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Reflections on the Impact of Fr. Hardon

Compiled by Kate Ernsting

January 15, 2001

Credo asked some who have known Fr. John Hardon to tell us about the impact the Jesuit had in their lives.

"He was a man of holiness"
     From Dominic Aquila, Provost, Ave Maria College, Ypsilanti

This summer when I came to the position of provost here at Ave Maria College, Ave Maria Press had just received the publishing rights to Fr. Hardon's manuscripts. I met with him so that he might speak about his vision for carrying on his work. I had met him only once before, at a conference, but had been following his work for many years and even reviewed his book A Treasury of Catholic Wisdom.

It was remarkable finally getting to sit down and talk with him this summer. Although he was struggling with his short-term memory (he kept trying to remember my name and finally got it right by the end of our meeting), he was able to communicate clearly his idea about how his work should go on. Later I found out he was in incredible pain from the cancer that was afflicting him. Talking to him I could never have guessed that. What I took away was an impression of a man of tremendous holiness fighting very hard to accomplish God's purpose.

Now that we have publishing rights, Ave Maria Press plans to come out first with his book on a history of theology and grace that he never got published and also a book he wrote on the Eucharist.

Perhaps his greatest tribute is what he accomplished with his writings. During the confusion right after the Council in the '70s and '80s, if you went into a bookstore and looked up Catholicism you would find shelves full of a great deal of heterodox literature, but the only catechism you would find would be his. I've talked with a lot of friends who said this was instrumental in keeping them steady in their faith.

I was very grateful to Fr. Hardon for the way he explained the faith, simply but thoroughly, so everyone could understand it. He did the same thing with the many scholarly books he published, like the book he wrote on world religions; it still stands out as a masterpiece.

"He was a priest's priest"
     Fr. L. Dudley Day, OSA, St. John Cantius Parish, Chicago

I knew Fr. Hardon and worked with him for 13 years in the Institute on Religious Life, of which he was really the founder. He was an outstanding Jesuit priest, a true son of St. Ignatius. He was just a holy man. I would classify him as a priest’s priest, a priest after God’s own heart. This showed in everything he did: his writings, his lectures, when he said Mass or heard confession.

He never turned an assignment down. When he gave retreats, he also heard all the confessions and said the Masses. He always kept himself open for everybody. I helped him on the retreats and we'd be up until 1:30 in the morning every night. People wanted to see him because they felt that he would understand them and have something to offer to them.

In the '70s things got a little confusing in the Church. Fr. Hardon met with a group every two weeks at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest on Sunday afternoons. He had 250 people there, even in cold weather – many of them homeschooling mothers, teachers, religious. They wanted to know what the Church really teaches.

At the Institute we soon found out that if he wasn't the speaker our audience dwindled quickly.

His idea was that a catechist should be true to the teaching of the Church. Even when he was sick he was concerned with fulfilling this mission.

"He was a great gift for our time" Charles Rice Professor of Law Notre Dame University Law School

He was unique. I knew him for 30 years, probably. He was just invaluable to the Church; there was no one like him.

I know people you have never heard of for whom Fr. Hardon was a personal confessor – not famous people, but ordinary people. He maintained contact with them, he helped them through hard times.

The guy was a saint.

When I was president of the Wanderer Forum, we had asked Fr. Hardon to speak. I was running around doing last-minute things and I stuck my head in to see if he had started speaking yet. He had just started talking and I couldn’t believe it; everyone was listening intently.

You could hardly hear him, but he was captivating.

It was a great grace to have him here in our time. I can speak primarily of his work in catechetics because I used his writings for my jurisprudence class (at Notre Dame Law School) and in teaching a high-school class. He was truly exceptional because he took the most complicated theological truths and made them easy to understand.

He made a tape on the pro-life movement that I’ve never forgotten; I still have it.

He said the greatest curse is human respect – the vice that makes us compromise to gain other people’s approval. He once implored the national RTL people to take a stand on contraception, but they refused to do it. Fr. Hardon put his finger on the problems in the pro-life movement.

