Father John A. Hardon, S.J.
This Man of Our Times
by Kevin Haney
Father John A. Hardon S.J . died at the very end of the 20th Century, December
30, 2000. He was born in
1914, the same year that World War I began. He was ordained in 1947, just after
the end of World War II. During his career as a Jesuit, he wrote over 40 books,
led hundreds of retreats, founded several organizations and gave a huge number
of lectures around the world. By any pleasure, his priesthood was a great success.
Father Hardon was not merely successful, he was a man of immense impact, far
beyond what can be gleaned from a mere recounting of has long list of accomplishments.
He was a theologian, but there were many. He was an author, but there have
been thousands. He was a retreat master. He was a Jesuit, but so were many others.
He was unique. On his death, his friend of many of many years and fellow distinguished
Jesuit called him, "a beacon of light in a stormy sea." A Catholic
journalist of note hailed him as "a one man army of God." Father Hardon
stood above the many. To understand the impact of Fr. Hardon is to understand
the most painful era ever to befall Catholicism in the United States
When Father Hardon was ordained in 1947, the idea that a Catholic theologian
taught in conformity with the Holy Father was, to Catholics in America, a certitude.
Indeed, it was one of many things Catholics were very certain of. Certainty
was the hallmark of the Church in the Golden Days of the 1940s and 1950s. From
this certainty came a great sense of security, trust, pride and great efficiency.
Indeed, in 1961 the Illinois Institute of Technology said that the Catholic
Church in the United States was one of the top corporations in the country.
Catholics were no doubt certain that the observation was correct, and would
be correct for endless years to come. Instead, what lay not far ahead was devastation.
The age of uncertainty was at hand.
By the late 1960s, nothing seemed certain. The form of the Mass was changed.
Latin was gone. Doctrine appeared to be changing. A married priesthood was said
to be on the way. The moral law was subject to change. Nothing seemed certain
anymore. The "old church" was gone, and the "new church"
had taken its place. Trust was turned to distrust, and faith of the people in
the good priests and sisters was lost, perhaps forever. Even Pope Paul VI seemed
overwhelmed and bereft of his former optimism.
In the golden days of the 1940s and 1950s, Fr. Hardon was one of very many
faithful priests and theologians who stood in conformity with the Holy See.
By the 1970s, he seemed to stand nearly alone. He continued on as
he had always, indeed, as he had always intended to. He seemed to continue
alone, isolated even within his own beloved Jesuit Community. But as he continued
along, others soon followed after him. When the beleaguered faithful happened
upon Father Hardon, they were renewed. In this man you could be certain once
As young Jesuit Hardon longed to follow in the steps of the great Jesuit missionary
martyrs. Great heroes like Edmund Campion, Issac Jogues and Francis Xavier were
the models of his youth. As America became mission territory once again, Fr.
Hardon became a missionary. As the years and sacrifices mounted, he learned
that martyrdom could come in many forms. Through all of these years and struggles
he never grew bitter or angry or discouraged. He walked calmly over the tempest
as if it were not there. It was like the apostle Peter walking upon the stormy
waves while he kept his eyes upon Christ. Fr. Hardon never blinked. Others followed
his path over this tempest. For Father Hardon there was no "old church"
and no "new church", there was but the true church.
At first perhaps Father Hardon's bridge of faith over the tempest seemed perhaps
a safe retreat back to the golden days of 1950's. But by the time he had finished
his journey of faith, his bridge stretched from the glory days of his ordination
across the tempest and ended at the dawn of Pope John Paul's new era of evangelization.
In the closing hours of the 20th century, the Divine Father General came for
this great Jesuit, this "beacon of light in a stormy sea," this "one
man army of God," this man for our times. May he rest in peace.
Copyright © 2003 St John Cantius Parish