Martin Hegarty, 'bishop' to resigned priests, dies at 83
Oct. 11, 2011
A tribute by John Horan was echoed by many last October when Martin "Marty" Hegarty and his longtime collaborator Jim Wilbur were honored during a festive dinner at a Chicago-area restaurant, celebrating their 40 years in a unique, creative ministry. Their work: assisting Catholic priests transitioning out of the clerical state into lay life.
"I left priesthood on the first Saturday morning in June, 1988, having just presided at my last Eucharist. I moved out of the rectory in a frantic headlong rage, dragging my belongings to a basement apartment on 35th and Seeley.
"I'll never forget grasping the doorknob of my underground residence and thinking, 'What have I done to myself?' I had either been training to be a priest or was a priest for 20 of my 34 years. I was jobless, damn near penniless, my Rolodex was wrecked (this being the time before Blackberry). I had one black suit that smelled like incense and not a clue about what to do with my life….
"So I did what everybody in my situation did. I went to see Marty Hegarty. He read me like the Sunday Trib. He knew all my sections: good priest, scared young adult, in love, consumed with guilt, rectory spoiled, clueless, but possessing a pulse.
"And then Marty told me that he wouldn't find a job for me but that he would help me find the confidence to find a job for myself. He told me that my natural talents would help me be a terrific employee. He said I would… have to start at the bottom, and work my way up. He said that I would not get the perfect job right away, but I should start with something, with anything that would pay my bills, and take things from there. The conversation lasted maybe an hour. Never has someone been so right about so many things in so short a time. When I left Marty, I could see more … I could manage through to something new, something equally of God, something essential."
This excerpt from a tribute by John Horan was echoed by many last October when Martin "Marty" Hegarty and his longtime collaborator Jim Wilbur were honored during a festive dinner at a Chicago-area restaurant, celebrating their 40 years in a unique, creative ministry. Their work: assisting Catholic priests transitioning out of the clerical state into lay life. No one has kept score, but it is generally estimated that Hegarty and his associates helped more than 3,000 former priests from across the country, as well as former nuns and even some Protestant ministers, who were on their own and in need of confidence and guidance. Hegarty's analysis of Horan proved accurate. Horan is currently the president of an innovative and highly successful charter high school on Chicago's low-income, problem-troubled West Side.
Hegarty died Oct. 7. He was 83.
He had been in hospice care at his home for several weeks after sustaining a serious head injury in a fall in late August.
There was something about Hegarty that made him a natural for this special ministry. He was an extroverted Irishman from Chicago's West Side with a quick wit, occasionally a quick temper and a fierce loyalty to the Catholic Church and Notre Dame football. He was a delightful raconteur who knew all the old stories about pastors who built enormous churches, filled enormous schools and had enormous egos. He knew the priests who manned these institutions, knew their dedication, their eccentricities, their achievements and failures. To the end of his days, he attended virtually every priest's funeral in the archdiocese.
"He was always so caring and courageous and generous," Wilbur said. "He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he could break into tears dealing with people who were hurting."
Beyond all this, Hegarty was a born connector, nurturing relationships with dozens of friends, contacts and acquaintances, and never reluctant to ask a favor on behalf of a resigned priest.
"It's like he had a Rolodex mind," said Father Bill Kenneally, who was Hegarty's pastor for 25 years at St. Gertrude Parish on Chicago's North Side. "And he'd do anything to help – meet you at the airport, give you a quick course on resume writing, tell you how to handle a job interview. He was a model of the connector persona."
Yet despite his work for those leaving formal ministry, Hegarty never despaired of the church or its future. He remained an outspoken advocate for social justice and the kind of progressive Catholicism for which Chicago was known in the middle of the 20th century.
"We used to tell Marty he was our de facto bishop," said Tom Ventura, a former Chicago pastor who worked with Hegarty. "In many ways, he filled the void that was left after Cardinal (Joseph) Bernardin died."
Ventura saw him too as a leader "of the church in exile, a church that sustains the spirit of Vatican II during the cold winter of discontent in the Catholic community."
