An Alley in Chicago

“What Registers With Jack Is Possibility”

A certain stiff academic element resisted the fresh winds of change coming from some of the new centers like CCUM taking up residence on the South Bend campus. Some academics deemed the centers a threat to the purity of the university’s mission.

President Hesburgh welcomed the new centers, as he did the winds of change. Experience on many boards, and in positions like the chairmanship of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, fostered Father Hesburgh’s easy acceptance of societal shifts. His generous view was, “What is genuinely human can’t be faulted.”

That wider view played into Pope John XXIII’s expansive notion of a Vatican Council in 1961. Hesburgh suggested, in an interview with author Eugene Kennedy, that Pope John called that council “to do something about the crime of four hundred and fifty years without any change.” Father Hesburgh further observed that, once the council had done its work, church people tried to “cram all that change into ten years, and it’s been pretty hard,” displaying a patience that hangs well on the president of a great university. For Father Hesburgh, the centers he was bringing on campus could be experimental channels to fine tune the changes. Hesburgh’s “big dream,” according to Peggy Roach, was Notre Dame in service to the Church.

Hesburgh meant the centers to be a vehicle of that service. (After his retirement as president of the university, after Father Egan had gone back to Chicago, Father Hesburgh himself would move into the role of connector between the university and the universe. Having made the decision to spend the rest of his life working for peace, he would chair the institutes that relate to that purpose. As chairperson, he would interface between them and the fifty-plus international bodies of which he was a member. “To keep our institutes from reinventing the wheel,” he says.)

In 1976, looking for ways to strengthen the centers then on campus, Hesburgh fixed on Father Egan to be liaison between academe and the main stream. That decision prompted his postprandial call. Working late as he most often did, Father Hesburgh, along with Father James Burtchaell, the university provost, awaited Father Egan. They meant to ask Egan to integrate the five centers now operating on the campus into one new entity. Jack was already directing the Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry. Centralization would add the Murphy Center for Liturgical Research (later named Center for Pastoral Liturgy), the Notre Dame Institute for Clergy Education, the Center for Human Development, and the Religious Leaders Program to his portfolio. Later, Retreats International would be integrated into the entity.

When Jack walked in, the two educators eagerly presented their proposal. Would Jack agree to organize the five centers Father Hesburgh admitted were “all over the place” in their programs as well as their geography? “I’m getting some criticism on how they relate to the university. They all relate in different ways. I’d like you as the director of a Center for Pastoral and Social Ministry to pull them all together,” Father Hesburgh said. (Later, the title would be changed to Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry.)

Jack’s internal monitor started bleeping. He shook his head, backing off from the offer. “You’re making a serious mistake,” he told the president and the provost, both his good friends by 1976. Jack Egan had been at Notre Dame long enough to remind them that an advanced degree—which he did not have—was the only legitimate calling card at their university. “My second objection,” he told his friends, “is that I’m not a Holy Cross priest.” That identity would have been another potential source of legitimacy.

Father Hesburgh was not easily deflected. “I want a diocesan priest,” he insisted. “I want someone known by the bishops and known by the Sisters, priests, and lay people in the social action field. I want you to do it. I’ve worked with you. I trust you.” Jack reworded his objections. “This will never be recognized on the campus because I’m not degreed.”

Father Hesburgh knew how to confer legitimacy. “I’ll make you my special assistant,” he announced. “I’ve only done that once before, with Dr. George Shuster. He’s dead now. I’m entitled to an assistant.” With presidential assurance, Father Hesburgh added, “That should open doors to you.” That did open doors, Jack admits. “Nobody knew if I had any power, or how much power I had, and nobody was going to test it.” Nevertheless, it was at Father Hesburgh’s request he acceded, and not without misgivings. Jack had put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, but it wasn’t a plum without blemish. A blemish that would in time threaten the fruitfulness of his work at Notre Dame.

