A Priestly Prophet
by John O’Connell
A Biographical Sketch of John A. Hardon, S. J.
Father John A. Hardon, S. J. died at 86 years of age on December 30, 2000 at Columbiere, a residence for elderly Jesuits in Clarkston, Michigan. His fifty-three years of priestly service have come to an end (in this life). No short piece can ever do justice to Father Hardon and his legacy; but, please God, this short sketch will outline something of the immense contribution Father Hardon has made to the Church.
John Anthony Hardon was born in Midland, Pennsylvania on June 18, 1914.
When John was only one year old, his father died in a work-related accident. Anna Hardon, John’s mother, a Franciscan tertiary, was a woman of faith and determination. After her husband’s death, Anna and John moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Despite the poverty she and John experienced, Anna brought John up in a pious, loving Catholic home. Anna, who remained a widow, worked nights as a cleaning woman so she could stay home with John during the day.
John attended Catholic schools and proved to be an excellent student. He eventually went to college at the Jesuits’ John Carroll University. After college, he had planned to go to medical school at Ohio State University, but under the guidance of a holy Jesuit priest. Father LeMay, John determined it was God’s will that he join the Society of Jesus. He entered the Jesuits on September 1, 1936.
Father Hardon was ordained to the priesthood on his birthday, June 18,1947. Father did graduate studies and received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) from the Gregorian University in 1951. In 1953, Father professed his final solemn vows as a Jesuit.
Father Hardon’s priestly life sparkles like a beautiful jewel. So let us examine the bedazzling facets of his ministry.
Father Hardon’s first teaching assignment after receiving his S.T.D. was as professor of theology at West Baden College where he lectured the Jesuit scholastics in Latin. (Father was a great promoter of Latin all his life.) While teaching at the West Baden College, Father also began teaching as a visiting professor at various Protestant schools of theology. Father was ahead of his time in the ecumenical movement, and unlike many others, never lost sight of the true purpose of ecumenism—which is to lead people to the truth of the Catholic Faith.
In 1962 to 1967, Father taught at Western Michigan University, also highly unusual at that time a Jesuit teaching at a secular, public university.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Father taught at the Jesuit School of Theology at Loyola University in Chicago, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine at St. John’s University in New York, and the Notre Dame Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
After the emergence of the faulty catechesis that has plagued the Church for the past several decades, Father devoted more and more of his time to catechizing the faithful. Father organized a group of laity, the Marian Catechists, to dedicate themselves to teaching and spreading the faith.
When His Holiness John Paul II told Mother Teresa that her sisters needed to begin to catechize, Mother sought Father Hardon out and they began a splendid spiritual partnership. Father wrote a home study course specifically for the Missionaries of Charities that every Missionary of Charity sister throughout the world takes. Father founded Inter Mirifica to publish and provide this course to the Missionaries of Charity. Eventually, Father wrote two other home study courses and all three are available to the faithful.
Father Hardon was a prolific writer and speaker who taught (and continues to teach) through his books, articles, and audio and videotapes. He contributed articles to scores of Catholic journals. He wrote numerous catechisms and his Catholic Catechism has sold over 1 million copies, and is still in print.
Father also encouraged many Catholics to write as a particularly efficacious apostolate.
Father Hardon imparted spiritual direction and counsel to countless souls. Priests, religious, and laity, Catholics and non-Catholics alike sought and received his guidance. Troubled souls burdened with the heaviest crosses seemed drawn to Father and he unfailingly gave of himself and of his time. Despite his heavy schedule. Father found it almost impossible to say no to someone in need.
Father had served at various times as a chaplain at a hospital, a prison, and a mental institution. He was responsible, under God, for bringing countless souls into (and back into) the Church.
Father Hardon gave innumerable retreats and conferences. Every Christmas for years he gave a retreat to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, semi-contemplative religious sisters, in New Mexico.
When Father Hardon was a young Jesuit he asked to go to the mission in Japan, but his superiors refused his request because of his poor health. Ironically, Father received permission when he was in his seventies to journey to Russia and Poland (in the dead of winter), and to India to give conferences to the Missionaries of Charity.
Father led many, many souls through the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In fact, Father’s apostolate of having people make the Spiritual Exercises at home led to his writing and publishing a book (Retreat With the Lord) on how to make the Spiritual Exercises at home.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart
A true Jesuit, Father Hardon zealously promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially to the Eucharistic Heart of Christ. He spent many hours of prayerful adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament every day, despite his grueling schedule by staying up late into the night.
He constantly urged greater reverence and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, encouraging priests and the faithful to establish Perpetual Adoration, Holy Hours, Solemn Benediction, and other Eucharistic devotions in their parishes. Indeed, the last book he wrote, which he finished not long before his death, was on the Eucharist and the Real Presence.
Father wrote many of his books, articles, sermons, and talks before the Blessed Sacrament, sometimes while on his knees. He recognized the deep interconnection between the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Confession and often urged his hearers to frequently receive the Sacrament of Penance. Father went to Confession daily.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother
Father Hardon had a profound and tender devotion to Our Lady. Father often recalled that his mother always had fresh-cut flowers in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in their home. The Most Holy Rosary and the Litany of Our Lady were two of his favorite prayers. Father often talked about Mary in his sermons and conferences, especially stressing that she is a model of great faith for Christians. Father was also a great promoter of the Miraculous Medal because of the miraculous and instantaneous recovery of a brain-damaged young boy in the hospital around whose neck the recently-ordained Father Hardon had placed a Miraculous Medal. In addition, Father devoutly wore the Brown Scapular — how appropriate that he died on a Saturday.
Since the 1960s, Father Hardon performed a number of tasks for the Vatican over the years. A large part of this work consisted in organizing the faithful. Father either founded or helped start a host of Catholic organizations, e.g.. Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, Institute for Religious Life, Inter Mirifica, Eternal Life, etc. Father also had a hand in inaugurating various Catholic periodicals, including this one. Father also helped Mother Teresa found the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters.
Father Hardon strongly defended the teachings of the Church throughout his life, courageously expounding those doctrines most fiercely under attack: the immorality of abortion and contraception, the indissolubility of a ratified, sacramental marriage, and the truth of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. He was a vigorous promoter of the home-schooling movement and the rights and duties of parents to educate their children in the faith.
Father constantly preached trust in Divine Providence, the need for heroic charity, and love of the Cross. But above all Father lived what he preached and is noted for the virtuous life he lived of faith, charity, poverty, humility, self-abnegation, and zeal for souls.
John O’Connell is the Editor of The Catholic Faith magazine and is privileged to have had Father Hardon as a spiritual director, Father witnessed his marriage, saying the nuptial Mass, and baptized his daughter, Hannah Marie.