Martin Hegarty was ordained a priest in 1954, served as an associate at several parishes and became a member of the archdiocesan mission band, which provided missions and retreats for parishes the Chicago area. He left the active priesthood in 1969 and married Carole Rath, who would be his wife and supporter for the remaining 42 years of his life. She said he never tired of the phone calls and visits, the coming and going of resigned priests, "and he absolutely refused to take a dime for his services."
When he went into business as an employment consultant in the secular world, Hegarty was struck by the outreach of Katie Murphy, who worked for the Catholic Action Office in Chicago and had been personally helping resigned priests find their way. She was overloaded, since the sheer number of departing priests was staggering in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hegarty spoke of the need with his friend Jim Wilbur, ordained in 1956, who had recently resigned from the clerical rolls. A fortuitous, permanent alliance was formed.
Wilbur, soft-spoken and personable with an exceptional knack for detail, had been compiling contact information on Chicago priests exiting ministry for some time.
"I was always a list-keeper," he said. "I did it here, I think, out of pastoral concern for the guys who were coming out."
He located about 260 former Chicago priests and was discovering more and more from other dioceses and religious orders living in the Chicago area. As word spread, Hegarty found himself working long days and nights as an unending stream of inquirers sought his expertise.
As years passed, a handful of other resigned priests began to help, and a loosely constructed organization called WEORC (Old English for work) was born.
Wilbur and Hegarty saw the benefits of publishing a directory of the gathered information to enable job seekers to contact others already working in areas of their interest. The first WEORC directory with about 300 names was published in 1972; the second in 1975; and a third with almost 4,000 names and contact information in 1979.
Friends of Hegarty and Tom and Judy Joli, owners of the Hensley Printing Co., have donated all publishing and postage costs for WEORC publications for many years. A quarterly WEORC newsletter updates the network with job successes and needs for about 20 years, and more recently has taken on sensitive issues in the Catholic Church as well.
Hegarty and Wilbur personally approached Cardinal Bernardin in 1987 and suggested, in the name of Catholic social justice teaching, that it was time for resigned priests who had long served the archdiocese to receive a pension.
At first stunned, the cardinal soon agreed and assisted in working out the details. Those who have served 20 years or more are now eligible for a monthly pension, regardless of their clerical status. Three weeks before his death in 1996, Bernardin told Hegarty in a short letter, "While I have told others this, I have not directly told you, namely, that I have a great respect for you. I am very grateful for all you have done for our priests."
Hegarty's outreach through WEORC also included annual retreats for resigned priests, occasional letters of support to active clergy and a convocation on social justice at DePaul University.
In recent years, the efforts of WEORC have been in the hands of a team of younger resigned priests. Meanwhile, Hegarty's personal efforts included full responsibility for a weekly Mass at a satellite of St. Gertrude's in a girls' high school. For more than 30 years, he took pride in doing everything from opening the doors, training and scheduling readers and singers to assigning priest presiders.
"I told him, For practical purposes you're the pastor over there," Kenneally said. "And he really was up to the end."
John Horan's full tribute can be found here .
Source URL: http://ncronline.org/news/people/martin-hegarty-bishop-resigned-priests-dies-83
A modern Adam and Eve re-enter paradise
By Eugene Cullen Kennedy
Created Oct 25, 2011
by Eugene Cullen Kennedy on Oct. 25, 2011
They would never have thought about themselves in this way. In
fact, they didn't think much about themselves at all. That is what made
them both great and good at the same time, a combination that is elusive
in what we might call the Age of the Drone that refers not to silent
airborne weapons that blow people up suddenly, but to the grating
windblown political pundits who bore people to death slowly.
I refer to Sr. Anita Caspary and Marty Hegarty, who broke free of the
shackles of time within a few days of each other, symbolizing a fresh
incarnation of Adam and Eve for our time. They were cast out of the
institutional Garden of the highly clericalized Eden of pre-Vatican I
Marty, a distinguished Chicago priest who embodied the spirit of
Vatican II, had to leave because the clerical garden had no room for him
after he fell in love with his beloved Carole. The then reigning,
emphasis on reigning, archbishop, John Cardinal Cody, who took
no prisoners, thought that former priests, like Old Testament
scapegoats, should be driven out to wither in the wilderness to spare
Chicago from their bad influence.