“Father Hesburgh was the last person in the world who needed an assistant,” according to Jack. “There was nothing you could assist him on. Well, maybe to appear on his behalf. Like going over to Belfast for him or to a particular meeting or to give an invocation or to substitute before what might be an important group but wouldn’t be a substantive talk.” Jack edged into the role of aide-de-camp and confidant. “I’d see Father Hesburgh frequently at his office or at dinner and he’d talk to me about any number of things. He used me the way Mayor Daley used Judge Lynch, as a friend outside the Democratic machine whom he could trust.”

That’s precisely how Father Hesburgh saw the relationship: “When you’re president here, you are constantly being called on for a wide variety of things. You really need a second opinion, someone to talk things over with. Jack was perfect in that role because he knows everybody out around the country in these areas. He has a sense of the Church that’s very deep. He’s an apostolic priest. He doesn’t butter you up. He tells you what he thinks is right so he’s a very good counselor. We all miss him.”

Supported by the president and the provost, Jack Egan could probably have survived the several battles that broke out after the consolidation of the centers. But soon after Jack moved in as director, a new provost—a man decidedly less sympathetic to the centers—was installed. “A book man, a scholar, he ran the university like a book. He had an entirely different personality from mine,” Jack says. “There was always a battle with him as to the place of these centers. He didn’t think they belonged on a university campus.” Soon the new provost was quoted in the Faculty Senate Journal as saying the role the centers had played in the larger educational endeavors of the university had been disappointing and that new initiatives in this area were unlikely.

There were other continuing irritations within the institute concerning fees for lodging at conferences, financial arrangements, and accountability. Jack surmises it was his fronting for the university that induced a personal antipathy in several center heads. “I made life difficult for them. And, in time, they made life intolerable for me.” Those difficulties would influence the Egan/Roach move back to Chicago in 1983. Meantime, Jack knew an opportunity when he saw one.

At Presentation he’d had few resources with which to make do. He was always contacting his friends on the outside for some kind of assistance, stretching a little money to do the work of a lot of money. Now at the University of Notre Dame he was sitting on a cornucopia, a cache of learning, an intellectual bowl brimming with subtle arts, scientific acumen, spiritual gifts, and housing space. As Father Hesburgh’s special assistant, Jack Egan could maximize his already seasoned connecting skills to bring together groups who could profit from linkage and from the university’s abundance. That’s what Peggy and he thought they were all about. That’s what they thought the centers were for. At Presentation they’d scrambled for resources. At the university they dispensed largesse. All this good stuff, bed and breakfast, lore and learning, theological enterprise, and liturgical innovation.

They plied their nifty tools of post and telephone to their limits, summoning groups to come and partake. Father Hesburgh observed early that to Jack Egan a phone line was a life line. Like Kay Fox back at St. Justin Martyr where Jack began his priestly life and his daily dialing, Father Hesburgh was indulgently unbegrudging as Jack succumbed to what Hesburgh wryly calls “the temptation of the telephone.” Hesburgh recognized this as Jack’s means of keeping his network together. Aware that Jack writes hundreds of letters most weeks, Hesburgh still estimates Jack “must make two or three phone calls for every letter.”

Illustrating how a phone can put Jack on hold, Hesburgh describes his arrival with Jack Egan at a Wisconsin lodge for a meeting with the nation’s bishops. “We walked into this big room with a fireplace and a porch beyond it, looking out on a lake.” All Jack saw was one of the two phones in the place, sitting on a table. “He came to a shuddering halt,” Father Hesburgh recalls, “grabbed the phone and called our friend Gene Boyle (a CCUM board member) in San Francisco. Maybe Gene was on his mind,” he adds tolerantly.

Jack had profited enormously from his sabbatical year at Notre Dame. Together with Peggy, he replicated his personal program for others. First for religious leaders. “After the first year, I felt there must be lots of priests and religious who were going through the same experience I had. After years of ministry, they needed time off, particularly if they were changing to another arena of work.” He cites, for an example, a provincial of a religious order stepping back into teaching or hospital work after a term as leader.

