip to Baltimore, but it did not do him much good.  The doctors thereupon let him know the seriousness of his condition and of the need to take a long rest in a climate milder than that of Boston.  Since they also advised for him a trip to Europe, Father Hogan came to Paris to put himself into the hands of his superiors; and it was decided that he would pass the winter in Hyères.

After some weeks spent in Ireland, Father Hogan had just returned to Paris stronger and in better health than he had experienced all year.  He hoped to take up his writing, to begin some Meditations for the use of seminarians; and on Monday, September 30th, he was to set off for the South to join Father Captier at Vevey.  Happy about the trip, his good spirits had been noticeable the previous day.  In the night, however, he was uncomfortable enough to get up, put on his cassock, and leave his room to seek help.  A servant heard his groans and hurried to him.  He found Father Hogan seated on a staircase, holding onto the wall and already unconscious.  A confrere, roused in great haste, arrived barely in time to give him a last absolution.  Father Hogan had gone to confession the previous morning in anticipation of a less important departure.

On the day after we held the funeral here, a Solemn Mass took place in Boston at the seminary in the presence of His Grace, the Archbishop, of four bishops, and one hundred fifty priests.  A third day’s Mass had also just been celebrated in Ireland in the parish of Father Hogan’s nephew.  The bishop of the diocese was present with many priests, and a eulogy was preached there.

The homage of Father Hogan’s confreres was most touching and most edifying to us; but I must confine myself here to the shortest and most authoritative of all: “In France and in America,” said Father Captier on hearing the news of his death, “Father Hogan has labored a great deal and suffered a great deal for the Society.”

Let us not, Fathers and dear confreres, leave off praying for the dear deceased and for the important work in which he leaves a great gap.

J. Lebas

Superior of St. Sulpice