McCallen, Father James

1912, September 3

Date of Birth:   1847, May 14 

March 16, 1913

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:

You received on the date when they occurred the news of two deaths which have saddened our American houses. The notices about Fathers McCallen and Guilbaud are reaching you quite late. That delay will be explained, and you will excuse it. You may already have taken into account the difficulties of various kinds which we have experienced in getting helpful information because of the hiatus imposed on our work by certain health problems, and more recently by our having to go to Rome. But the customary tribute paid to those of our family may not be omitted. This time it was so merited and, it seemed to us, to offer you such edifying example that – even after the passing of so much time – we are sending on to you the formal account of them, and we are asking you to keep them in mind.

Father James McCallen was born on May 14, 1847, at Philadelphia (in the United States). Under our confreres at St. Charles and at St. Mary’s in Baltimore he made the normal preparation for aspirants to the priesthood. Having become a priest in 1869 and with leave of his archbishop, he asked to be admitted into our Society. With that in mind, he came to the Solitude. There he met some French aspirants whom the trials of the terrible year – that of the Seige of Paris and of the Commune – did not daunt, and who paid tribute to their American confrere for his bravery, his good humor, and his great spirit of faith. With Solitude over, Father McCallen left to go back to Baltimore where for sixteen years he filled various roles at the seminary and at the college.

In 1887, to assure priestly service for the English-speaking faithful of St. Patrick’s in Montreal and in response to a personal desire for such service, Father McCallen went to our Canadian community. He stayed there thirteen years, up to 1900.

The good pastor of St. Patrick’s (always a Sulpician) has recalled the impression left by our confrere in this long ministry. Recently, he told us in a note that Father McCallen worked hard and did much good. As a preacher, he enjoyed success due to his oratorical gifts and to the care he took in preparing his talks. Everything about him commanded attention:  his clear and strong voice, his distinct enunciation, his flow of elevated speech. He shone particularly as a lecturer. Past master in the art of holding the attention of his hearers, a shrewd psychologist, always with some interesting little stories to tell, he knew how to arouse the enthusiasm of the crowd, to sweep up souls, and to imbue them with generous encouragement for charity and self-reform.

From the time he came to St. Patrick’s he was a promoter of the Temperance League which did outstanding good among the working class of these parts. He preached temperance by word and example and enrolled quite a few apostles in the good work. It was a great joy to him to win recruits and have them persevere. For the poor, he was a blessing, good in the fashion of the saints who did not let trickery and disillusionment discourage them from works of charity. In the church, he had a zeal for ceremonies, attentive care in training choirboys, the spirit of religion always eager to assure order, observance of liturgical rules, and impressiveness of worship in celebrating its services.

When the time came for renovating the church, Father Quinlivan, then pastor, found in him a helper always ready to carry out plans and raise funds. He was the good worker of God, ad omne opus bonum instructus, [apt for every good work], dedicated to the church’s physical upbuilding, especially dedicated to souls (and knowing them in the confessional as well as in his ministry to the poor and the sick) to keep in check his lively and outgoing nature. 

What was left of his natural tendencies was transformed into good humor and was absorbed into the acceptance that the parishioners had come to give him. That acceptance was to outlive his departure; that was proved last September by the touching signs that the announcement of his death called forth, and by the funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s for him.

We have already said that the Sulpician ministry of Father McCallen at Montreal lasted thirteen years, up to 1900. At that time, he returned to Baltimore. His American confreres wanted him there, and he fitted in well with them because he belonged to them by birth. After three years of rest from his exhaustion, he again took up at Baltimore the jobs which he had previously filled – the Preaching course and Ceremonies – and also various odd bits of work which a populous community entails. The confreres remember and talk about the holding of relationships, easy, enjoyable, pleasant, which they always had with him; the deep attachment to the Society which he always showed; the filial or fraternal affection which he had for those whose life he was sharing; the attentive and courageous zeal of which he gave proof in so many confrontations in which he insisted that the seminarians respond to duty and keep the rules.

Special mention was made of his fitness and zeal for ceremonies. The opportunity of exhibiting this aptitude and zeal was given to him, especially in several instances:  for example, in the solemnities of the Third National Council of Baltimore, and in the ordering of precedence for Cardinals Gibbons, Satolli, and Martinelli. The fine order which prevailed there won for its organizer the most flattering testimony of those who had the means of seeing those services up close and who had benefitted by them.

When we last made a visitation to Baltimore in 1910, Father McCallen was already an invalid, retired from active work, and forced to have his needs looked after in a sanatorium. We were quite touched by his insistence on coming to see us in spite of his painful condition. We told him of our promised prayers and of our hope for his speedy return to health. He smiled sweetly at these promises, but without hiding from us the certain knowledge he had of soon coming to his death from a paralysis which every day became worse. We have learned that since our visitation the dear sick man, alternately spending his time at Baltimore or with his family in Philadelphia, had only declined, growing weaker and weaker, but always resigned.

Last summer a new more drastic treatment was proposed in a sanatorium in Atlantic City. But the life forces were used up. Recovery did not occur. On the contrary, the end was hastened. Father Dyer was summoned in a great hurry when the patient had already received the last sacraments. He was able to stay several days near him and was very edified by the resignation and peace of the dear patient. Father McCallen died very quietly on September 3rd. His body was brought back to Baltimore where the funeral was held on Friday, September 6th.

His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons, gave the absolution. The Mass was sung by bishop O’Connell of Richmond, one of the dear departed’s former penitents. Several other bishops and dignitaries and a great number of priests gathered for the funeral which at the same time as it was a tribute to our late confrere was also a consolation for those he left behind, and a precious encouragement for our work.

I recommend this dear confrere to your prayers, and I renew to you the expression of my most devoted sentiments in Our Lord.

H. Garriguet

Superior of St. Sulpice