Martin Hegarty, 'Bishop' to Resigned Priests, Dies at 85: Appreciation

Article excerpt


CHICAGO * "I left priesthood on the first Saturday morning in June 1988, having just presided at my last Eucharist. I moved out of the rectory in a frantic headlong rage, dragging my belongings to a basement apartment on 35th and Seeley.

"I'll never forget grasping the doorknob of my underground residence and thinking, 'What have I done to myself?' I had either been training to be a priest or was a priest for 20 of my 34 years. I was jobless, damn near penniless. ... I had one black suit that smelled like incense and not a clue about what to do with my life. ...

"So I did what everybody in my situation did. I went to see Marty Hegarty. He read me like the Sunday Trib. He knew all my sections: good priest, scared young adult, in love, consumed with guilt, rectory spoiled, clueless but possessing a pulse.

"And then Marty told me that he wouldn't find a job for me but that he would help me find the confidence to find a job for myself. He told me that my natural talents would help me be a terrific employee. He said I would ... have to start at the bottom, and work my way up. ... The conversation lasted maybe an hour. Never has someone been so right about so many things in so short a time. When I left Marty, I could see more. ... I could manage through to something new, something equally of God, something essential."

This excerpt from a tribute by John Horan was echoed by many last year when Martin "Marty" Hegarty and his longtime collaborator Jim Wilbur were honored for their 40 years in a unique ministry: assisting Catholic priests transitioning out of the clerical state.

It is generally estimated that Hegarty and his associates helped more than 3,000 former priests from across the country, as well as former nuns and even some Protestant ministers who were on their own and in need of confidence and guidance. Hegarty's analysis of Horan proved accurate. Horan is currently the president of an innovative and highly successful charter high school on Chicago's low-income, troubled West Side.

Hegarty died Oct. 7. He was 83.

He had been in hospice care at his home for several weeks after sustaining a serious head injury in a fall in late August.

There was something about Hegarty that made him a natural for this special ministry. Hegarty was a born connector, nurturing relationships with dozens of friends, contacts and acquaintances, and never reluctant to ask a favor on behalf of a resigned priest.

"It's like he had a Rolodex mind," said Fr. Bill Kenneally, who was Hegarty's pastor for 25 years at St. Gertrude Parish on Chicago's North Side. "And he'd do anything to help--meet you at the airport, give you a quick course on resume writing, tell you how to handle a job interview. He was a model of the connector persona."

Yet despite his work for those leaving formal ministry, Hegarty never despaired of the church or its future. …