John Hardon

John Anthony Hardon, S.J., Servant of God[1] (June 18, 1914 – December 30, 2000) was an American Jesuit priest, writer, and theologian.

Early life

John Anthony Hardon was born in 1914 to a devout Catholic family in Midland, Pennsylvania.[2] When he was a year old, his 27-year-old father died in an industrial accident when the scaffolding collapsed under him as he moved to secure a steel beam dangling dangerously over his co-workers.[3][4] After the accident Hardon was raised by his 26-year-old mother Anna (née Jevin) Hardon, who never remarried "out of concern for the influence a possible stepfather might have on her son's vocation."[1][3] They moved to Cleveland, Ohio,[5] where they lived "in the shadows of the iron and steel mills".[6] John Janaro, a biographer of Hardon, described Anna as "a woman of deep faith, a Franciscan tertiary who embraced her poverty and her difficult circumstances with courage and grace."[6] Anna "attended daily Mass and received Holy Communion" and her home "had sacred pictures, a family holy water font, and a good deal of spiritual conversation."[3] The Hardons could not afford a telephone and "in fact they seldom bought a newspaper."[7]

Hardon was Anna's only child, and she supported him by cleaning offices in Cleveland, often working nights. Janaro reports that as a child Hardon was "willful and self-possessed; he was determined that no one was going to tell him what to do"; but he was soon affected by his mother's devoted example.[6] Hardon would often recall that his mother told him that she "taught him to kneel before he could walk" and the very purpose of knees "are for kneeling to pray before God".[4] When he was four, Anna took him to his first all night vigil at Our Lady of Consolation parish in Carey, Ohio.[4] She made a bed for him on the first pew, and prayed throughout the night on her knees as he slept.[4] At the age of six he was instructed by a Sister Benedicta who told her students "Whatever you ask Our Lord on your First Communion day, you will receive."[3] That same year as he received First Holy Communion Hardon made a request to Jesus, "Make me a priest."[3] Thereafter the young Hardon attended daily Mass with his mother.[3] At the age of eight he received the sacrament of Confirmation calling on the Holy Spirit to give him "the grace of martyrdom."[3]

For added income Hardon's mother took in two young Lutheran girls as boarders[4] named Judith and Susan.[8] Young Hardon at the age of three[8] protested that he had to abstain from meat on Friday but the boarders, which he called his "sisters" did not. In response his mother gave the girls a choice saying "My boy is growing up: he's asking embarrassing questions. Would you mind either abstaining from eating meat on Friday or find yourselves somewhere else to board?"[8] The girls choose to abstain.[8] After having them get permission from their minister they were included in the fast.[4] It was this early relationship with these borders who were "staunch Lutherans" (who lived with them for at least eight years[8]) that Hardon would later cite as affecting his thinking, recalling in later life "Years before the Ecumenical Movement I had come to respect and cherish Protestants."[8]

Early schooling

Hardon excelled in schooling and was often at the top of his classes at St. Wendelin School (which he had to walk two miles to reach).[2] His ability to hold the attention of a crowd was seen early when in sixth grade he gave a one-man show to his class entitled "Pockets" and "For one solid hour he kept the audience laughing with his explanations of what he carried in his pockets."[4]

During a Church History class in eighth grade Hardon was inspired on hearing about the preaching of St. Peter Canisius, a Jesuit priest in the 16th century who combated the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Through this Hardon became impressed with the Jesuit order.[6]

His mother did not have the funds to send him to a Jesuit High School, so he attended the diocesan high school of Cathedral Latin 15 miles from his home where he was taught by the Brothers of Mary.[3]

Worrying about leaving his mother on her own Hardon did not seriously consider the priesthood immediately after high school.[3] Upon graduation "With the help of savings his mother had put aside specifically for his future" he attended John Carroll University, a Jesuit university in a suburb of Cleveland.[3] To travel there from his mother's home he had to ride the streetcar "a distance of three to four hours daily."[3]

During his first two years of college, Hardon intended to become a medical doctor. At University, he came even more strongly under the influence of the Jesuits. Janaro writes:

The Jesuit presence had a profound impact on him. There was a certain strength about the Jesuits, a "manliness" that John had never experienced at home because he never knew his father. Also their mental discipline impressed him; it motivated him to major in philosophy and it began to shape his approach to spirituality through the direction of Father LeMay, a brilliant and discerning man who saw in John great potential.[6]

