Lardner, Father John

1948, October 5

Date of Birth: 1893, October 9

November 6, 1948

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

On the night of October 5-6, at St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore in the Diocese of Seattle, our confrere, Father Lardner, Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice in the United States, died quite suddenly. You can imagine our grief on learning the news of that death of a still young confrere, who held so high a place in the United States and in the whole Society. He left us at the age of fifty-five.

John Joseph Lardner was born on October 9, 1893, in the area of St. John’s parish in Baltimore. As a child, he attended St. John’s parochial school and received his first training from the Sisters of Charity. When he reached the appropriate age, his parents had him enter Loyola [High] School [then Loyola College]. It was in them he made his secondary studies and prepared to answer the call of God as he directed his life toward the priesthood. Born into a very religious family, John Lardner was to see his sister become a School Sister of Notre Dame, and two of his nephews enter the Xaverian Brothers.

On leaving Loyola, Father Lardner entered St. Mary’s Seminary, our seminary, the first opened in the United States. There he made his Philosophy and his first year of Theology. But as Father Dyer, the first Provincial Superior of the Society in the United States, had opened in Washington a Sulpician seminary near the Catholic University, and, as our future confrere was a brilliant seminarian, Father Lardner was sent there to finish his theological training.

On May 25, 1920, he was ordained priest by Cardinal Gibbons in the Baltimore Cathedral. The following year he earned his licentiate in Theology at the Catholic University in Washington. Father Lardner wanted to be a Sulpician. After making his Solitude in 1921-1922, and after teaching for a while, John Lardner was sent to our Procure in Rome. He pursued courses at the Angelicum. In 1927, he returned to the United States after earning a doctorate in Theology.

Back in his own country, Father Lardner taught at Baltimore and Washington. In the diocese, he was appointed to take charge of the Priests’ Conferences. In 1930, Father Fenlon, Provincial Superior, named him Superior of St. Patrick’s Seminary at Menlo Park in the Diocese of San Francisco. There he succeeded Father Ayrinhac, our confrere from Rodez, so well-known and esteemed in the United States for his works on Theology and Canon Law.

After the Chapter of 1936, where it was decided that provincial superiors would not be also local superiors, Father Fenlon gave up the superiorship of St. Mary’s Seminary at Roland Park in Baltimore. He called Father Lardner back from Menlo Park to entrust the local Baltimore superiorship to him. Father Lardner was happy to come back. He had kept a great attachment for the East of the United States, for Maryland, for the Diocese of Baltimore, for his family. He had returned to them as often as he could, and he was delighted to be back with them.

But in 1943, the Provincial Superior of the Society in the United States, Father Fenlon, was called to God. The war was on. There had been no Superior General since the death of Cardinal Verdier in the month of April, 1940. Correspondence with the Vice-Superior General was impossible. The lamented Archbishop Curley of Baltimore did the only possible thing. He convoked the members of the Provincial Council of the United States, and asked them to elect, by secret ballot, an interim Provincial Superior. The one elected was Father Lardner. Then in June, 1945, the Vice-Superior General of St. Sulpice was sent to North America. To whatever degree he could do so, he confirmed the “election” of Father Lardner. He did this at the request of the first Provincial Consultor. After his own election, the new Superior General, in accordance with the Constitutions, named Father Lardner as Provincial Superior.

But in June, 1946, the author of these lines had found dear Father Lardner at St. Agnes Hospital in a poor state of health. His heart was affected and the patient had very high blood pressure. However, thanks to the very best of doctors and the devotion of the Sisters of Charity, our confrere regained strength enough to return to St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, and take up his duties. But he was obliged to take good care of himself. Even last year, because of his very high blood pressure, he had to go to Michigan to be treated by a heart specialist. The treatment turned out to be helpful. Father Lardner once again took up the exercises of his functions, this time with the satisfaction of seeing that his condition had noticeably improved. In nearly all his letters to me, he kept me abreast of how he felt. By and large he was optimistic. Was he perhaps trying to reassure me?  For he was taking chances with his health. It so happened that during the last school year he got as far as Washington, and not feeling well, turned back – after having told me that he was going to the installation of the new Coadjutor of Seattle, and after having let me know that he would take advantage of that trip to make the Provincial visitation of our Sulpician houses in the West of the United States.

