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The Founding Family
"By the time the priest got to his bedside to offer the last rites, the man was already dead. Father David W. Hearn, S.J., the Jesuit pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Church on Park Avenue, had been called late in the evening of November 3, 1910, to the home of one of his parishioners, Hugh J. Grant. When he arrived at his residence at 20 East 72nd Street, the Jesuit found Grant's wife, Julia, his two daughters, Edna and Julie, and his only son and namesake, Hugh, Jr., gathered around the body. Mr. Grant had been out that evening to play poker with some friends but wound up returning home early after feeling ill. Upon arriving he had become dizzy on the staircase and had to be carried to his bed. His personal physician was immediately called, but before he or Father Hearn could arrive, the Mayor of New York from 1889-1892 had expired." The Founding Family
Above: The Founding Family
Unlike most other children of Irish immigrants to New York in the mid-nineteenth century, Hugh Grant had the good fortune to have parents who were members of the rising middle class. Born in 1855 on West 27th Street, his Irish-born father John Grant was prosperous saloonkeeper and liquor merchant, who made a small fortune through real estate speculation on the West Side of Manhattan. He also became active in local Democratic politics, which furthered his business connections. It was these two pursuitsreal estate speculation and politicsthat would come to shape so much of his son's future life.

When his father passed away, his mother was already deceased, so he was left orphaned, though not destitute. His father left him $500,000, and he soon moved on to Columbia University, where he earned a law degree. Finished with his formal education, Grant began a legal career in the offices of D.M. Porter, then one of the city's leading attorneys. However, he did not remain there long, and in little more than a year he set up his own practice in real estate law. Building on his father's business and political associations, Grant soon was selected Tammany leader in the Nineteenth Assembly District and eventually in 1882 was elected to the city's Board of Aldermen (the forerunner to the present-day City Council).

After only a couple of years in elected office, Grant came to the attention of the entire city as a result of scandal. In 1884, he was one of only two members of the Board of Aldermen not accused of taking a $20,000 bribe to support a city contract for a streetcar corporation. As a result of his moral probity, Grant became the darling of the city's political kingmakers. In the elections of that year, he was selected by "Honest" John Kelly to be Tammany's candidate in the 1884 mayoral election. Though he lost, Grant walked away from this defeat with far more than a consolation prize. The next year, Tammany backed his candidacy for Sheriff of New York, an office which Grant easily won, and it brought him a handsome salary. This new position included a fair amount of patronage and kept him in the public spotlight for several years by allowing him prime places in the festivities surrounding the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886 and the centennial observances of George Washington's inauguration in 1888. With this background, education and political connections, Hugh Grant was well situated when he ran for mayor a few years later. He won handily. At the young age of 34, Grant was able to parley his father's wealth, political connections, and Irish ancestry to become the first New York-born, Irish-American mayor.

Grant's two consecutive terms as mayor are rightly remembered for several undertakings which improved the lives of average New Yorkers. He completed the New Croton River Aqueduct which secured the reliable delivery of clean water for a city that was still growing in almost geometric proportions. In addition, Mayor Grant ordered the telephone and telegraph companies take down their unsightly and unsafe overhead lines and bury them. The recent and historic blizzard of 1888 had demonstrated the real hazards to life and limb posed by electrified overhead wires blown down during a storm. Grant also worked to clean the city streets whose filth was taking a toll on both public health and commerce. In preparation for this, he first visited several other cities around the country to learn of their sanitation systems, and he even had his staff do research on how European cities dealt with the issue. Grant made plans for regular and reliable street cleaning for the city, though it was left to his successors to capitalize on the modified state laws and give the city regular and reliable street cleaning and disposal of refuse. During his second term in office, Mayor Grant continued to work for a comprehensive sanitation policy. He also established a special commission to investigate the construction of underground train lines (subways). However, despite Grant's accomplishments, his reputation suffered during his second term due to accusations of patronage and cronyism and the exposure of widespread corruption by members of the police force. Grant would lose his run for a third term in 1892.

