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Old Style Jesuit - Profile of Fr. Hardon

What's it like to launch a new magazine (with Vatican help) at the age of 81?

Only one man could do it...

It was in the eighth grade at St. Michael's School in Cleveland, recalls Fr. John Hardon, that he first learned that St. Peter Canisius had published a catechism. Then and there, the future Jesuit vowed to himself, "One day I'm going to publish a catechism."

He got it wrong – he's published half a dozen. Among them: The Catholic Catechism (1975), The Question and Answer Catechism (1981), and The Catholic Catechist's Course (1989), the latter two specially prepared for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. In fact, in the years since Fr. Hardon was asked to oversee the catechetical formation and evangelizing work of Mother Teresa's nuns, he has spent months each year giving courses in their houses around the world.

Which accounts for only a portion of the 150 days per year this indefatigable priest spends "on the road." Some recent destinations? Fr. Hardon rattles them off as if they were stops on a subway local: India, Paraguay, Belgium, Russia, Poland, Mexico - and of course Rome, which he has been visiting several times a year as part of his work with the Vatican commission that oversees the preparation and promotion of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Not to mention his constant travel within the United States – giving speeches, teaching courses and celebrating Mass from coast to coast.

Lest anyone think he does it lightly, cautions John O'Connell, editor of Fr. Hardon's new magazine, The Catholic Faith, be it known that Fr. Hardon organizes his travels with holy indifference – e.g., "he picks going to Russia in winter."

The subject of Father's constant travels elicits another memory: As a young Jesuit, the always-frail priest had six times volunteered to be a missionary to India, but each time his superiors refused – because, he laughs, "they were concerned about my health."

Summons to Rome

Fr. Hardon remembers something else about being a young Jesuit: the "fourth vow" he took of loyalty to the pope – something far too many have forgotten, or ignore. His own unyielding fidelity to that vow, in a Church riven by dissent, has earned him the high esteem of the Holy See, which again and again has called him to help lead the battle to preserve Catholic truth.

He was first summoned to Rome, Fr. Hardon recalls, a quarter-century ago. His mission: "to help save what could be saved of women's religious orders," which were already being secularized in the name of "renewal."

As part of that effort, in 1969 he helped to found the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, named for the Vatican II document on religious life. In 1973 he helped organize the Institute for Religious Life, which today is a thriving organization that boasts among its membership thousands of the most orthodox clergy and religious in America, including such stalwart bishops as Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska and James Timlin of Scranton, Pa., the Institute's current president.

One of the Institute's recent offshoots – for which Fr. Hardon can also take partial credit – is the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), a conservative alternative to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which for decades was the only official body representing American nuns. The Vatican recently accorded the CMSWR official recognition, with status equal to that of its counterpart.

Partnership With Mother Teresa

It was partly Fr. Hardon’s years of work with religious orders, partly his reputation as a master catechist, that occasioned his being called to Rome again in 1982.

Earlier the Holy Father had asked Mother Teresa to supplement her order's primary mission of serving the materially "poorest of the poor" with the further task of serving the spiritually poorest. The new initiative would require an intensive course of study for the nuns that would not only give them a comprehensive knowledge of Church teaching, but equip them to impart that knowledge to Catholics and non-Catholics worldwide. And who better to design such a course than Fr. John Hardon?

Over the next few years, in close cooperation with Mother Teresa herself, Fr. Hardon developed a four-year course of catechesis that became part of the formation of every Missionary of Charity. But both of them quickly realized that its value went far beyond the work of Mother Teresa's order, and so in 1987 he founded Inter Mirifica, an organization dedicated to disseminating the new course and Fr. Hardon's other catechetical works more broadly.

Helping on the New Catechism

With such a background, it was perhaps inevitable that when the new Catechism of the Catholic Church was first conceived, the overseer of the massive project, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, would get Fr. Hardon involved.

Besides adding heavily to his already packed schedule, his assistance to the Catechism Commission would put him at the center of the heated controversies that surrounded the Catechism at every step.

From the start, for instance, "I insisted on the Latin" – because of the danger of ambiguity if a vernacular was used. And, with his longtime friend, fellow-Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, he worked hard and successfully to defeat the use of "inclusive language" in the Catechism's English translation.

Home Schooling Leader

But those aren't the only "cutting edge" issues in which the indomitable Fr. Hardon has been involved. Another is the Catholic home-schooling movement, of which he has been a pillar since before it got its name.

His interest in home-schooling stems, of course, from his lifelong interest in catechesis, coupled with his concern over the decline of institutional Catholic education. In response to that growing crisis, in 1982 Fr. Hardon helped to found the Catholic Home Study Institute. Later he helped organize the National Association of Catholic Home Educators, for which he became the spiritual adviser and a featured speaker at many of its conferences around the U.S.

To address the crisis in catechetics generally, he also helped organize the founding of the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute, perhaps the leading institute anywhere in the world for the promotion of sound catechesis, and which provides sound instruction in traditional Catholic doctrine and catechetics to hundreds of laymen and clergy each year. Among its graduates: John O'Connell, editor of Fr. Hardon's new magazine, The Catholic Faith. In fact, the two men met while Mr. O'Connell was getting his Master's there.