“Peggy and I devised a Religious Leaders Program. It still exists. The first year we had four people. We were very strict. We made sure the participants lived on campus, the women at the new dormitories, the men at Brownson where I lived. We insisted they take classes, but no more than two. We wanted them to have time to sleep, pray, relax, attend lectures and art demonstrations.” Most of them took Father Burtchaell’s theology class as Jack had done.

Organizing the program was a chore the first year. After that, Jack claims the succeeding programs were “sheer fun.” Peggy, who served as director one year, saw that the participants were invited to liturgies, that they got football tickets, that their courses were individually tailored. During the South Bend years, she was their Perle Mesta. As she had done in Washington, Peggy entertained any time anyone of note came to town. Jack didn’t know how she could afford it, in spite of the fact that Tom Broden had arranged that she be compensated as Jack’s associate, not his secretary. “Peggy’s home was a mecca,” Jack says. “Hers was one of the few homes Father Hesburgh came to. He seldom visited homes, trying to spend the time he was in South Bend with the Holy Cross Fathers.”

Jack and Peggy brought Sisters on campus to talk to canon lawyers about changes in their rules prompted by Vatican II. “The finest of the Canon Law Society came there at our invitation.” Later, Jack and Peggy invited a large group of laity, priests and women religious to analyze the whole question of pastoral ministry in a parochial setting. They hosted a group of international theologians come to bring Vatican II up to date at a conference called Toward Vatican III. They brought bishops ordained to the episcopacy during the preceding two years to the campus for a ten-day seminar designed for them. Shortly after the invitation went out under Father Hesburgh’s signature, thirty-two of the forty-one bishops invited responded enthusiastically. “A man placed in a position of high responsibility needs certain skills immediately, skills in finance, personal relationships, conflict resolution, listening, organizing,” Jack says.

To work up the bishops’ program, Jack and Peggy recruited a team of four, including Evelyn and Jim Whitehead whom Jack was instrumental in bringing on campus as freshly minted Ph.D.s to direct field work for seminarians and teach in the theology department. For the Whiteheads their time at Notre Dame was “incredibly formative.” They credit Jack for giving them, at the time, a research psychologist and a scholar of Chinese culture, a mutual vocation in ministry education. “He was mentor for both of us,” Evelyn Whitehead says. “He championed us in that way where you feel so special, sponsored us, loved us, encouraged us. We always felt there were no strings attached.” As trained observers, the Whiteheads note how often mentors shape people in their own image. “But Jack empowered us to do what we do. He didn’t make us do what he did.” Evelyn Whitehead never has the sense “that he will take something back if we don’t toe the line, because he doesn’t give you a line to toe.”

As a mark of Jack’s faith, they describe the circumstances of his invitation to design the ten-day workshop for new bishops. “We were absolute nobodies. Who else would have given us the opportunity? Anyone else would have ridden herd on us. Jack never raised a doubt in a way that would undermine our faith in what we were doing. None of the insinuating sort of thing that depletes you. He really does build up the Body of Christ.”

They remember those bishops’ workshops in 1980 and 1981 as “absolutely wonderful events,” the culmination of their involvement at Notre Dame. The next year the bishops themselves organized a similar event at Collegeville. For the Whiteheads, it was a “sign of Jack’s genius” that he knew how to produce the result desired. “On the one hand, he wanted a beautiful design because he knew the bishops wouldn’t come unless the workshop looked worthwhile. But his real goal (as it is in most of life) was to get people to talk to one another.” In their work on ministry, the Whiteheads had observed how often pastors “really think they have to go it alone. It’s awful for them, devastating for the Church. Let nobody into your heart. Let nobody into your plans.”

Father Egan, a virtuoso at finding tutelary geniuses for himself at crucial junctures, was by now figuring as a tutelary genius in the life of others. To the Whiteheads, he was “for decades a shining light.” He was ahead of his time because he understood that “partnership is essential. That’s what Christian community demands.” He never sees religious leadership “as a prima donna event, a solo. He’s not tempted by being an eminence.” According to the Whiteheads, that’s his “saving grace.” Jim Whitehead perceives in Father Egan “a genuine sense of his own incompleteness, his own inadequacy. He knows he needs people but I’ve never seen anybody recruit people the way he does.”