Those who knew him well realized how much Father Lardner had to endure from seeing himself obliged to make such arrangements because of the condition of his health. But they also knew how much sense of Sulpician tradition this American Sulpician had, and with what firmness he upheld it both by what he had to say when speaking out was necessary or useful and by his devotion – heroic when heroism was called for – to duty. Bishop McNamara, the preacher at his funeral, limned him with precision and with striking emotion as he read his discourse:

“When I saw Father Lardner for the last time some months ago, I was struck by his change of attitude in all that concerned his health. He had adopted the manner of doing as the saints do: to live from day to day and leave the rest to God. At his daily Mass he looked at the cross and asked only one grace – to remain ever loyal to his Savior in order to be able on his last day to recognize his Savior in his Judge. Judica me Deus et discerne causam meam [Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause]. During the years he spent as a priest of the Society of St. Sulpice, Father Lardner never let himself forget that the object of Father Olier in founding the Society was not only to assure to candidates for the priesthood the knowledge requisite for that office, but above all of “realizing” the highest priestly ideal.”

Speaking of the monument which would perpetuate the memory of Father Lardner, the preacher added:

“It is neither brick nor stone; it consists neither of the number of seminarians whom he trained, nor the growth of the seminaries, nor the increase of members of the Society. No!  You will find it in the memories which he has left in the hearts of his confreres and of his students, in your hearts and mine. These are the memories of a priest who conducted himself and acted humbly in the course of his life, in perfect accord with the most respected traditions of St. Sulpice; who, without fail, recognized the obligation which was incumbent on him of making to shine in his person the image of Christ, and who had written in the depths of his heart: Ubi amor, ibi Deus [Where love is, there is God].”

A man of duty, attached to the most authentic obligations of our Sulpician life, Father Lardner remained so to the end, to death.

In September, the Archbishop of San Francisco decided to celebrate the golden jubilee of St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, established fifty years before by Archbishop Riordan, one of his predecessors. Father Lardner had been Superior of that seminary for six years. Our confrere numbered many former students and friends in the dioceses of the Southwest of the United States. Besides, it would be fitting that the Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice be present at the celebration. A new Sulpician foundation was under way in Detroit, Michigan, and it was morally necessary that the Provincial Superior go to that diocese to discuss matters with the Cardinal Archbishop. Such motives swayed Father Lardner to undertake this long, dangerous, and roundabout trip. He had backed away from it, as we have said, the previous year in spite of the wish of the Coadjutor Bishop of Seattle and his own wish. But this time there were so many interests involved that he did not feel that he could get out of it. He was told in no uncertain terms that for him to undertake such a journey would be an imprudence, considering the condition of his health. What happened seems to justify these warnings of confreres and friends. But Father Lardner saw it as a duty to go to California and turn the visit to good account by making the visitation of our Sulpician houses in the West. He knew that a number of bishops and priests would be at Menlo Park to pay tribute to the Sulpicians who, in 1898, had founded the seminary; and who, since running it, had made it into a minor and major seminary; and who, in the episcopacy of Archbishop Hanna (who assumed the responsibility), had separated the two institutions: the major seminary, St. Patrick’s at Menlo Park; the minor seminary, St. Joseph’s at Mountain View. Besides, he was looking still further. The mark of confidence given to the Society of St. Sulpice by His Eminence, Cardinal Mooney, who was calling on the Sulpicians to run the metropolitan seminary of Detroit, had touched him deeply, as it had all of us. He would hasten to reply to the very kind invitation of the Archbishop in person, and to show to the Catholic hierarchy of the United States, as represented by the bishops whom he would meet in California and on his trip, the desire that the Society had of serving to its utmost them and their clergy.