Grant's busy schedule once he became involved in city politics did not preclude him from befriending Julia Murphy. Born in 1873 and raised in Troy, New York, Julia was the oldest of eleven children from a prominent upstate family. She received most of her education from the Madams of the Scared Heart in Kenwood, right outside of Albany. Her father, Edward Murphy, was a native of that city and from a family wealthy enough to send him to St. John's College (now Fordham) where he graduated in 1857. Her mother, Julia Delehanty was from a prominent Albany Irish-Catholic family. After making his name in the brewing business, Julia's father became involved in local Democratic politics and was eventually elected mayor of Troy in 1875, a position he then held for the next eight years. In 1892, he was selected by the New York State Legislature to serve as the junior senator from New York in the U.S. Congress. Julia had only recently made her debut into society when she met Mayor Grant, and soon thereafter they began a three-year courtship. After agreeing to give up his career in politics and to shave off his heavy black beard, the two eventually married. Almost two decades older than his bride, Hugh and Julia would be married for 15 years, making their home at 20 East 72nd Street on the Upper East Side.

Hugh remained active managing his extensive real estate holdings, and because of his outstanding business reputation, he was often consulted for advice on questions of business and finance. Hugh also became a family man and a father. By 1904, he and Julia had three children: Julie, Edna and Hugh, Jr. While many of the wealthier Catholics at that time sent their daughters to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, which was run by the same nuns that taught Julia as a child, the Grants sent their daughters to the exclusive but non-sectarian "Miss Chapin's School for Girls" which was then located on East 57th Street. Hugh, the youngest of the three, was eventually sent to the Jesuit-run Loyola School on Park Avenue. Sadly, the former mayor would not have the good fortune to see his children grow to adulthood. Young Hugh was only six years old at the time of his father's death.

Hugh Grant's untimely death in 1910 left Julia a widow before the age of 40 and gave her the sole responsibility of raising three young children. She was fortunate to have the support of her family who came to her aid immediately. Her father, the former senator, escorted Julia and her two daughters as the funeral cortege made its way from the Grant residence a dozen blocks north to St. Ignatius of Loyola Church on Park Avenue. Mrs. Grant had decided to leave young Hugh, Jr. at home thinking he was too innocent to attend his father's funeral. The former mayor received a grand farewell with many of the city's leading citizens having come to pay their last respects at a solemn high Mass celebrated by none other than Father Hearn. For Mrs. Grant, Father Hearn would come to play a counselor's role in her life as he offered consolation and practical advice in the years after her husband's death.

At the time of his death, Hugh Grant left his wife an estate valued at about $9.2 million. In 2010, this would be worth about $210 million. Mrs. Grant was to receive $500,000 outright and an additional $300,000 was to be given to various charities at her discretion. At her death, the entire estate was to be divided among the three children in any way that she saw fit. A devout Catholic, Mrs. Grant turned to Father Hearn in 1911 for advice on how to distribute these monies as well as for other counsel in dealing with her husband's estate. Her father died in 1911 so with the other important man in her life gone, it is not surprising that she turned for advice to her pastor. Hearn suggested that they "talk the matter thoroughly," and afterward he would draw up a list of recommendations. While in conversation, Father Hearn also mentioned that it was "time for well-to-do Catholics of position and refinement to do something for Catholic Education [and] they could not place their money with better results." This would take far more than the $300,000 which the will stipulated should be disbursed, but Hearn knew that the wealth of the Grant family was quite sizeable. In planting this seed of an idea in Mrs. Grant, Father Hearn was returning to a dream that he had envisioned a few years earlier.

Back in 1905, when Hearn was president of the College of St. Francis Xavier, he had begun to lay out a plan to offer a free education to its students. This came in response to criticism of the supposed elitism of Jesuit schools since their tuition was far beyond the reach of most of Catholic New Yorkers, many of whom were quite poor. But Hearn's plan was also rooted in the original vision going back to St. Ignatius Loyola that a Jesuit education should be available to all. Hearn had proposed that all the pastors in Manhattan encourage as many of their boys to attend the high school department of Xavier as possible and that the pastors should contribute $40 per year for each boy. With a higher enrollment, parish financial help and support from the Jesuits themselves, Hearn thought Xavier would be able to then offer a free high school education to all. This proposal never came to fruition, but Hearn's discussions with Mrs. Grant revived his earlier hope of providing a free Jesuit education for all Catholic boys. Not long after their conversation, as per the dictates of the will, Mrs. Grant made gifts to various institutions with the lion's share going toward those sponsored by the Jesuits. Mrs. Grant also strictly stipulated that all of these bequests were to be kept "absolutely secret."

