By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 24, 2008
He was a loving brother, a good friend and a devout Marist priest, who knew his order’s charisms, inside and out, and was passionate about carrying out the Society of Mary’s mission with its spirit of humility, love of God and ardent love of neighbor.
His good humor, generous spirit and quick wit often brought levity into difficult or tense discussions. He was a teacher, passionate about education; a serious gourmand who enjoyed good food and wine; and a baker, who could whip up a chocolate cake—with lots of butter—or a fragrant loaf of Irish soda bread.
On Friday, the president of the Marist School, Father Richmond Egan, SM—Father Rich, to those who knew him well—was remembered with great fondness as an unforgettable man of many facets. He died Jan. 12, 10 days after suffering a pulmonary embolism, after undergoing a routine procedure at Saint Joseph’s Hospital. He was 67.
The funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Assumption Church, concelebrated by Marist Provincial Father Tim G. Keating, with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue presiding. Priests from the Society of Mary and the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and priests of other religious congregations joined together to celebrate the Mass. Marist Father Joel Konzen, principal of the Marist School, gave the homily.
Dozens of students, dressed in their Marist blue blazers and uniforms, lined the outer aisles of the church, while more than 1,000 friends, family members and school alumni came to pay their respects to the man who served as their most eloquent spokesman for their school for almost seven years.
After the Mass, the priests of the Society of Mary gathered in the church baptismal narthex for the Salve Regina; their voices soared into the eaves of the church as they sang their final farewell to their brother priest.
Father Egan was laid to rest at Westview Cemetery, under a beautiful wintry blue sky laced with light clouds.
For those who knew Father Egan well, the day was bittersweet, for his death was sudden. After dealing with prostate cancer over a year ago, he was in good health when the embolism struck. He had expected to return to his role as president of the school, a position he had planned to step down from in 2009.
“He always had a smile on his face; he was a wonderful priest,” said Lisa Carlson, a senior at Marist, and student council president. “He gave us a sense of unity at the school.”
Father Egan professed his vows to the Society of Mary in 1962 and was ordained in 1967. Well-educated, he held master’s degrees in liturgical studies and scripture, journalism and law, but those who knew him well appreciated his ability to get to the heart of a matter, quickly and simply.
“I have so many memories,” said Father Keating, who was Father Egan’s Marist provincial. “We knew each other for 53 years—we went to seminary together. He was a master of writing limericks; he had a wonderful sense of humor. He had a zest for life—he was a wine connoisseur, he loved to travel—but that doesn’t mean he was not a good religious; his life just shows that there is no contradiction between the two. I don’t know if he ever said no to anything that was ever asked of him.”
“Father Egan was very warm, and one of the most thoughtful people who I’ve ever met; he was most concerned with your feelings and how you were doing,” said Celine Stribling, a Marist mom, and his administrative assistant for the past few years.
Mike Cote, a Marist dad, and a member of the school’s board of trustees, worked closely with Father Egan in that role.
“Father Egan was one of those certain people where you can sense and feel that he’s a man of God,” said Cote. “He was an intelligent, educated person with a passion for Mary and the Marist order. He had a real passion for the Reach for Excellence program, (a magnet summer program at Marist for bright, but under-served middle-schoolers) and used his tremendous ability to ensure the school and board of directors continued to support the program. There was a time in the beginning when the program was having problems financially, but he was adamant—this is part of the mission of who we are (at Marist), and we will do this. He showed his leadership that way.” The program has flourished since and now has 90 students enrolled.
As principal, Father Konzen worked daily with Father Egan; the two, who had been student and teacher in seminary, became close friends.
“It was so easy to work with him; he was president and I was principal, they’re complementary roles and require you to understand where one person’s job stops and the other began, and he respected my role. It was important to him that we all be familiar with the Marist religious mission of the school, that everything we did was related to founder Father (Jean-Claude) Colin’s philosophy of educating—to make the students into disciples of Christ, to have them be good, moral and contributing citizens, and to have them experience the best of arts and sciences and good academic learning as well, which our founder believed would help shape them into thinking and careful human beings.”
That was his legacy, said Mike Coveny, a graduate of Marist School, who now teaches religion at the school. “He was committed to making the Society of Mary alive in the school; he was intent on making sure people understand that we should aspire for a spirit of humility and self-denial and intimate union with God and an ardent love of neighbor.”
His younger sister, Martha Egan, of Boston, enjoyed his love of travel and accompanied him on his trips to France, Ireland and Italy; the two had planned a trip to Rome in February. The two siblings, though nine years apart, were very close.
“He was the dearest man, so thoughtful of other people, and always had a smile on his face,” she said. She remembered him as someone who had always wanted to be a priest but also shouldered the responsibilities of the family when their father died when she was 16.
“He was my best friend,” she said simply. “He always followed the Marist way and believed in it. At the end of every Mass he made it a point to say, “go in peace, to love to serve the Lord and one another.’ Love one another—that was his way.”