Marty Hegarty: 40th Anniversary of WEORC Celebration

This is a testimonial to Marty Hegarty by John Horan at the October 17, 2010 WEORC 40th Anniversary celebration. It is one of the articles on the event in WEORC's December 2010 newsletter.

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Bill Keannelly, the finest Irish mystic, poet-priest, prophet and standup comedian the Archdiocese has ever produced once said that October is the month during which the membrane that separates the living and the dead is the thinnest and the most permeable.

Think about it. October’s membrane stretches between the bounty of summer and the barrenness of winter. All Souls Day, All Saints Day… the contingency of October makes us mindful of what happens on the dawn side of our last breath.

Membranes are holy places. They are the transition points when we pass from everything we have known to be true to a strange, new world with jarring truths, challenging rogue assumptions and undiscovered possibilities.

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, my rolodex was wrecked (this being the time before Blackberry). I had one black suit that smelled like incense and not a clue about what to do with my life. I was a man up against a membrane.

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 made my membrane thinner; he 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, my work ethic, my integrity, my spirituality - everything that helped me be a good priest; would help me be a terrific employee. He said I would stand out in any work setting but I would have to start at the bottom, and work my way up. He said that I would not get the perfect job right away, but I should start with something, with anything that would pay my bills, and take things from there.

He said that I should trust my ear for “vocare”, for the call of the spirit and that God would be utterly faithful to me, always and everywhere, wherever and however I would go.

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. A barrier that I thought was impenetrable, was in fact a membrane I could manage through to something new, something equally of God, something essential.

How many thousands more of us has Marty done this for - many face to face, many through the extraordinary WEORC network that Marty and Jim have created and sustained these 40 years? I believe that God has very passionate opinions about how men and women transitioning out of ministry should be cared for, even though God’s church officials don’t necessarily agree and sometimes actually impede. WEORC is the incarnation of God’s loving care for those of us who have crossed through the membrane between our callings, and Marty and WEORC are the caretakers of that crossing.

Some five years later, Marty saved my life. I was fighting a losing battle with depression. Winston Churchill once called depression the black dogs that come at midnight - well, I was living in the kennel. It was a terrible time, a time during which I had to be hospitalized - what a house of horrors.

And when I was released from the hospital, strung together with spit and bailing wire, embarrassed, ashamed and scared as hell, who came to scoop me up and help me make that first unimaginably hard step to wellness, well it was Marty Hegarty - who else? Marty knows about the membrane between despair and hope, between being shattered and finding a way. And I think tonight, how many legions of the outcast, marginalized, broken, hopeless and wounded has Marty scooped up?

Marty has Jesus in his muscle memory. Marty cries easily. Like any Irishman he has bladders behind his eyeballs, but his tears are never trivial. He hungers for justice, he comforts the mourning, he rails against cruelty of stupid institutions. He bleeds daylight out of night.

Marty has Resurrection in his DNA. He knows that tombs are made to be opened and rocks to be rolled away. And he does this all the time. I believe he is in a three way tie with St. Francis and Mother Theresa for the all time leader in Corporal Works of Mercy. That’s our Marty. He knows the barrier between despair and hope is just a membrane to be managed.

And now Marty is engaged in perhaps his finest Opus Dei. He is trying to push through the membrane between our current confused and crumbling institutional Catholic Church and the new Church that is aborning. For Marty, leaving is no more an option than is settling for the current sorry state of affairs. As WEORC has helped men and women transition from ministry to employment, WEORC is now helping the Catholic Church transition to a richer expression of God’s kingdom come.

There are no easy answers. Too many of us are on the brink of calling it quits. But to listen to Marty talk Church these days is to be thrilled about the possibilities to come. He is a spiritual son of Bernanos* - he knows that grace is everywhere. He knows that the travails of today are a thin membrane, penetrable and manageable. Now, Marty always says that this all important transition has to be led by the young, but when Marty talks about the future of Church, there is no one younger in that room than he.

So everyone raise your glass to Marty Hegarty, our best bishop, our phoenix lifting us from our deepest holes, my spiritual dad with his Waterford crystal soul and irrepressible spirit.

Ad multos annos Marty - ad multos annos.

(*Georges Bernanos - author of Diary of a Country Priest)

John Horan was ordained for the Chicago Archdiocese in 1981 and is married. He was the chairperson of WEORC from 2001-2009. He is currently the president of a Chicago Charter school, North Lawndale College Prep.