Elizabeth Mitchell writes that "under the guidance of his priestly adviser, Hardon began, in his third year of studies, to discern more clearly his own call to the priesthood".[2] It was LeMay who guided Hardon to change "his course of studies to include Latin, philosophy, and college theology."[3] Hardon continued his studies until he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from John Carrol University in 1936.[2]

Entering the Jesuits

It did not appear that he would be able to join the Jesuits due to his mother's worsening health, whom he felt duty bound to look after. Seeking both to fulfill his duty to his mother and to serve others, he had applied and been accepted to Ohio State Medical School.[7] While he felt that he did not have a vocation to the priesthood, Fr. LeMay, his Jesuit spiritual adviser, "did not agree with John's assessment of his situation" and held that "John did indeed have a priestly vocation".[7] His mother, aware that his concern for her health was influencing his decision, told him that "the very same God who was calling him would guard every hair on his mother's head."[7] She also told him "if the reason he was going to marry was so that she would not be alone without anyone to care for her, he was not to be concerned."[4] Considering his dream of matrimony "the thought of marriage and family was overwhelmed by a realization of the spiritual family that springs up around a priest who brings the life of Christ to so many people."[7]

Hardon announced his decision to pursue the priesthood to a girl named Jo who had been his friend since grade school when they sat next to each other.[4] They had been dating seriously and discussed marriage on several occasions[7] and Hardon had "weighed the possibility of becoming engaged."[3] He broke the news to her at a restaurant in downtown Cleveland.[7] Jo did not take the news well, breaking down in tears and crying throughout the meal.[7] Hardon entered the Jesuit novitiate on September 1, 1936, "breaking the heart of a girl he loved, and loved him in return."[6]

Two months into his novitiate Hardon confessed to Fr. LeMay that he felt he had abandoned his mother when she needed him most. LeMay told him "John, you belong in the Society of Jesus. What you are experiencing is a temptation. Put it out of your mind."[7] To avoid further temptations Hardon continued regularly to correspond with his mother but scrupulously avoided visiting her for seven years until ordered to do so by his superior.[7] Hardon was deeply affected by the accidental drowning of a fellow seminarian when a group of them were on a summer lakeshore vacation.[7] As a result of this he refused to take vacations for the rest of his life.[7]


Having entered the Society of Jesus as a novice on September 1, 1936 Hardon took a special interest in theology and teaching while studying at West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Indiana. During these studies he produced his first published article in 1941 concerning the study of Latin. Worrying that his love of theology might lead him to pursue it out of his own willfulness at the cost of obedience he "determined not to request further theological study; he would leave the determination of his future completely in the hands of the Holy Spirit."[7] Hardon continued to study and obtained a master's degree in philosophy at Loyola University Chicago in 1941.[3]

On June 18, 1947 (his 33rd birthday) he was ordained to the priesthood with his mother in attendance.[7] The two Lutheran boarders of Hardon's childhood had remained close to the family and attended his ordination[8] and first Mass.[3] Within a year of seeing her son enter the priesthood Hardon's mother died.[7]

Hardon took it as a sign of divine favor when his superiors, with no prompting from him ordered him to attend the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to continue his study of theology (from 1949 to 1951).[6][7]

While studying at Rome, he was appointed director of the graduate library. At one point his superior ordered him to retrieve all of the volumes held on loan by other graduate students that were declared heretical by the Catholic Church. Hardon later recalled:

Before I had retrieved one-half of the heretical books, I had become the agent of orthodoxy and therefore the sworn enemy of the modernists, who were updating the Catholic faith to its modernist theology. I had doors slammed in my face. I lost friends whom I had considered believers....[this experience] taught me that the faith I had so casually learned could be preserved only by the price of a living martyrdom. This faith, I was to find out, is a precious treasure that cannot be preserved except at a heavy price. The price is nothing less than to confess what so many others either openly or covertly denied."[2]

He received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from the Gregorian University after finishing his doctoral dissertation on St. Robert Bellarmine entitled A Comparative Study of Bellarmine’s Doctrine on the Relation of Sincere Non-Catholics to the Catholic Church. Later in his life, he stated, “I could not have chosen a better subject in preparation for a lifetime of teaching Catholic doctrine.”[2] That same year, 1951, he received the Papal Medal.[9]