When Mrs. Grant and Father Hearn finally began discussing the possibility of a major gift to the Society, Hearn told her that the Jesuits were desirous of constructing a new seminary for those studying theology. The seminary at Woodstock, Maryland that had been built in 1869 was now considered too remote and should be moved near one of their universities such as Georgetown or Fordham. Hearn also raised again the work closest to his heart--a free Catholic high school for boys. According to a letter Hearn wrote in 1916, "for a long time she hung between the two ideas, now seeming to lean one way [and then] another." To help her with her decision, Hearn even took her to see the fifty-four acre property the Jesuits had recently bought in Yonkers, where they were considering building the new seminary. Upon seeing it, she plainly said that she thought the site totally unsuitable for this purpose, and Hearn was in complete agreement. After that visit, "she never considered again the [seminary] proposition for a moment and turned with all her heart to the high school idea." It seems that with this, Hearn had closed the deal on the school. Shortly after his arrival at St. Ignatius, Father Hearn began compiling a "Notebook of Benefactors" in order to record the major gifts to the parish. It is here that can be found Mrs. Grant's rather dramatic presentation of the first installment of her gift to start Regis. Hearn recorded the following entry for December 24, 1912:

Mrs. Hugh J. Grant came to the Midnight Mass in Loyola Chapel. Just before the Mass she placed in Rev. Fr. Superior's [Hearn's] hand a sealed envelope containing a certificate on the Central Trust Co. for five hundred thousand dollars. This was the amount left to her absolute disposal by the will of her husband. It was the first installment towards the $1,500,000 for the foundation of the Regis High School.

The consultors of the Jesuit community attached to St. Ignatius gave their approval and authorized Hearn to acquire some nearby property. Hearn ultimately worked through a third party in Philadelphia in order to quietly purchase the lots on East 84th and 85th Streets on which he had his eye. The current footprint of the school was previously divided into seven separate parcels, one of which was occupied by the Manhattan Garage,. The Jesuit consultors also selected the prestigious architectural firm of Maginnis and Walsh to draw up plans for the proposed school to be placed under the patronage of St. John Francis Regis.

In addition to the original gift of $500,000, Mrs. Grant wound up giving the rest of her initial bequest in three installments. Remarkably in a period of 21 months, she actually gave $1.525 million ($25,000 above the original promise) toward the establishment of Regis. Shortly before the opening of the new school, Father Hearn sent a letter to Mrs. Grant clearly stating their agreement as to the school she was founding and how it would be supported. The letter explicitly stated her gift of $1.5 million was not to the archdiocese or St. Ignatius Parish but to the "Fathers of the Society of Jesus" to establish a high school "without tuition charge." One half million dollars of her bequest was to go to the "purchase of property and erection of suitable buildings," and the remaining one million was left "as a foundation for the running of the expenses of the school...[including] support of Jesuits teaching there and for the pay of any lay assistants." Since the property cost $300,000 and construction of the building came to slightly above $400,000, Regis actually opened with an endowment of about $800,000.

At the time of the founding of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius demanded that Jesuit ministries and apostolates be available to the rich and poor alike. After the first schools were opened, this norm was to be applied to them too. A new school would be established only if it could be fully endowed. Despite this lofty and laudable goal, most Jesuit schools were never fully endowed and often had to resort to other methods to make ends meet. With far different economic and social conditions, by the nineteenth century American Jesuits had decided that operating free schools was no longer possible. With Rome's acquiescence, the more than two dozen Jesuit schools founded in this century became heavily dependent on tuition and therefore remained out of the reach of most of the American Catholic community, which was still made up largely of poor immigrants. Thus it seemed that this core principle of Ignatius and his first companionsuniversal access to Jesuit schoolshad been relegated to the history books, at least in the United States. However, the generosity of one devoutly Catholic woman brought the original vision back to life.

With the encouragement of Father Hearn who had never lost this educational ideal of the early Society, Mrs. Grant donated a considerable portion of her family's wealth to the establishment of Regis High School. And until her death in 1944, Mrs. Grant would continue to offer generous financial support to her school, although always anonymously, while also maintaining an active interest in Regis through her quiet contact with the Jesuits. Her three children would also continue to support Regis until 1981 when the last of them, Hugh, Jr., passed away. Though now long gone from this world, the example of Mrs. Grant and her children stand as a living example of Christian generosity that gives without seeking any glory for oneself.

— Fr. Anthony D. Andreassi, a priest of the Brooklyn Oratory, holds a doctorate in American history from Georgetown and has taught at Regis since 2003. He is currently writing the official history of Regis High School, which will be available in 2013. This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Regis Alumni News magazine.