Regretfully, they note that Jack could be intimidated, that he was more impressed with university people than he needed to be. The Whiteheads class Jack Egan as an intellectual, “a man of ideas, with a broad range of interests, and a deep respect for knowledge.” Jim remembers a faculty member saying at a campus gathering he wished there were more people like Jack Egan “who was an intellectual but not an academic.”

The Whiteheads always relied on Father Egan as a sign of hope. “The facts aren’t always hopeful, but he keeps hoping.” They describe “marvelous Monday morning meetings at Notre Dame when we were all on the pastoral theology team.” Jack was traveling widely and came back each week with stories from the field. To the Whiteheads these were often “tales of ecclesiastical horror,” but Jack always discerned “a glimmer of hope or fidelity or courage or community” in any disaster. “What registers with him is possibility.”

To church historian David O’Brien, that ability to look at reality and bring hope to it is prophetic. He told CCUM people in 1983 that recovering a sense of Church in terms of the prophets was needed. He explained that a community must bring the presence of God to the place where they are, and cultivate a sense of the Church as an organized people bound by experience. A community can be neither despairing nor triumphal.

O’Brien knows it’s difficult to look at the world as it really is—at the situation of the poor, the handicapped, women, farm workers, parish priests, Sisters—and not despair. “It requires those who uphold that view to develop a more articulate and compelling rationale, to communicate with one another and gain influence in appropriate institutions like colleges and universities, learned societies, seminaries, publications,” all the time being careful to avoid elitism “by maintaining close ties with the people and pastoral workers on one side and with the bishops on the other.”

O’Brien cites Jack Egan as part of a company that wants “Church in the Catholic sense, community in the grass roots voluntarism sense, and the social gospel as it has developed since Vatican II.” This special company isn’t exclusively right, left, or center. Because they think Church is possible, they simply appropriate the best of right, left and center views.

Jack and Peggy ran CCUM their first seven years at the university, living on possibility. “We were bridge-builders, enablers, connectors. We thought connecting was our task. We spent a lot of time on the phone, a lot of time with the mail. In 1972, Don Thorman, managing editor of the National Catholic Reporter, asked Peggy and me to write a four-page biweekly newsletter called Link,” Jack recalls. Under the auspices of the National Catholic Reporter, Peggy and Jack used Link as another tool to connect people in similar work across the country. Those interested in housing in San Antonio, for instance, would get to know of people doing the same work in Seattle. In 1974, when NCR gave up on the Link, Jack and Peggy published their own monthly version called Connector. It had 5,300 subscribers.

CCUM was truly the area where Peggy and Jack’s mutual gifts were best utilized. They gladly poured themselves into this vessel of service, assured that urban ministers they enabled were enabling urban communities. Once Jack was director of the Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry, however, and Peggy his assistant in that capacity, they thought it inappropriate to hang on to the CCUM leadership.

Father Phil Murnion, activist priest/sociologist from New York, came on as CCUM Board Chairperson, and Presentation Sister Margaret Cafferty as Executive Director. Cafferty brought in a new agenda: implementing directives from the 1976 A Call to Action meeting in Detroit. (Many CCUM members had done yeoman work for that gathering.) Sensing a split in the CCUM board over support for her program, Cafferty brought it to a vote. She resigned when the vote showed inadequate support. “From that moment,” Jack recalls sadly, “CCUM started going down.” Looking back, Jack thinks that Peggy and he should have absented themselves from what looked like a loyalty vote. “If I had it to do over again, I would have abstained. In retrospect, I think we were wrong.”

It’s not surprising that A Call to Action forces split CCUM. In 1976, the Church worldwide was sitting on a fault created by those four centuries of stagnation Father Hesburgh talks about, the fault cracked open by Vatican II. Everywhere the rift between the conservatives and the liberals threatened to erupt into conflict. A Call to Action, an effort to further Vatican II initiatives, menaced the status quo. The bishops were afraid of getting burned. In Rome, they knew, change was frowned upon—even if it seemed to stem directly from Vatican II.

