In October last year, Martin "Marty" Hegarty celebrated 40 years in a unique, creative ministry assisting Catholic priests transitioning out of the clerical state into lay life.
No one has kept score, but it is generally estimated that Hegarty and his associates helped more than 3000 former priests from across the US, as well as former nuns and even some Protestant ministers, who were on their own and in need of confidence and guidance.
Hegarty died last month at the age of 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. He was an extroverted Irishman from Chicago's West Side with a quick wit, occasionally a quick temper and a fierce loyalty to the Catholic Church and Notre Dame football.
He was a delightful raconteur who knew all the old stories about pastors who built enormous churches, filled enormous schools and had enormous egos. He knew the priests who manned these institutions, knew their dedication, their eccentricities, their achievements and failures. To the end of his days, he attended virtually every priest's funeral in the archdiocese.
"He was always so caring and courageous and generous," said his longtime collaborator Jim Wilbur. "He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he could break into tears dealing with people who were hurting."
Beyond all this, Hegarty was a born connector, nurturing relationships with dozens of friends, contacts and acquaintances, and never reluctant to ask a favour on behalf of a resigned priest.
despite his work for those leaving formal ministry, Hegarty never despaired of the church or its future.
Yet despite his work for those leaving formal ministry, he never despaired of the church or its future.
Martin Hegarty, 'bishop' to resigned priests, dies at 83 (National Catholic Reporter)
WEORC (association of priests, religious women and men who have moved from full time ministry in the Church to other work)
Martin J. Hegarty, 1928-2011 (Chicago Tribune)