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The Wonderful Work of Father Dan


Just the other day I was delighted to receive, from an obviously devoted daughter, a copy of a letter I wrote to her father nearly 40 years ago. It was a letter bidding farewell to one of the finest officers with whom I had the privilege of serving aboard the USS Canberra. I concluded my letter by quoting from a French maxim that had heretofore slipped from my memory--To part is to die a little.

Following this maxim, you should know that the parting I experienced on 10 February reduced my own lifespan quite substantially. So much so, that it has taken this long to gather my thoughts for a column. I wanted to be absolutely certain that I paid the proper respect to one of the finest priests I have ever had the opportunity to come to know and consider my friend--Father Dan Egan, S.A.

A native of the Archdiocese of New York (born June 18, 1915, in the Bronx), Father Dan entered the Friars of the Atonement in 1935, professed his first vows in 1937 and was ordained in 1945. That happens to be the same year I was ordained, and I am quite honest in telling you that I am embarrassed beyond measure to even attempt to measure my priestly service against Father Dan's.

By 1960 he had embarked full time in a ministry still very new to most priests--drug rehabilitation. When so many were still looking at addicts with scorn and contempt, Father Dan long ago realized that each one of these persons was Jesus Christ crying out for help. There was no way that Father Dan could turn his back on them. It wasn't long after his decision to become actively involved in drug prevention and education that he lovingly became known as "The Junkie Priest," the title of a 1970 biography by John D. Harris. Even Mother Teresa, herself a "miracle worker," would eventually tap Father Dan to open a house for addicts in Calcutta.

But, Father Dan didn't limit his activities to drug rehabilitation. He served as a missionary as well, playing a crucial role in the establishment of Good Shepherd Parish in Braeton, Jamaica, West Indies. While doing this, he remarkably found both the time and energy to assist in the care of St. Monica's Home for those with Hansen's disease (leprosy) in Central Village.

One would think that all this--or even half this--would tire out any priest. Most likely, but not Father Dan. When he died at 84 years of age, Father Dan had taken up a new ministry. He managed as often as possible to get to his "last battlefield"--AIDS ministry at the Highbridge Woodycrest Center. It was there, he said, "that I find all the profound mysteries."

I could go on and on describing the wonderful priestly work of this zealot. Better yet, permit me to end this simple column about a simple priest who had over the years become my good friend by saying that which I know would please him most: Father Dan was a man and a priest of deep, deep piety. He knew exactly what God wanted him to do, and he always saw it through, despite obstacles or possibilities of controversy. I will never forget or stop admiring the energy that gushed forth from his slight body.

I have already received a number of letters from people whose lives had been touched for the good by this gentle priest. I am certain that the energy which belonged so peculiarly to Father Dan will continue to generate wonderful work for many years to come, albeit from a new and far better place. Rest in peace, my friend.

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