A Call to Action started innocently enough. Propelled by a heady—and short-lived—Vatican II audacity, American bishops conceived the notion of a country-wide “town meeting” on the theme of justice in the world. This was to mark the country’s bicentennial in 1976. (Historian David O’Brien says that Father Brian Hehir, director of the United States Catholic Conference division of International Justice and Peace, hoped the event would be comparable to the Medellin, Colombia, conference in 1968.)

For two years prior to 1976, the bishops solicited responses to Vatican II initiatives at local and regional hearings in almost half the nation’s dioceses (but not in Cardinal Cody’s Chicago). Feedback sheets showed that as many as 800,000 Catholics participated. John Cardinal Dearden, archbishop of Detroit from 1959 to 1980, remembers “the unrehearsed plaint of a farmer who lived on the land he and his parents before him had tilled . . . the testimonies of blacks caught up in the seemingly hopeless cycle of metropolitan poverty . . . the simple narratives of migrant workers telling of the bleak anguish of rootlessness.” He found what he heard “poignant and moving.”

In October 1976, 1351 delegate Catholics—many elected, the majority appointed by the bishops—gathered in Detroit’s Cobo Hall. There, the people’s representatives in general congress assembled were meant to disclose to their bishops “the mind of the Church” by voting on the proposals synthesized from the many testimonies. It would be up to the bishops to implement the directives as they saw fit. Whatever changes they made after this colloquy would be from an informed and supported position.

The process was headed by Cardinal Dearden, and directed by Sister Margaret Cafferty, the Presentation sister who later moved into the CCUM executive directorship. “A brilliant woman, a hard worker,” Jack says, “a good choice” for this effort to empower the laity and parish priests, to grasp the “sensus fidelium,” as Vatican II had decreed. Early on, it looked as if the assembly was going to succeed in its mission. The apostolic delegate attended. Five cardinals. Fifty bishops. The delegates and alternates represented the wide spectrum of American Catholic thought from the very conservative to the very liberal. Cardinal Dearden told them the goal “of this extraordinary assembly” was to “translate their sincere commitment to liberty and justice into concrete programs of action.”

Jack Egan felt very much at the heart of this assembly at Cobo Hall because Margaret Cafferty had asked him to serve as one of two chairpersons to bring the issues to the floor and direct the proceeding. He vibrated with anticipation. It was his sort of affair. “All nationalities were represented. All mindsets, the far right, the far left. A Call to Action was based on the teachings of the Church, American notions of religious liberty, and the democratic principles in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” Jack Egan’s great hopes matched Cardinal Dearden’s. Their euphoria was not general. After his first session on the podium, Jack met Bishop Bernard Law (later, cardinal of Boston). “Jack,” Law urged vehemently, “we have to adjourn this meeting right away.”

“Pardon me?” Jack asked.

“We have to adjourn,” the bishop insisted. “Certain resolutions are coming before the floor that Rome is not going to like.”

“Bernie,” Jack patiently maintained, “the people here have a right to express their mind on these resolutions. The bishops can accept the recommendations or turn them down. And they don’t have to think what Rome will think of them one way or another. Let me go to the washroom. You go back and sit down. We are not going to adjourn this meeting.”

It was the judgment of co-chair Jack Egan that delegates voted “very intelligently” between Friday evening and Saturday night. Jack was impressed with conference resolutions on racism, neighborhood development, housing, employment, family life, and religious vocations. Jack didn’t agree with critics who claimed that dissidents had a disproportionate role. From his point of view, press coverage that headlined such provocative issues as birth control, clerical celibacy, women’s ordination, and homosexuality obscured the conference’s solid achievement.

But Jack Egan was coming from a different corner than the bishops. He was ready, had been ready for a long time, to share the governance of the Church with the laity. The American bishops were more diffident. According to Church historian David O’Brien, who participated in A Call to Action, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was at that time “unclear about its relationship with Rome and with its own local dioceses.” The organization’s capacity to respond to a large reform agenda was strictly limited. Even ten years after A Call to Action, according to O’Brien, the “bishops (were) still far from being ready to accept the degree of collaboration involved in A Call to Action, while the need for building structures of shared responsibility remain(ed) clear to all who care(d) to look.”

