Somehow, I missed this news when it broke earlier this week.
Another redwood in the forest has fallen. Dawn Eden Goldstein took note of it in Where Peter Is:
Somewhere in what we have come to call the cloud, a joyful ninety-two-year-old priest is blogging from the dead.
Father John Jay Hughes, who died June 3 after a brief illness, lived a remarkable life. Descended from John Jay (the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court) on his mother’s side and from two generations of Episcopalian priests on his father’s side, the native New Yorker was ordained an Anglican priest in 1954. Six years later, he entered the Catholic Church and began to undertake doctoral research that would ultimately change the way the Catholic Church understood the theology of ordination as it applied to Anglican priests. Among his professors was the young Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.
Through his research, Hughes was able to provide evidence that his Anglican ordination could be accepted as valid in the Catholic Church. Although his findings weren’t enough to give Church authorities absolute certainty of the validity of his Anglican orders, in 1968 he became the first Anglican priest in history to be conditionally ordained a Catholic priest—receiving ordination only “on the condition” his Anglican orders weren’t valid.
Eventually Hughes became a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where he spent many years pastoring parishes as well as writing books and articles. In 2013, at the age of eighty-one, he started a blog, Proclaiming the Good News, where he would post daily homilies. He continued to do so even when age and infirmity prevented him from preaching publicly on a regular basis.
Read more, including part of his homily from the day he died.
I first encountered Father Hughes a few months after I was ordained a deacon in 2007, when Rocco Palmo wrote of him:
Few aspects of church life join the rubber to the road more than preaching. And as an advance Christmas gift, one of the pulpit’s great artisans has begun beaming his work to a wider stage.
Week after week, not a few have gotten a good deal of nourishment and encouragement from the Sunday homilies of St Louis’ Fr John Jay Hughes, the eminent theologian, church historian and, being oft-published across the gamut from America to Crisis (on top of 12 books), a truly Catholic communicator in both senses of the word.
I started reading his stuff, and even exchanged emails with him a few times. Father Hughes’ homilies never failed to impress. (You can find a lot of them right here.) Three years ago, he brought his characteristic joy and clear-eyed wisdom to an essay in America magazine, reflecting on 63 years as a priest. He concluded:
The greatest joy is the privilege, beyond any man’s deserving, of standing at the altar day by day to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “Do this in my memory.” Celebrating Mass was wonderful the first time I did it 63 years ago. It is, if possible, even more wonderful today. My prayer today, which I have repeated every day since my 75th birthday, 14 years ago, is twofold: that the years which remain to me may belong ever more completely to the Lord God and for a happy and a holy death.
I close with a prayer composed by the great 19th-century English convert, Blessed John Henry Newman, at the end of his long life as a cardinal, which has been dear to me since childhood:
Support us, O Lord, all the day long; until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…