Due to lifelong health problems, including asthma, Hardon was forced to return to America in 1951, where he joined the faculty of West Baden College teaching theology to Jesuit students. Hardon was denied his request to be a missionary to post-War Japan (at the newly opened Jesuit University in Tokyo) due to his health.[7] Determined to be of some service for this endeavor, Hardon began to study comparative religion.[7] During his studies of oriental religions he believed there were "not only areas that were compatible with Christianity but also sections of thought that were clearly influenced in a direct manner by contact with the Christian message."[7] Hardon began using his extensive knowledge of Asian customs and religions to train missionaries for that region.[6]

During this time Hardon pronounced his final vows on February 2, 1953 including the special Jesuit vow of unwavering fidelity to the pope.[6]

In an effort to understand Protestantism he worked on a book released in 1956 entitled Protestant Churches in America, which was met with critical acclaim even among Protestant circles. While still teaching full-time at West Baden, Hardon became a visiting professor invited to teach Catholic theology at several Protestant seminaries and colleges including Bethany School of Theology, Lutheran School of Theology, and Seabury-Western Divinity School.[6] Janaro writes:

In this work he saw an opportunity to share the fullness of the faith with those baptized in Christ who, because of the circumstances of history, time and place, or culture, had yet to receive a complete understanding and appreciation of the Christian faith and of the Church that extends the power and presence of Jesus Christ."[6]

The novelty of the situation was not lost on his Protestant colleagues either, and upon his acceptance of a position at Seabury-Western Divinity school, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury sent a personal representative to mark the event - "the first time in history an Anglican/Episcopalian seminary had appointed a teacher who was a member of the once hated and feared Society of Jesus."[6] Hardon also served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council on discussions about liturgy.[4]

Between 1962 and 1967 Fr. Hardon taught Roman Catholicism and Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University. He released his book Religions of the World in 1963. By 1967 he returned to teaching Jesuit scholastics at two Jesuit theological schools in Illinois while working as a visiting professor at St. Paul University in Ottawa, where he taught furloughed missionaries classes in missiology. At this time he also began work for the Congregations for Religious and the Clergy in Rome to implement the renewal laid out in the documents of Vatican II.[6]

In 1969 Hardon assisted in the founding of a union of religious called the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis. In 1971 he helped found the Institute on Religious Life. That same year Hardon and nine other notable American Catholics were summoned by Camaldolese abbot Ugo Modotti acting on behalf of Pope Paul VI. The group was tasked to create a Catholic media organization and met three times a year for periods of two to three days. Hardon told an interviewer this was because "the Holy Father's mission was very clear: American Catholics must get some control of the media of social communication; otherwise, the pope feared for the survival of the Church in our country."[10] A year later Modotti informed Hardon that the Pope had accepted his recommendation to replace him with Hardon should any thing befall the Abbot. Two weeks later Modotti was found dead in his bed and Hardon took over the mission.[10]

In 1972, Hardon furthered his media apostolate by founding Mark Communications in Canada. Through his work with the papacy he was later asked by Paul VI to start Pontifical Catechetical Institutes in the United States to ensure the correct catechetical formation of religious educators. Hardon assisted and supported those establishing these organizations, especially Msgr. Eugene Kevane.[7]

In 1974 Hardon became a professor at St. John's University in New York City at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine. At this time he worked with the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio to make Christ Our Life, a series of religious textbooks for elementary students.[6]


While teaching at St. John's, Hardon reacted to a woman's question about his thoughts on the Enneagram of Personality. He responded with an article listing his objections to the concept, viewing it as a New Age process dangerous to the Catholic faith. Soon after he was summoned to appear before his Jesuit superior to speak on the matter, at the conclusion of the meeting he was informed he would be forbidden to teach at any Jesuit institution.[6] At the time of his death Hardon had not been allowed to teach at a Jesuit school for sixteen years. He viewed this as persecution for teaching the faith and saw it as "white martyrdom" and when recalling it would advise his listeners that they should be willing to suffer for the true doctrines of Catholicism.[6] Hardon was also rebuffed by the chancery of the Archdiocese of Detroit who refused to use any of his books in their catechetical materials and he was never invited to their conferences and seminars - though he was in high demand across the rest of the nation.[6] The conservative Catholic newspaper The Wanderer reported that Fr. Patrick Halfpenny, vice-rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, had a standing order at The Michigan Catholic (the diocesan newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit) that Hardon's picture was not to be printed and also that if his name was to be mentioned at all it would be in the smallest font possible, due to Halfpenny's belief that "He's divisive."[6] The Wanderer also pointed out that at the Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination at Assumption Grotto in Detroit, though attended by many friends, not a single Jesuit other than Hardon was there.[6]