Jack Egan found it hard to suppress his disappointment as the Church moved at an elephant’s pace without taking an elephant’s long steps. Through his association with lay people, he’d come to admire and rely on their expertise. He could never have looked at the participants—sixty-four percent of whom were employed by the Church—as a “ragtag assembly of kooks, crazies, flakes, militants, lesbians, homosexuals, ex-priests, incompetents, castrating witches, would-be messiahs, sickies, and other assorted malcontents,” as Father Andrew Greeley did.

In a long article in the Chicago Tribune Jack took issue with Bishop Joseph Bernardin’s view that “too much was attempted at the meeting.” But a bishop speaks louder than a monsignor in the American press, as in the Church. The impulse that was A Call to Action quickly decelerated. It was not a North American Medellin Conference. Nevertheless, Jack Egan suggests, within a decade maybe eighty-five percent of A Call to Action resolutions were implemented by the bishops. They did not ratify the controversial stands on optional celibacy and the ordination of women that upset participants like Cardinal Law. However, there was a positive aftereffect: the use of widespread hearings for the bishops’ letters on peace and the economy published within the next decade. Many of the concerns that surfaced at A Call to Action resurfaced in the bishops’ pastoral letters on racism, cultural diversity, Hispanic concerns, and nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, back at the university, the change in provosts that altered the Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry equation also affected the make-up of the team set to mount a $180 million fund raising campaign for Notre Dame. It left one of the three teams without a leader. Father Hesburgh was heading a group, Holy Cross Father Ned Joyce a second. Father Hesburgh cast around for a fill-in with the enthusiasm for the university and the exuberant personality necessary to rouse generous impulses in alumni with the resources to support their alma mater. What about his assistant, a priest awed by the university since he was a Irish Catholic newsboy in Ravenswood identifying with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame?

Father Egan got another of the president’s late night “Can-you-come-over?” phone calls. Father Hesburgh explained the fix he was in. After all the months of planning, all the advance work, one of his teams was leaderless. So much depended on the front man who presented the picture of the university to graduates and friends. Father Hesburgh wanted Jack Egan to fill in for the former provost. “At Notre Dame,” says Jack Egan, “that was comparable to getting the Nobel prize.”

Again, he pleaded that Hesburgh was making a serious mistake since he, Jack, was neither Notre Dame alumnus nor Holy Cross priest. Again, Father Hesburgh cited Jack’s enthusiasm, his ability to put across a story, and his devotion to the university. Overwhelmed with gratitude, Jack finally assented. “My heavens, I’d be honored to do it.” He joined the team going to thirty-six cities to raise money and raven on broccoli. “I haven’t had broccoli since.”

In each city, at a home or a club, Jack would pitch the dreams being developed for the university at South Bend. Teams from the development office followed up, pitching for funds. The effort raised $230 million. Jack discounts his contribution. He thought he owed it to the university. Father Hesburgh has never forgot it. “He has never stopped talking about how I stepped into the breach and saved the day.”

Returned from his fund-raising trip, Father Egan heard murmurings at the Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry. Jack’s operational mode was to assess up front his possibilities of success at any enterprise. He knew his skills involved engaging people in significant enterprises, motivating them, supporting them in subsequent difficulties, reassuring them, making contacts, offering a sympathetic ear and ready assistance. If these were the skills necessary for a potential task, he had a good chance of succeeding. When his associates were proof against his charm and in no need of his support, they would have different expectations of a director. They would expect rules of order CCUM members, for instance, would dismiss as inconsequential.

By the spring of 1982, Jack’s managerial style was not working with the directors of the individual IPSM centers. The management style acceptable to the CCUM group was experienced as hierarchical at IPSM. Center directors let it be known they’d prefer a more communitarian management style. Center directors, bound together now into the Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry, felt they were thrashing through a thicket of financial and administrative hazards. They knew about that $400,000 Jack had raised for CCUM. Between 1976 and 1981, Jack Egan raised $1,335,642 from 152 donors to divide among programs of the component centers. There were those who felt Jack used “imperial power” to distribute university monies without any accountability. Monday morning staff meetings became tense, painful.

Meanwhile, Jack was doing double duty, serving simultaneously as institute director and Father Hesburgh’s assistant. Part of the latter role was representing the president of the university at conferences. In 1980 Hesburgh asked Jack to attend a British/Irish conference at Oxford. Free for a couple of days after the conference finale, Jack decided to case the territory of Northern Ireland to assess whether some of the information he’d heard at the conference was “a lot of nonsense,” as he suspected. He set off for Belfast. His first indication that he was not well was a terrible chill at the bus station. “I looked like a person with a terrible palsy. My whole body began to grow cold.” Once he boarded the plane for Northern Ireland, Jack knew something was very wrong. His body burned with fever.

When he met his priest hosts, he begged off on an afternoon meeting they’d planned. He was shown to a room on the third floor of the rectory, a room without a phone. There he collapsed. “I can never remember being so wet from perspiration. I yelled for help. I tried to get out of bed. I felt myself growing weaker and weaker. I knew I was dying and subsequent events proved I was very close to death. I felt a tremendous peace and knew I was going to meet the Lord.”

Jack retained enough of his faculties to know that he shouldn’t just lie there and die without trying to keep himself alive. “I rolled off the bed and crawled to the door.” With his last energy, he reached up, turned the handle of the door, opened it—and with all the strength left in his body—yelped, “Help.”

The doctor called by the rectory cook admitted “in a typically Irish way,” as Jack says, “`you have a touch of difficulty with your heart.’”

“What the hell is a touch of difficulty?” Jack demanded in a typically American way.

“God damn it, you’re having a heart attack,” came the answer. The Belfast doctor was more explicit with the paramedics he ran down the hall to phone. “Dammit to hell, it’s 123 Springhill. Can’t you understand me? Hurry over here, the man is dying.” The Malaysian doctor who accompanied the medics couldn’t find a vein competent enough for a pain-killing injection. Time was passing. He placed a fibrillator directly on Father Egan’s chest and discharged an enormous shock through his body. “I have never in my life had a pain like that,” Jack recalls. But it regulated the ventricular fibrillation, making it possible for Jack to be removed to the Royal Victoria Hospital and to live long enough to come back to Rush-Presbyterian/St Luke’s in Chicago for surgery on his arteries, on a valve, and on the aneurysm behind his heart which could have exploded at any moment.

Father Hesburgh had appointed Peggy Roach acting director at the institute during the time of Jack’s surgery and recovery. The appointment did not sit well with the center directors. Advances were made to the provost about replacing Jack if he weren’t soon well enough to return. “It was almost a palace coup against Peggy,” from Jack’s point of view. “That was a very distasteful period in our lives.” It was equally painful for those directors who, according to an observer at the time, felt they were treated with less respect than they deserved.

To Jack and Peggy, Chicago looked better and better. Jack, who had always kept the priests’ personnel board up to date on his activities, reporting in each year, advised them that he and Peggy were thinking of coming back to Chicago. Giving Father Hesburgh six months notice, they fixed on April 16 as the day they’d leave the university.

Summing up, Jack calls their thirteen years at South Bend, “excellent, the people we met, the contacts we made, the contributions we made.” Thus, in his usual ebullient style, he blanks out any negative aspects of their Indiana sojourn. He’d been right. He had suffered for being neither Holy Cross nor PhD. But as Satchel Paige once advised, “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” Overall, the years at South Bend were among the best in Jack and Peggy’s lives in service to the Church, in personal development and satisfaction, in widening their grasp and their grip on reality. In many ways, they had had the time of their lives.

Eschewing any jarring memories, Jack tots up the aggregate projects and people he and Peggy brought to the university and gives them a good review. “We came back to Chicago in 1983 with heads held high.” Once again they’d followed the Joe DiMaggio principle that it’s better to leave a year too early than five minutes too late.

Next Chapter . . .