Fr. Hardon is active in the prolife movement as well - cooperating with William Smith in cofounding Eternal Life, an organization that takes a specifically Catholic and spiritual approach to ending the scourges of abortion, contraception and euthanasia.

Teaching, Writing, Organizing

Still, there's more – in fact, much more – to Fr. Hardon's endless work of "teaching, writing and organizing" in defense of the Catholic faith.

As just one more example, he quietly assists in the work of the Ecclesia Dei Commission – its former president, Cardinal Augustin Mayer, is one of his "closest friends" in the Vatican helping to reconcile priests of the Society of St. Pius X and other "traditionalists" by steering them toward the papally-chartered Fraternity of St. Peter. That he shares their love of the traditional Latin Mass is no small part of his persuasiveness.

Through all this he writes and writes, and writes. By now, his books number in the dozens, and his articles in the hundreds. His latest book, The Faith, a question-and-answer compendium of the new Catechism, appeared only this spring – just about the time the manuscript for his next book was being delivered to the publisher. And then there's his new magazine, scheduled to debut in August.

What keeps him going? John O'Connell offers simply: "His motivation is great." And others who know him well also testify to his deep life of prayer, his great personal sanctity and his amazing capacity for renunciation and self-discipline. One former student tells of how, in a classroom discussion of the Seven Capital Sins, Fr. Hardon was asked which of them most bedeviled him.

His dead-serious reply: "Sloth."

A Magazine Conceived in Rome

How many magazines can claim to have been started at the behest of a top-ranking Vatican prelate? So far, only Fr. John Hardon's The Catholic Faith comes to mind.

As Fr. Hardon tells it, Cardinal Jose Sanchez, Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy – which has been assigned the task of disseminating the new Catechism of the Catholic Church – personally asked him to start a new English language publication that would help assist in that task. "We need a magazine to back up the Catechism," he said.

Never one to turn down a request from Rome, Fr. Hardon enlisted his long-time friend and fellow Jesuit Joseph Fessio as Publisher and, as Editor, John O'Connell, a graduate of Columbia University and the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute (where he first met Fr. Hardon).

Then he set about soliciting articles from the likes of MotherTeresa, whose first contribution will appear in the inaugural issue (see following page).

Others whose contributions he expects to feature in upcoming issues include Bishop James Timlin, Scripture scholar and apologetics expert Fr. William Most, CUF president James Likoudis, Dr. William May, and Cardinal Sachez himself.

Fr. Hardon a "featured writer"

Editor O'Connell pulls out a list prepared for him by Fr. Hardon that will serve as the basis of the magazine's first issues. Some themes and topics (on which Fr. Hardon himself will contribute regular full-length articles):

The Right to the Whole Truth: as taught by Christ through the Church's magisterium united with the Bishop of Rome. Some arguments and approaches to help today's Catholics know their Faith at least as well as yesterday's.

The Art of Prayer: It's in danger of becoming a "lost" art – especially as traditional Catholic approaches give way to New Age ones and pagan influences. Some neglected truths from our own rich heritage of spirituality including hymns, devotions and practices that deserve revival.

Development of Doctrine: The Church grows in her understanding of the truths of revelation. But always presumed is the unchangeable deposit of faith.

Recognizing the One True Church: With so much confusion in some circles, it's more important than ever to recognize the Church founded by Christ. A guide for the perplexed.

Faith and the Intellect: It's unfashionable to speak of them together in our age, but each is unthinkable without the other. How reason informs and supports belief, and faith illuminates reason.

Teaching the Faith Today: more difficult than ever. New approaches that show promise, others that don't work – and traditional ones that will never date.

The Old and the New Law: Christ never abolished the old Law, nor did he establish a lawless Christianity. With so many vagrant ideas in vogue today, it is imperative to know what are the irreversible moral teachings of the Church.

The Sacraments: How to understand and teach them properly. How to meet the challenges of a secularized world to the sacramental treasures of the Eucharist, Confession, the priesthood and Christian matrimony.

Along with articles on topics like these, O'Connell says, The Catholic Faith will offer in every issue a lively news section – including first-hand reports on catechetical activities around the globe – as well as book reviews, pungent editorials by Fr. Hardon and O'Connell, and advice on spiritual, moral and catechetical questions.

And the new magazine won't just read well, says O'Connell, it will look good too – with full color covers, and beautiful interior graphics that will include the best classical and contemporary Catholic art.

One regular feature O'Connell expects to be especially popular will be "Ask Father Hardon" where readers can ask the Jesuit catechist tough questions about the Faith.

Mother Teresa to Fr. Hardon on The Catholic Faith magazine:

Mother House    13 May 1995

Dear Father Hardon,

Thank you for your two recent letters. I am always glad to hear from you about all that Jesus is doing in and through you. I am so very grateful for all the help you have given and continue to give to our Sisters all over the world to help them to know, love and serve Jesus more faithfully and fully. I know that the Missionaries of Charity keep you very busy:

I am very happy to be able to contribute to the new work of the bi-monthly magazine on the faith and how to teach it; you will find my article enclosed. I wish and pray for the success of this work and look forward to receiving a copy of the magazine. Let us be only all for Jesus through Mary. Let us pray.

Mother Teresa, M.C.

Copyright © 2003 Inter Mirifica

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