I think the mission that we have is to carry on his work through his publications and tapes, particularly through Eternal Life and Ave Maria Press. We just have to take these materials of his and disseminate them. Fr. Hardon still lives through his works.

"His theology didn't have any waves"
      Eileen Farrell, Catholic author, Oakbrook, Illinois

I started going to the Dominican Priory of SS. Thomas and Albert in River Forest, where Fr. Hardon had started teaching a catechetical class for lay people. He’d speak and we’d study from his outlines. I believe this was in preparation for the publication of his catechism. We didn’t have the Catechism then, in the late ‘70s, so everyone flocked to hear him.

He was just absolutely great. You listened and listened. He was so clear and so definite about everything. His theology didn't have any waves.

"Meeting him changed my life"
     Dave Armstrong, Detroit

Meeting him proved to be a watershed event in my life and that of my family. He helped me to convert in 1990, received me into the Church, and baptized my first two children.

Fr. Hardon might be said to be the "Father of Internet Evangelism," as he always stressed the use of writing, the modem media and assertive evangelism. He was fond of saying that it was great to share the faith one-on-one but that, if a Catholic wrote, then potentially "thousands" of people could benefit from Catholic truths

He especially encouraged the laity to become more active in the Church and had been training Marian and Ignatian catechists for at least the past ten years, at the direct request of the Holy Father.

"He made the faith come alive"
     Bill Smith, Eternal Life, Kentucky

The prestige of having Fr. Hardon as one of our founders and our spiritual directors was a huge help to our work at Eternal Life, where we host talks and produce tapes centered on the problems of our times. His greatest gift to the Church was to really explain the truths in simple, understandable language for any level of intellect. He made the faith come. alive to thousands of people – His ability to move hearts never stopped, he was able to do it until the last. We are coming out with a last tape series on Fr. Hardon and I understand there are about 2,000 unpublished manuscripts. Many of these were written on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.

"A tremendous gift from God"
     Bishop Raymond Burke

"Getting to know Fr. Hardon, hearing him speak, and having occasion to visit with him and working with him have been tremendous gifts from God to me for which I am very grateful." Bishop Raymond Burke of the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wis., is taking over the helm of one of Fr. John Hardon's most ambitious undertakings, the Marian Catechist apostolate, which has its origins in the program of instruction Fr. Hardon developed for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There are 700 Marian Catechists in the world.

Fr. Hardon was "a real champion of the priesthood"
     Deacon Richard Bloomfield

My wife Debbie and I attended Fr. Hardon's classes, Theology for the Laity, at Domino's Farms and continued with him when he moved his classes to Assumption Grotto. He had a way of making the Catholic Faith become a part of us. I completed his Home Study Course on the Essentials of the Faith before I began studying to become a permanent deacon.

It was because of Fr. Hardon that I joined the Institute on Religious Life. In 1994, when my oldest son Andy was 18, we attended our first Institute conference in Mundelein, Illinois. Cardinal Sanchez, Prefect for the congregation of the Clergy, spoke on the new Catechism, and after his talk he said to Andy, “You should be a priest.” The seed was planted, Andy graduated from Franciscan University and is currently studying for the priesthood with the Society of St. John in Shohola, Pennsylvania. It was around that time that I accepted the call to the permanent diaconate. Fr. Hardon was a real champion of the priesthood and responsible for many vocations. He knew that without priests there would be no Eucharist and without the Eucharist, there would be no Catholic Church as we know it.

Fr. Hardon was concerned about the Church in the United States and one of his favorite phrases was: "Americans are living in a dream world." He worked tirelessly, catechizing the laity, believing that they were the best hope for resolving problems in the Church. He hoped that his Marian Catechists could continue his work catechizing others. One of his most used and most meaningful expressions was, "Embrace the Cross! Love the Cross! I mean it!" Fr. Hardon did mean it and he lived it more than any one I know. He was a martyr living in the age of martyrs.

Copyright © 2003 by Credo

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