Thursday, October 8, 2009

Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Leonard Hagarty, R.I.P.

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Stop the puzzled looks all you church geeks. I've done you're homework; some of it at least. Bishop Haggarty, born in Iowa, a St. John's Benedictine monk, a missionary to the Bahama Islands, became the second Bishop of Nassau there, in 1950. He died on September 22, 1981. Why his obituary is appearing in the Nassau Tribune today, on the internet, at least, beats me. But he is a local bishop, by Stella Borealis standards, and you can win some trivia contests with this knowledge, I would bet.

PAUL Hagarty was born during a blizzard on March 20, 1909 to Bert and Lucy Belle (née O'Connell) Hagarty, an Irish-American Catholic farming family in Iowa. With encouragement from his widowed mother, he did well at public grade school up to grade eight, then at Greene Catholic High School taught by Fransiscan Sisters. An avid reader, he was influenced by the many vocational stories in the Sacred Heart Messenger to become a Jesuit priest. A railroad accident in which he suffered a broken leg gave him compensation of $300 that paid for his first year at Loras (Columbia) College and a Saturday job at JC Penney helped him work his way through college. He studied economics, science, geology and meteorology and ended up working for the Union Pacific Railway as a geologist. But deep inside he knew he wanted to become a priest, and after hitch-hiking to St John's Abbey, Abbot Alcuin accepted him into the novitiate programme and he took the name Leonard. While serving with Father Hogan in Minnesota, Father Leonard received a call from Abbot Alcuin informing him he was being sent to the Bahamas.

Father Leonard arrived in Nassau in 1937 and was stationed at the Cathedral for three years and simultaneously chaplain to the leper colony, Goodwill Orphanage and the general hospital. During the war years he also worked with the Royal Air Force and other troops. Father Leonard had a very close relationship with Bishop Bernard and was a major help to him on collecting tours in the United States. Bishop Bernard quickly recognised the potential of Father Leonard and sent him to Oxford University, England, for post-graduate studies ostensibly to become Director of Education to correct the Catholic School system which was using American methods which didn't prepare the children for English exams. But it was obvious to the other priests that the Bishop had his eye on Father Leonard as his successor.

Bishop Bernard wished to appoint a successor to move the Bahamas beyond a Benedictine enclave to a full diocese. Abbot Alcuin disagreed, doubting that a permanent abbey with indigenous personnel could supply spiritually a widespread group of islands. The impasse was resolved when on June 25, 1950, Rome chose Father Paul Leonard Hagarty as second Bishop of the Bahamas. It was a popular choice to Bahamians, who loved the sight of young 'No-Hands Hagarty' riding without steering his little English motorcycle from Montagu Hotel to the Priory.

On the morning of October 19, 1950, Our Lady's Church was filled to overflowing and ZNS broadcast the solemn ceremonies of the consecration of Father Leonard to His Lordship, the Most Reverend Paul Leonard Hagarty, OSB, DD, Titular Bishop of Arba and Vicar Apostolic of the Bahamas by His Grace the Most Reverend Apostolic Delegate Ameleto Cicognani DD Apostolic Delegate to the United States.

Also attending were two archbishops, three bishops, four abbots and a host of monsignori and priests. The new Bishop was to preside over 50 churches and chapels, numerous schools with 2,400 pupils and over 11,000 Catholic parishioners.

On the day of his consecration, Bishop Leonard appointed Father Bonaventure as his pro-vicar apostolate, who took charge on the times when the Bishop travelled on collection trips. He also relied heavily on Fathers Cornelius and Brendan. This type of backup assistance was necessary to cover the Catholic presence on Andros, Bimini, Long Island, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, Grand Bahama, San Salvador and Cat Island plus three visits a year to Inagua. Then a church was established on Abaco and a mission started to Turks and Caicos.

During the reign of Bishop Hagarty many significant events took place, as he was keen to expand Catholic participation in education and social development. The rapid expansion was due to several factors. The trust fund set up by Bernard Melhardo of Belize and benefactors Bacardi Company and others provided capital. The Sisters of Charity played a leading role in the development of education, especially at St Thomas More and St Cecilia's schools. The Order of St Martin's also assisted by providing Sisters in the education system and more diocesan priests arrived from all over America. The Scarboro Foreign Mission Society of Canada sent a dozen missionaries who had previously served in China. They set up a two-storey headquarters on the grounds of St Thomas More.

Under Bishop Leonard, Bahamian men began to enter religious life, the first being Fr Charles Coakley in 1957. In 1960, Fr Boswell Davis was ordained and he was followed by Frs Leander Thompson, Bonaventure Dean, Cletus Adderley, Prosper Burrows and Preston Moss - all trained at St John's Abbey, Minnesota.

During the early 1960s, Brothers George Taylor, Ignatius Dean, Joseph Darville, and Henry Neeley were the first of 12 Bahamian Benedictine monks who took perpetual vows - several of them taught at St Augustine's College. Unfortunately, all but two Bahamian priests reverted to laymen in 1972, but in the mid-1970s a new crop of diocesan priests including Fr Alfred Culmer and Leviticus Adderley were ordained.

On February 1, 1979, His Holiness Pope John Paul II visited Nassau and was welcomed by thousands of people at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre.

The health of Bishop Leonard began to fail and he resigned on July 17, 1981. On September 22, he died at St John's Abbey and was brought back to be buried alongside Bishop Bernard in the crypt of St Francis Xavier Cathedral. Nassau (Bahamas) Tribune

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