Sr. Anita was the distinguished head of the Immaculate Heart Order of
nuns after serving as president of their Los Angeles College. She also
embodied the spirit of Vatican II, but, because she implemented the
modernization of religious life that the Council had urged, was barred,
along with her community, from teaching in the Los Angeles Catholic
schools by the then-reigning, underscore the emphasis on reigning,
archbishop, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, who might have been
inclined to shoot prisoners in his determined suppression of any Vatican
II transformation of religious life that he viewed as the moral
equivalent of The Russians Are Coming.
Marty remained in Chicago, as did many former priests, while Cody
railed from his North Side mansion whose tables, chairs and sofas sagged
under bags of unopened mail. That 19-chimneyed edifice was chronically
dark, sparking wagers about whether Cody paid his electric bill or lived
somewhere else. For Cody, no fate was bad enough for ex-priests, whom
he urged employers not to hire and with whom, as I can tell you from my
own experience, he refused even to shake hands at a casual meeting.
Marty not only remained in Chicago, but he remained to the end of his
days a true priest. He also worked as an industrial psychologist, but
he somehow found time to establish an organization, WEORC, the Old
English for work, that served as an exchange and a network to
find jobs for men and women who had left the ministry or other Church
work. He not only undermined the Cardinal's efforts to keep ex-priests
from finding employment in Chicago (I add parenthetically that he vainly
tried to get the valiant then-president of Loyola University to fire
me) but created an organization that, although he turned it over to
others, is still operating today.
One can sing joyful songs of Marty's work as a mediator, ever helping
others to reconcile or keep in touch, but mournful strains arise from
the declining conflicted years of poor Cardinal Cody, who would have
succeeded imperially if he had become archbishop of Chicago in 1935
instead of 1965, and who died alone with a hired nurse in attendance
after enduring stormy years of newspaper investigations into his
finances. That his successor, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, opened the
books to prove the charges wrong came too late to comfort him in his
beleaguered last years.
Sr. Anita was attacked by Cardinal McIntyre, who brought his earlier
businessman's experience to his shrewd balancing the books and building
the physical plant of the Los Angeles archdiocese after World War II. He
had no patience, however, for anyone, bishop, priest or nun, who dared
to exercise the new freedom to function in the modern world encouraged
by Vatican II. McIntyre wanted to force a priest he thought rebellious
to go through a medieval ceremony recanting his modest independence by
ceremonially kissing the cardinalatial shoe.
He also hounded the late Bishop James P. Shannon, one of the
brightest and most able of American bishops, into resignation after
Shannon had discussed the possibility of questioning such disciplines as
celibacy on a nationally televised program on the Church. In a swift
strike against the Immaculate Heart Sisters, who had served for decades
in their teaching mission in Los Angeles, he cut them loose rather than
tolerate them as independent and educationally qualified women who were
more dedicated to the Church as a people than to the Church as an
McIntyre, whose career, dedicated to circling the same dusty track
despite fiery crashes and multicar pileups now and then, was not
prepared to deal with the valiant woman, Anita Caspary, who led 300
sisters, after they lost an appeal to Rome, to seek release from their
vows and to form an independent ecumenical group to carry on their work.
McIntyre fulminated, but there was nothing he could do to interfere
with Anita Caspary's readiness to leave the institutional Eden for the
real world outside. The community continues today with 160 members.
Marty and Anita lived out a contemporary version of the Myth of the
Garden. The difference is that they did not sin but were sinned against
and were driven into exile not because they wanted to be like gods but
because they wanted to serve God's people with goodness and purity of
heart. Which of these, do you think, went home to Heaven justified:
Marty Hegarty, who did so much good, or Cardinal Cody, who had fantasies
that Marty could only work harm? Anita Caspary, who freely and bravely
gave up the shield of the institution that tried to eclipse her work, or
Cardinal McIntyre, who was willing to drive the healthiest of his flock
off the grazing lands he preserved for the institution that,
tragically, has since suffered the devastation visited on the clerical
culture whose hidden unhealthiness he never understood or ignored?
[Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago.]