That is why, after reflection and prayer, Father Lardner left for California. There, everything went off better than he hoped and expected. The jubilee celebration at the seminary, as was foreseen, with His Grace, Archbishop Mitty of San Francisco presiding, went off in an atmosphere of good feeling for St. Sulpice. Several bishops of the Southwest of the United States were present, as were many priests. At the end of the banquet, the Archbishop read to those assembled the letters of the Sovereign Pontiff; of Cardinal Pizzardo, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities; of the Superior General of St. Sulpice; letters they had sent for the occasion. Father Lardner was delighted at seeing the Pope, the Sacred Congregation under which we function, and the whole Society of St. Sulpice, united to praise an institution under his charge, which for six years he had headed.

So, the ceremonies at San Francisco over, with a heart joyous and full of warmth, he left for St. Edward’s Seminary, Kenmore, in the Diocese of Seattle.

His first concern was to make the visitation of the two distinct communities which make it up: the minor seminary and the major seminary. That visitation was finished. He was satisfied with it. His health seemed quite satisfactory. He had made all his plans for leaving Seattle the next day to go to Detroit to attend the blessing and the cornerstone-laying of the new seminary of which we have spoken.

On the eve of his projected departure, Tuesday, October 5th, after chatting happily with his confreres, he attended Evening Prayer with no evident strain. But about eleven o’clock, Father Lardner suddenly fell ill. He had strength enough to get up out of bed and go to a seminarian’s room and ask him to get a priest. But as soon as he was back in his room, the revered sick man became unconscious and never regained his senses. In fewer than ten minutes the doctor arrived. But it was too late. Extreme Unction was administered. At half past eleven our confrere appeared before God.

There was grief in all the Catholic areas of the United States where Father Lardner was well known, and even more, you can imagine, in all our Sulpician houses. The body of the deceased was brought from Kenmore to Baltimore, accompanied on the long journey by Father John P. McCormick, S.S., Superior of St. Edward’s Seminary. During that time, telegrams and letters of condolence were coming in from most of the American dioceses. From as far as the Philippine Islands, the Archbishop of Manila expressed his deep sympathy for the deceased and for the Society. From Puerto Rico, the Bishop of San Juan telegraphed his regret over the death of Father Lardner, who was a brother of a Notre Dame Sister who was working in the schools of his diocese.

Father Lardner’s funeral was celebrated in the Baltimore Cathdral, where he had been ordained priest by Cardinal Gibbons. About Archbishop Francis P. Keough (alumnus of the seminaries of Issy and Paris) were gathered eight bishops and four hundred priests. Several high officials represented the State of Maryland. The Archbishop of Baltimore himself celebrated the Pontifical Requiem Mass and gave the absolution in the presence of the immense throng which filled the whole Cathedral. Father Lardner’s eulogy, from which we have cited more than one quotation in this obituary notice, was preached by His Excellency, Bishop McNamara, Auxiliary of Washington and friend of the deceased and of St. Mary’s Seminary.

After the ceremonies at the Baltimore Cathedral, Father Lardner’s body was carried to the little Sulpician cemetery at St. Charles in Catonsville. There, with His Excellency, Bishop Shehan, Auxiliary of Baltimore presiding, he was buried at the side of John F. Fenlon, his predecessor as Provincial Superior, and near Eugene F. Harrigan, former Superior of St. Charles, and neighbor in St. John’s parish in Baltimore. In this family-like setting, familiar to all, his body went to rest.

But his soul, as we fondly hope, has already entered “the land of the living” in the company of Christ and His Mother, the Virgin Mary, close to God. Nevertheless, is it not our duty, one of friendship and brotherhood, to make our own the words of St. Ambrose on the death of Theodosius, those words with which Bishop McNamara elected to close the magnificent eulogy already mentioned:

“I loved him, and that is why I shall go with him into the land of the living. And I shall not depart from him until, by my tears and prayers, I have led him even where his merits have given him the right to go; up to the Mountain of the Lord, abode of eternal life, where there are no more farewells, nor illness, nor sorrow, nor grief, nor nearness of the dead; into the true land of the living, where  this mortal body clothes itself with immortality.”

In that spirit, Fathers and dear confreres, I recommend Father Lardner’s soul to your charitable prayers, and I beg you to accept the expression of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard, S.S.

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice