An Alley in Chicago

“Selling God, He Got Us”

On his birthday, October 9, 1947, Jack Egan had been on his St. Justin Martyr honeymoon for three and one-half years. With one phone call, his ministry was going to widen from one parish to the whole archdiocese. Dan Ryan, Cardinal Stritch’s secretary, rang up. The cardinal archbishop of Chicago wished to see Father Egan at eleven that morning.

“What’s it about, Dan?” Jack asked. Ryan didn’t know. At least, he said he didn’t.

Three priests sat with Father Egan in the cardinal’s waiting room at the appointed hour, all summoned that morning and equally in the dark about the reason they were there. Father Bill Quinn, ordained several years before Jack, was working with Catholic Action groups. Fathers James Voss and Charles (Jules) Marhoefer were distinguished doctors of theology and professors at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, the impressive French Gothic complex built by Cardinal Mundelein at Rush and Chestnut.

Fathers Egan and Quinn were ushered first into the presence of Cardinal Stritch, only the second cardinal to head the Chicago archdiocese when he’d received the red hat in ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome the year before.

Stritch was a sweet man, liberal, astute, but seemingly vague. Chauffered to a formal engagement at which he’d agreed to preside, he would stage-whisper to the Sister hurrying him into the auditorium, “Mother, Mother, where am I? Is this Rosary College?” if he was at Mundelein College, and probably “Mundelein, Sister?” if he was at the west suburban Rosary. This morning he did not look up at the two young priests ushered in by his secretary Dan Ryan. “I’m not sure he knew which one was Quinn and which one was Egan,” Jack says.

Murmuring into the papers before him, Cardinal Stritch allowed that Catholic Action was developing to such an extent in the archdiocese that it was thought by him and his associates (in response to petitions from Catholic Action activists and the Cana lay panel) that the movements should have permanent directors. He was appointing Father Quinn to take charge of the Catholic Action movements. Then he said, “Father Egan, I’m appointing you the director of the Cana and Pre-Cana programs.” Only after he’d made the appointments did the cardinal look up at the two eager young priests standing before his desk. “I am not too fully informed as to the extent of this work,” he admitted, “and I’m sure you will keep me informed from time to time both by visiting me and in writing. You can begin immediately. See Monsignor Burke, the chancellor, to be removed from your present assignments and then I am sure you will be able to work out appropriate places to live.” He was orderly, but casual, according to Egan’s recollection, about these important assignments.

Jack Egan was familiar with Cana and Pre-Cana as innovative marriage education programs, Cana for the married and Pre-Cana for those about to be married in the archdiocese. Father Egan’s reflective successor, Father Walter Imbiorski, would later define Cana’s function as “restoring the poetry which is the Divine idea of man and woman and marriage.” The programs were tentative in 1947. Jack was appointed to organize them across the archdiocese.

Unaware of the damaging rebukes awaiting their fellow priests, Quinn and Egan waved goodbye to Fathers Marhoefer and Voss as they passed through the waiting room and went off to Yonker’s Restaurant on Chicago Avenue for the first of four decades of lunches on the anniversary of their momentous appointments. Their lives had just taken a sharp turn. October 9 would also change the course of the lives of Marhoefer and Voss in a very different, and for them, devastating, way.

Marhoefer and Voss had good reason to believe that they were the natural heirs to the appointments that had just gone to the younger men. They’d done the groundwork. They’d spent their free time and their tireless energies to get the marriage movement and the Catholic Action initiatives going. Instead of being congratulated by the cardinal and thanked for their efforts over and above their teaching duties, they were firmly reprimanded for giving up their free time to guide the original Cana and Catholic Action groups. The cardinal chided them for neglecting their duties to the seminarians. Dedicated and competent teachers, they had never been negligent. They were actually being punished for their zeal. Their superior, a man who seldom left the cathedral rectory after he finished his daily duties at Quigley, could not tolerate their barreling off on their apostolic activities while he burrowed into card games on the sixth floor. He’d reported their apostolic activity to the cardinal as insubordination. “That was a great injustice,” Father Egan says. “Voss deserved the job of director of the Cana Conference more than I.” Both men, Voss and Marhoefer, suffered acutely from that setback. Patty Crowley, with her husband founder of the Christian Family Movement, concurs: “Father Voss had worked with the men. He was one of the chaplains for the men’s groups, and he thought sure he’d get it. I think he never got over Egan getting it. That was a sore point.”

Nonetheless, however hard the decision was on Father Voss, the ebullient Egan, with what Patty Crowley calls “his marvelous organizing ability,” was a brilliant choice for the first full-time director of the Cana Conference. Monsignor Edward Burke was impressed with the marriage education work Father Egan had done at St. Justin Martyr, and he “didn’t think Father Voss smiled enough,” as the story was told. Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand was in favor of Jack Egan’s appointment because he dismissed marriage education as a lightweight burden. He expected Jack to give the bulk of his time to Catholic Action, Monsignor Hillenbrand’s full-time passion now that he was a pastor at Sacred Heart in Hubbard Woods and no longer the rector at Mundelein. These men carried great weight in the archdiocese.

What was needed at the helm of the first lay-directed, archdiocesan-wide marriage program was a prodigious workaholic with the sure conviction that the people in parishes could make their own change without Father Pastor standing over the till. He had to be a zealous recruiter. He had to have sufficient grit to bear the grind of visiting two hundred and fifty rectories—the Chicago archdiocese included the Joliet diocese in l946—and persuading the pastors, the crusty old pastors, the laid-back pastors, the gentle souls, the my-hands-on-and-your-hands-off pastors, the effectual and the ineffectual, the confident and the truculent, the kindly and the soulful, that it would be good for their young people—and for them—to have standardized, informed, discerning, quality marriage education. Some pastors were hard cases. Many of them wouldn’t let Pat and Patty Crowley in the door when they came for names of couples-about-to-be-married for the first Pre-Cana Conference they organized.

Jack Egan had a vision for the casually structured organization he’d just been appointed to head. Its genius, as defined later by Father Walter Imbiorski in The New Cana Manual was creating a new apologetic of marriage, “translating the spirit, the joy, the truth of Christ’s teaching into terms sometimes homely, sometimes dramatic, terms which are applicable to the real problems of real people.” As Father Imbiorski put the case, a Cana day for married couples starts at one p.m. with “trying to understand crying babies, unpaid light bills, irate bosses, leaky faucets, fatigue, boredom, and concupiscence.” During the three conferences interrupted only briefly for beef sandwiches at three, the priest conducting the Cana Conference would relate those realities of life to the “wisdom of the Church and the grace of Christ” with “rich, meaningful, persuasive solutions.” The day ended at six p.m. after recitation of the rosary and the celebration of Benediction.

A Pre-Cana Conference set up for couples planning to be married began with a similar Sunday afternoon regimen of talks and lunch, climaxed by Benediction. During the week following that initiation, the couple would return three weekday nights: Monday to hear an experienced couple talk about their marriage, Wednesday to hear a doctor describe the physical aspects of marriage (always in the “light of faith”), and Friday to hear the priest conductor draw together all the aspects of marriage they were trying to assimilate in such short order.

A third important feature of marriage education in the archdiocese were the Lenten Marriage Forums, six lecture/discussion sessions in twelve to fifteen parish halls on the six Sundays of Lent. Four of those sessions were conducted by a priest, one by a married couple, and one by a doctor. By 1957, there would be 4500 young people attending these sessions titled, Let’s Talk about Love.

Father Egan had taken on a demanding assignment. His pastor urged him to operate out of the St. Justin Martyr rectory. That would have been pleasant. Jack had roots there now, a large following of parishioners whose devotion to him would not fade with the years. Jack resisted the pull, knowing that the energies he had put into his work at St. Justin had to be totally redeployed into his current appointment, even at the risk of loneliness and temporary dislocation. It meant a great deal to him personally, as well as institutionally, that this archdiocesan venture should work. It was a chance to show what lay people could do, as well as what he could do with the help of lay people.

The roots of this program to enrich and deepen individual marriages, like much of the ferment in the pre-Vatican II Church, grew in France, with family retreats. Observing their impact during a 1937 visit, a New York Jesuit, Father J. P. Delaney, transported the idea from Paris to his home base. In 1945 he gave over forty retreats—Family Renewal Days—to five distinct groups of married couples. When Edward and Marie Kerwin of River Forest, Illinois, read about Delaney’s renewal days in America magazine in 1944, they asked him to conduct three Family Renewal Days in the Chicago area late that summer. They invited couple/friends from Marie Kerwin’s days at Sacred Heart Academy, including Pat and Patty Crowley.

Patty, who’d been married three or four years, says, “I remember being so thrilled with the renewal day. We hadn’t had any marriage instruction. In fact,” she notes wryly, “Jesuit Father Edward Dowling had given us our only marriage instruction at a bar at the Bismarck Hotel.”

Concurrently, the men’s Catholic Action group of which Patrick Crowley was a member, realized that their mix of salesmen, lawyers, and managerial types had only their married state in common. Pledged as they were to “change the world,” to bring it more in line with Christianity, they decided to concentrate on observing the current state of wedded bliss, and acting to foster its spiritual aspects. They began to sponsor some of these Family Renewal Days, soon re-christened Cana Conferences.

Whether or not the catchy cognomen conceived by the same Father Dowling who’d instructed the Crowleys on barstools made the rose smell any sweeter, Cana Days spread like butter on hot toast. According to Monsignor Harry Koenig’s history of the archdiocese, “the group used the mechanism of the infant Catholic Action Movement to give impetus to the idea (of Cana).” By the time Father Delaney returned six months later, the North and South Side groups had enlisted the talents of Fathers Voss, Marhoefer and Martin Carrabine, S.J., “who worked assiduously over the next two years to promote the work of days of renewal for couples.” The West Side group developed an organization plan which became the pattern for Cana in Chicago. By the time Father Egan was appointed director of the first official Cana Conference in the country, there were twenty diocesan and religious clergy conducting Cana Days. A lay panel (the Robert Podestas, Joseph Joyces, Frank Gleasons, Fred Becklenbergs) had applied to the chancellor for a permanent director.

In 1947 there was still a subtle—some would say not too subtle—Jansenistic tone to the Catholic attitude toward marriage. As the perceptive Canadian psychiatrist/author Karl Stern described the Catholic outlook at a Christian Family Movement convention, “Now a great number of Catholics have toward sexuality a strange, puritanical attitude; a Manichean attitude of fear as though the flesh in itself was something evil or dirty.” Stern was aware that the Church had always condemned this notion.“But it is very prevalent. The strange thing is that the child in contact with a mother who has this kind of inner attitude towards sexual morality, even long before a conscious awareness of sex, is imbued with (the same attitude).

“This means,” he told CFMers at Notre Dame, “that a child approaches puberty with a strange sense of fear and anxiety.” Stern believed this fear was unhealthy. “This is something very important to understand not only in family life but in the life of society. We see such a great number of Christians, Catholics as well as Protestants, whose entire morality is basically a negative one, one of the `don’t.’” He saw, he said, an astonishing host of Catholics who “actually never experience the primacy of the positive command, the command of love.”

For Jack Egan and Cana pioneers who believed in the primacy of love, the revered Dominican priest Gerald Vann came closer to their ideal in his notion that the Church blesses physical passion in the marriage ceremony. Physical love is a good thing, Vann assured his readers. “The Church does not say: `This is a rather shady affair but given certain conditions and circumstances it may be allowed’; the Church says, `This is a good and lovely thing in itself, but the divine life which is given it in the Sacrament turns a merely humanly lovely thing into a divinely lovely thing.’”

What Vann conveyed to people was that their love for each other, “two body-spirits, is a thing that has to be made by them; and it takes a very long time, and great efforts, efforts to understand, efforts to curb greed and selfishness, efforts to achieve unity of mind and heart.” Cana was needed in those post-war years because marriage itself was “taking a beating,” according to Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand. He quoted Pius XII who described the evils harrying the family: “levity in entering into marriage, divorce, the break-up of the family, the cooling of mutual affection between parents and children, birth control, the enfeeblement of the race.”

In post-war 1947 the Church was in the marriage business. The young couples Father Egan was marrying at St. Justin Martyr week after week were representative of thousands in the archdiocese who’d waited in foxholes and the home front with the same eagerness Jack waited for his ordination. They’d seen marriage as the dream at the end of the nightmare war. Their expectations were unrealistically high; their resources, few. They were moving the country into a passion of togetherness. Those who had been apart wanted to be close, to get more out of the marriage relationship themselves than their parents had got out of theirs, to put more in. They needed a new theology of the laity’s ministry based on Pope Pius XII’s teaching that lay people shared priesthood with priests. What did the notion of the Mystical Body mean for married people? Some work was being done on this question in France, but little in the United States.

It wasn’t as if the Cana Conference, under Jack Egan, could pick up a dossier of material and hand it over intact to the couples coming for enrichment of their marriages, understanding of their sacrament, rules for getting on. The dossier was being created as the participants went along, just as the rules for lay direction were. It was a heavy duty.

From Monsignor Hillenbrand Jack had learned that his role as priest was to be servant, servant of the servants of God. “The lay people were central. They were truly the Church, so that the hierarchical model of the Church—the Pope, the bishops, the pastors, the lay people—was not only outmoded. That mode was irrelevant to the work of the Church in the world.” As the foot-washers of the world, priests served, in Jack Egan’s words, “by opening the book and telling the story, and offering the Eucharist with the people.”

How was Jack Egan going to get lay people to take the responsibility that he had been taught was theirs? For most of their American church experience, the people had been expected to stay in the pews, paying, praying and obeying. Now the lay people were to be leaders? Think for themselves? Any change in the lay people would affect the role of the clergy. Jack had to educate the pastors person-to-person, Father Egan to Father Pastor on a one-by-one basis. “I knew I had a selling job to do, selling myself. The pastors didn’t know me. They were all a generation older than I. I was only out of the seminary three and one half years when I got this assignment.” As Monsignor Gerald Kealy assessed the Cana Conference for his associates at the time: “It mustn’t be very important if they put a young priest like that into it.”

It took dogged drudgery to surmount that prejudgment. Some of his early difficulties when Cardinal Stritch assigned Jack Egan to marriage education were territorial. Innovators who had initiated couple retreat days in their area wanted to hold onto them.

Pastors, when they allowed Cana Conferences, liked to keep control. As part of his routine, Jack made Sunday rounds, observing how Cana Conferences and Pre-Cana Conferences were going, whether the priest-conductors were following the guidelines and giving the participants the same input on the uniqueness of their vocations and the importance of spending time getting their marriages in line with the Church’s vision of Christian marriage and family life.

One Sunday, early in his Cana career, Father Egan dropped in at Mallinckrodt High School in Wilmette where Father Edward Dowling was giving a Cana Conference for St. Mary’s Church couples he’d been connected to since his teaching days at Loyola Academy. This group loved Dowling, “a man of great generosity who would take the train from St. Louis to Chicago, sit with a couple in difficulty, and get on the midnight train back to St. Louis for work the next morning,” according to Jack Egan.

When Jack arrived, he suggested confidently to the moderator, “When Father comes to a break, I would like to say a few words.” The chairperson was apologetic: “Monsignor Hillenbrand (Frederick, Reynold’s brother) told us that only Father Dowling is to speak to the group.” Although he was able to say coolly, “That’s perfectly all right,” Father Egan was taken aback. He pondered his next move. Should he simply leave? He’d covered a good part of the city already that day. Besides, he had always been afraid of Monsignor Reynold Hillenrand’s brother, a formidable pastor. He opted to telephone the pastor of St. Mary’s. In his friendliest, most open, hard-to-refuse, humble-curate-to-revered-pastor manner, he cooed, “This is Jack Egan. I’m over here at Mallinckrodt High School. I would like permission to speak to the group.”

Monsignor Hillenbrand’s brother was impervious to blandishment, or simple courtesy. “What are you doing there?” he demanded peremptorily. “I will thank you very much if you will kindly leave now.” Then he hung up.

Was Jack checkmated or could he find another move? “If you are going to run away from this, you are going to run away from a lot of things,” he lectured himself, and drove directly to the rectory at St. Mary’s where he rang the bell. All these years later he can visualize his telling the housekeeper that he wished to see the pastor, his climbing the stairs to the pastor’s quarters. “He’s reading Time. And quite surprised to see me!” Jack sat down and asked Monsignor Hillenbrand’s brother what was wrong with his saying a few words to the group. “These are my parishioners,” the pastor of St. Mary’s growled proprietarily. “They got Father Dowling and I don’t see why any outsider. . . .”

Jack Egan knew he had to make it clear to the crusty pastor of St. Mary’s that he, Jack Egan, was no outsider in the marriage education movement. “Monsignor,” he said, softly but forcefully, “you have to realize that I have been given the obligation and also the authority by the cardinal to develop this work. What I am trying to do is to get to know the work, get to know what is going on, so that we may be able to improve it as the years go on.” He also pointed out that he was trying to get to know all the pastors in the archdiocese. “I probably should have asked you for permission, but I just took it for granted because every Sunday I visit every Cana and Pre-Cana Conference in the diocese.”

The autocratic priest was impressed. His expression softened and he allowed that he had been “a little impetuous.” The rest of the interview was pleasant.

The effect of Jack’s initiative was permanent. Some years later when Jack telephoned Monsignor Hillenbrand’s brother about a Pre-Cana Conference at St. Mary’s, the Monsignor was more than conciliatory. “Jack,” he said, “I want to tell you something. Anything that you want in our parish, you can have. You are the only priest I know who goes around to the pastors to sell the work they are doing. So whatever you want, you tell me and it will be done.”

Crusty pastors were not the young priest’s only challenge. As he made his Sunday rounds he found priests not following the Cana format. “It was incumbent on me to fire (them).” He almost missed an entire Cana Conference when he arrived at 1:45 p.m. for a session that began at 1 p.m. “It was supposed to go on to six p.m. and end with Benediction in the church. I saw the priest about to leave.”

Jack went up to him. “Ed, what’s going on?”

The Cana conductor had a ready explanation. “Well, I told them everything I know.” Jack had a ready solution. He fired him. “Lookit, Eddie, will you knock it off!” Difficult as it was for him, Jack was willing to dismiss a peer for the sake of the work. “He was a bright man, much brighter than I, but he never gave another Cana Conference.”

Some of the conductors who predated Jack’s ascendency were satisfied to continue with their old content, like teachers in comfortable ruts re-using notes. When Jack pointed out the agreed-upon agenda, he warned conductors to conform or quit. It wasn’t Jack’s style to simply drop a conductor off the schedule. “I’d rather face them head on. I thought it was cruel to treat people with silence, not to invite them back, if you didn’t like what they were doing.” He would tell people, “I may be wrong, but it just happens that I am in charge of the Cana Conference. If the cardinal wants to do something else, it’s all right.” He wouldn’t argue the theology. He’d simply state his view. “In terms of giving Cana Conferences under our jurisdiction, it would be better if you didn’t.”

Although he tried always to be fair and give the conductor a hearing, Jack cherished his mandate from the cardinal and his responsibility. Anyone could do marriage education, but a Cana Conference was organized up to the standards of the director, the priest conductors in joint agreement, and the lay board. There would be no free agents while Jack Egan reserved the right of veto power over any of the conductors.

Possibly it was in standing up to the Church’s powerful pastors like Monsignor Hillenbrand’s brother and Monsignor Molloy that Father Egan primed his chutzpa to stand up against Chicago’s powerful in Hyde Park/Kenwood later on. Monsignor Patrick Molloy, the priest exiled because of his misadventure as go-between the mobs, was as formidable a presence in his dominion at St. Leo’s, as Mayor Richard Daley, a pal of Molloy’s, was in his. As pastor of St. Leo the Great at Seventy-eighth and Emerald Avenue, he ruled in style—his style.

Monsignor Molloy was not a tall man, but he was strong, well-built. He’d been a boxer in his early days and may very well have been the founder of the Catholic Youth Organization, Father Egan suggests. He’d put on amateur boxing nights at St. Brendan’s Church when he was an assistant there. “That was probably against the rules,” Father Egan adds, “but Pat Molloy never bothered about any rules—either of God or man or Church. He was a law unto himself.”

Jack recalls a movie-quality car chase one night when Monsignor Molloy commandeered first Jack for a companion, and then a police escort, to buttress his precipitate race from Seventy-eighth and Emerald down Shields Avenue to Comiskey Park. “We started down Emerald Avenue in Molloy’s car and when we approached Sixty-seventh Street where it takes a short dog-leg and continues north, Father Molloy flagged down a policeman passing on a tricycle. The cop recognized Molloy as the priest who got him on the force. Molloy didn’t ask him for an escort to the ball game, he ordered one.

“Down Emerald we went with siren screaming and horns honking. The streets were jammed. The police lights were switched on. We were behind the motorcycle, and people were moving over. They put their cars up on lawns, on sidewalks, and turned down alleys to get out of our way.”

Jack was “scared to death,” but Molloy was in his element. “He never shut up. He was talking all the time.” Exiting in front of the ball park at Thirty-fifth and Shields, he arrogantly threw his keys to the policeman coming over to tell him to get his car out of the street, and called, “Sergeant, have the car facing south at the end of the ninth inning, and we’ll be on our way.”

Once he recognized the lord of St. Leo’s, the sergeant shifted from lion to lamb. “Yes, Father Pat,” he said, and turned away as Molloy whistled for a guy in the alley to produce tickets for the jammed White Sox/Red Sox game. The pennant race was close that year. “He didn’t even tip him,” Father Egan recalls. He recalls everything about that night. “It was a night I shall never forget.” Egan adds, “Only in Chicago . . . only in those days.”

Egan hasn’t forgotten either a time when he was forced to confront this politically well-connected pastor who clubbed with Mayor Daley. The Cana Conference was funded largely by the modest fees organizer couples collected at Cana and Pre-Cana Conferences. Usually, they’d count the money Sunday night and have the check in the mail on Monday. Father Egan depended on this steady flow, especially the checks from large parishes like Pat Molloy’s. When there was no Tuesday check from St. Leo after a large conference of one hundred and fifty couples, Father Egan called the chaircouple who reported that Father Molloy had taken the envelopes.

Telling the volunteer couple not to worry, Jack immediately got Monsignor Molloy on the phone for an explanation. “Well, listen, Egan,” Monsignor Molloy said, “I want to tell you something. The priest gets paid. The couple gets paid. The doctor gets paid. And nobody pays the parish. I had a janitor here, I had lights on, I had the chairs put up, and had it cleaned afterwards, and the parish doesn’t get anything.”

“I’d like to come out and see you,” Jack said evenly, although his Irish was up by this point, aggravated by his real need for his operating funds. Monsignor Molloy said amiably, “I can see you any time.” For Jack, “any time” meant right now. Following the Hillenbrand incident pattern, he bolted out to Seventy-eigth and Emerald. “I heard you over the phone,” he told the surprised monsignor. Then he outlined his case. He explained that Cana’s only expenditure was the $25 received by the priest-conductors. “The couple never gets paid anything. The doctor is paid nothing. This is the only way I support my office.

