Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Legend Passes

If you went to St. Louis University High, or had family that did, you probably heard of Fr. Martin Hagan. A mentor, a counselor, a teacher, a coach. A legend. Fr. Hagan passed away on Monday April 28 at the age of 89. You can read the news release on SLUH's website here.

The most widely told story about Fr. Hagan was his practice of learning the name of every single one of the 200-250 freshman at SLUH each year. It's not just a story; it's the truth. And he did this for about 50 years. As a freshman, you began to notice the curious routine of an older Jesuit quietly standing in the entrance of your homeroom, carefully checking something on a clipboard. 2-3 years later, a junior or senior would chuckle when Fr. Hagan would greet them by name in the hall, even though the student might not have ever formally met Fr. Hagan.

I had the good fortune of having a personal relationship with Fr. Hagan. He was my assigned counselor for my freshman year, and my chosen counselor each year after that. I remember that each year I could have chosen someone else (I think the majority of kids had to; Fr. Hagan could only counsel so many), but there was something reverent about our visits that I had never experienced with anyone else. At the end of each meeting, he would bless me, making the sign of the cross in front of me and then placing his hand upon my head. A feeling would come over me that, for lack of a better description, I can only call religious divinity.

Rest in peace, Fr. Hagan. You will be missed by many, but never forgotten.


Gene said...

Well said, Roller.

Fr. Hagan left his imprint on many families, mine included. My dad was class of '60. Father Hagan was his teacher and also his rifle team coach. Father Hagan took the rifle team to I believe 5 years of national titles, and my dad was a part of that.

As a freshman, I distinctly remember walking down those frighteningly big halls and seeing Father Hagan. I recall the first time meeting him, and the fact that he already knew my name.

I also remember our 5 year reunion and being so retrospectively thankful that someone in our group decided it would be a good idea to go to the prereunion mass. Father Hagan presided. I think that if our buddies were a group of 4 or 5, there were probably 6 or 7 grads there total. Even though I stumbled on the prayers we were supposed to have known for decades, that was an especially meaningful moment for me. At that moment, Father Hagan enabled me to reach a point of spiritual satisfaction, going to church on a friday or saturday night.

Needless to say, we all went out that night and got hammered, but what remains nearly ten years later is the sanctity of Fr Hagan praying with us that night.

There are times when it's clear we've lost a giant. This is one of those times, and I'm thankful to have been blessed by his friendship.

Rest in peace, Father Hagan. The SLUH world will think of you every time a billiard ball hits the ground.

Ryan said...

Great comments guys.

I have similar memories and respect for Fr. Hagan. There was something so refreshingly constant and slow in his ways. With all due respect, he always reminded me a little of a turtle, with his neck stretching out of his collar, his bald head sort of leaning on top; always moving slowly or just standing. Riding his ancient bike to school every day. He taught me to shoot rifles as well, with his calm, steady voice teaching us to be somewhat surprised by the pop of the rifle.

In an age and an environment where so many adults try to reach out to adolescent kids in an attempt to get us to identify with them, Fr. Hagan just did what he always did in his own way, and we came to identify with him and respect him for that. I never once heard him raise his voice, he commanded quiet when he was around.

And Rollo, to add to your story, I'm also pretty sure he memorized the birthdays as well as the names of all the freshmen. I remember several times walking through the halls, caught up in whatever nonsense was going on, and Fr. Hagan's tall, thin frame would emerge from the crowd and wish someone in our group "Happy Birthday." We didn't even know our own friends' birthdays! Fr. Hagan did.

A great man and a humble jesuit. His death is a loss to our community, but he has left behind a legacy of memories and gentle impact.

Marty said...

Well, one thing's for sure, 89 was his Harry Caray age, because he had to be pushing 85 ten or twelve years ago. I guess it doesn't really matter since the man was about as timeless as it gets. He was also my advisor for my entire time at SLUH, and the one thing I always remember taking away from our quarterly meetings was his clear sense of reality and modesty. Now I know as a Jesuit, that is supposed to come with the territory, however my personal Jesuit interactions were mostly with him. The man had been there 30-40 years at the time that I met him and probably could have chosen any room, or wing for that matter, in the building for his office. Yet, we would meet in his office, which was the old bathroom in the back of the Jesuit chapel on the third floor, complete with some of the old fixtures and totalling about 10 square feet and just enough room for the door to open without hitting the opposite wall. I still remember the smell of that room and the blessing that Roller described, although mine always ended mine with him bopping me on my head, and me being a little startled at the amount of force the old man could generate. Nevertheless, a loss of one of the more exemplary people I've come across in my life, and certainly one to emulate.

Coovo said...

Not much I can say that you guys have not. Though my Father Hagan experiences were far fewer than yours, I will never be forget him.

I was at the mass Gene spoke of and something tells I might have survived that night because of Father Hagan putting in a good word for me.

I too was shocked to learn he was under 90.

Good words for great man job.

Roller said...

Nice thoughts, guys. I knew we'd all have some good stories.