Father Hardon was a very prominent member of the Jesuit community, which is known for its academic rigor, and wrote over forty books[6] on religion and theology,[5][11] including Catholic Catechism: A Contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church (1975), a defining volume of Catholic orthodoxy; and the Modern Catholic Dictionary (1980), a major Catholic reference dictionary published after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). In addition to his own works Hardon contributed to six encyclopedias.[6]

Hardon had a close working relationship with Pope Paul VI, engaging in several initiatives at the Pope's request, including his authoring of The Catholic Catechism. Paul VI apparently displeased with the controversial Dutch Catechism and in line with his letter Solemni Hac Liturgia (Credo of the people of God) requested that Hardon produce a volume to synthesize what Catholics must believe and present it in the English language.[12]

Father Hardon's work The Catholic Catechism was a significant post–Vatican II work in the sense that it essentially brought modern Catholic teaching and faith into one book, unlike any other before. At the time of his death it had sold over 150,000 in hardback, and as a 623-page paperback had reached its 26th printing selling over one million copies.[6] It served as the normative standard until the publishing of 1992's Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the official codified teaching of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Hardon served as a consultant for the drafting of that document.

Hardon kept to a demanding work schedule, especially during the creation of the 1992 Catechism. At that time, once daily demands for his advice as a local spiritual director lessened (around five or six pm), he would write and organize material and continue to work into the night (where upon it would be morning in Rome). He often received phone calls at this time from Cardinal Ratzinger who sought his advice and input to fine tune the Catechism.[12] Ratzinger had a good relationship with Hardon which included sending him notes of thanks for his assistance in the faith.[13]

Hardon had sympathy for those attracted to Catholic groups (such as the Society of St. Pius X) that strenuously objected to portions of Vatican II documents, "but he never for a moment accepted the premise that a schismatic act was ever justified."[14]

Hardon was also a major contributor to Catholic newspapers and magazines and was executive editor of The Catholic Faith magazine.[2]

Hardon founded several Catholic organizations, which include Inter Mirifica (a name taken from Vatican II's decree on social communication), the Marian Catechists (a catechist formation program following the teachings of St. Ignatius),[6] and Holy Trinity Apostolate.[15] He also served as an adviser to many Catholic organizations, including Catholics United for Faith.[6]

Father Hardon participated in various apostolates to religious communities.[6] In the early 1980s, Pope John Paul II instructed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to have her order evangelize the poor in addition to looking after their material needs.[16] When she stated she didn't know where to begin such an endeavor, the Pope referred her to Cardinal Ratzinger, who called upon Hardon to instruct her Missionaries of Charity.[10] To fill this need Hardon wrote a catechetical course for Mother Teresa's order. The course later was adapted and used to create two catechetical home study courses for lay Catholics. In 1985 Hardon founded the Marian Catechist Apostolate, an organization that uses these home study courses to provide catechetical formation to lay people in order to prepare them for catechetical ministry.[2]

Hardon also assisted Catholic home schoolers, and worked with Eternal Life of Bardstown, Kentucky, where he recorded several audio lectures on Catholic topics beginning in 1988.[6] His first series for Eternal Life was against contraception which he viewed, in line with other conservative Catholics, as what "greased the skids for the culture of death" - seeing it as the source for acceptance of abortion and assisted suicide, all of which are condemned by Catholicism.[6] After that series he recorded lectures on the Ignatian Exercises, followed by other programs "including The Apostles’ Creed, The Eucharist, Catholic Sexual Morality, and Angels and Devils."[6] Due to problems with his voice, including long pauses, the recordings were digitally remastered to make him more audible by Ed Wolfrum who previously worked as a Motown music engineer.[6]

He was known to be devoted to the Catholic practice of Eucharistic adoration, spending at least three hours a day praying before the Blessed Sacrament.[6]