“I want to tell you, Pat, you are the first and only pastor in my several years in the Cana Conference who has objected to this. And I’ll tell you what you can do. You can keep all those envelopes and not send me a damn cent. We’ll get along without you. But we’ll never have another Pre-Cana Conference here, Pat.”

Then he walked out, fairly certain that he had embarrassed Pat Molloy who wouldn’t like the story of his penuriousness circulating in the archdiocese. Father Egan was right. The check was in the mail the next morning.

When there was disaffection among the lay people, Jack worked with it by personal contact, “by sitting in their homes, having dinner, talking to them about their work,” he says. He is a past master at bringing people around as well as recruiting them. Kathy Pelletier Moriarity describes this skill as “putting the right sinker into each individual person.” Nina Polcyn Moore, doyen of St. Benet Book Shop during the Chicago Church’s Golden Age, suggests that everyone is hungry for the kind of attention that Jack Egan dispenses. He functions as a mirror for people, reflecting them back to themselves as glorious, as a character in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall describes himself. “I feel like a mirror in which she somehow sees herself as glorious.” Jack Egan knows that people need to interact with others who recognize and mirror their identity as it actually is, empathize with their feelings, respond to their needs with what psycho-analyst Heinz Kohut calls “nonhostile firmness and nonseductive affection.”

Jack Egan was prepared to attend to the needs of the couples he recruited. Peggy O’Dowd’, who met Jack the night he was appointed director of the Cana Conference, describes Jack gathering “all the bright young people he could charm into following him” and laying out on the O’Dowd’s living room floor “a skeleton of what he thought could come about. We couldn’t believe his large dreams for Cana could come true.” Her assessment years later: Jack Egan fulfilled his two goals, 1) forming lay men and women to serve Christ through the Church, and 2) finding ways to enrich marriage and family life.

Early Cana board co-chair Berenice O’Brien reflects that she and her husband felt “rather flattered and pleased to be asked” when Father Egan suggested they would be a superb speaker couple. After Jack had described the format of Pre-Cana and the training the O’Briens would get from experienced speakers, they began working on their talks, “not too definitely, no idea really what we should do.”

Their next Cana contact was the legendary Katie Murphy who ran the Cana office with solicitude for the persons she met and superlative organizational skill. She had a question: had she slipped up or had the O’Briens forgotten they were supposed to speak at some parish the previous day?

“It was a shock to us that we had been scheduled when we had had no other contact with Cana but that visit from Jack and perhaps a conversation with Peggy O’Dowd,” Berenice admits. “It was a warning to us that `we would not know the day or the hour’ when the Cana call might come, a fact we learned to live with for the next ten or twelve years; a fact that made our life interesting and challenging, that permitted us to meet some of the most interesting people we have met in our lives, and through which we forged friendships which are strong with us still.”

Pat Hollahan Judge recalls the Judges’ recruitment for speaker couple as standard. First, the friendly phone call from Father Egan who remembered Pat from the days when she’d organized a high school Catholic Action cell at his suggestion: Father Egan just happened to be in their neighborhood and would like to drop up to their third floor apartment on north Glenwood. “What a salesman,” Pat says admiringly. “Selling God, he got us. I should have known. Once you were part of his network you were caught for life.”

Over a cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich—“you just wouldn’t have a piece of cheese around. I never had a chance to stop for supper”—Father Egan described speaker/couples’ responsibilities and opportunities. “You’d have so much to give,” he assured them. Pat recalls that she knew the idea was impossible, ridiculous. “We lived on the third floor, we had a child, we had no car.” But Jack Egan left with a yes.

“Two weeks later we were working in Cana. I don’t even remember him staying that long.”

Next Chapter . . .