Hardon was a major force in establishing the "Call to Holiness" conference, which was held annually in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The initial conference was held in the late 90's to counter a nearby conference held the same weekend by the liberal Catholic group Call to Action.[14] Hardon also played a key role in the conversion of Dave Armstrong who went from being a Protestant to becoming a Catholic apologist.[14]

Hardon spent his last years working from an office on the grounds of the Assumption Grotto in Detroit serving as a spiritual director.[17]

Possible beatification

After suffering from several illnesses, Father Hardon died from bone cancer at the Jesuits' Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan on December 30, 2000.[18] William J. Smith, who worked with Hardon at Eternal Life, reported that in the priest's final weeks, Hardon "suffered tremendous physical pain, but he made himself 'a true victim soul.'"[6] He willed that at his death his extensive library and correspondence would go to Archbishop Raymond L. Burke.[19] Each year Catholics in the Detroit area have a memorial Mass said for Hardon on December 30.[20]

There is interest among some Catholics for his canonization, and a Church-sanctioned prayer for that cause has been written. Cardinal Raymond Burke, when he was serving as the Archbishop of St. Louis and was the national director of the Marian Catechist Apostolate (began by Hardon), initiated Father Hardon's cause for canonization in 2005.[21] Father Robert McDermott, a former student of Hardon's, was the postulator for the cause until moving to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he serves as associate pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church.[22] An effort is underway to establish a Father Hardon library and study center at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

A concern for Hardon's cause for canonization arose in early 2012 when documents concerning fellow Jesuit Donald McGuire surfaced and were featured in a story by Peter Jamison in the San Francisco Weekly. McGuire was arrested on charges of sex-abuse in 2005 and found guilty of sexually molesting boys in federal and state courts. Documents show that McGuire had previously admitted to Hardon that he had taken showers with a teenage boy from Walnut Creek, solicited body massages from him, and allowed him to read pornography in the room they shared on trips together. In spite of these admissions "Hardon concluded that his fellow Jesuit's actions were 'objectively defensible,' albeit 'highly imprudent,' and told McGuire's bosses that he 'should be prudently allowed to engage in priestly ministry.'…The situation is aggravated since McGuire went on to abuse more children after suggestions to return him to ministry were heeded."[23]



Specific references
  1. 1 2 Hays, Charlotte (29 October 2010). "The Cause for Father Hardon: Sanctity Made in America, Part 2". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Biography | Father John A. Hardon, SJ". Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell. "Rev. John A. Hardon - Biography".
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Father Hardon will indeed be a hard act to follow". Catholic Pewpoint. January 5, 2001.
  5. 1 2 Zlatos, Bill (18 August 2011). "Late priest with local roots on path toward sainthood". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2012-07-26. (subscription required (help)).
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 Paul Likoudis (2000). "Fr. Hardon, A "One Man Army Of God"". St Paul, MN: The Wanderer. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 John Janaro. "Fr. John Hardon".
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. "Retreat on the Credo, Faith in the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints".
  9. "Ordained to Sacrifice".
  10. 1 2 3 Anita C. Crane (2003). "An Interview with Fr. Hardon". Inter Mirifica.
  11. "Publications | Father John A. Hardon, SJ". Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  12. 1 2 Fr. Robert T. McDermott. Servant of God - Fr. John Hardon, S.J. St. Louis Review.
  13. "note from Ratzinger to Hardon".
  14. 1 2 3 Dave Armstrong (April 18, 2006). "Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.: Servant of God (1914-2000)".
  15. "Holy Trinity Apostolate". Holy Trinity Apostolate. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
  16. "The History of the Apostolate". Marian Catechist Apostolate.
  17. "The "Fr. John Hardon Years at Grotto" comes to a close as his library moves to Missouri". November 3, 2007.
  18. Barbara Middleton. "A Giant Of Faith Passes To God".
  19. "News about Fr. John A. Hardon - The archive, the guild, and a blessing...". October 3, 2009.
  20. "Memorial Mass for Servant of God, Rev. John A. Hardon SJ". January 25, 2010.
  21. Joseph Pronechen (August 13, 2006). "St. John Hardon?". National Catholic Register.
  22. "OLMC Staff". Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  23. Peter Jamison (January 11, 2012). "Tainted Saint: Mother Teresa Defended Pedophile Priest".
Other sources
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