The Life and Legacy of Father Hearn, SJ

September 15, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Rev. David W. Hearn, SJ. It was Fr. Hearn's dream to establish a tuition-free high school rooted in the original vision established by Saint Ignatius Loyola that a Jesuit education should be available to all. With the help of Julia Grant, his dream became a reality when Regis first opened its doors to students in 1914.

Regis High School would not exist today without the inexplicable generosity of our Foundress. But Fr. Hearn's role in our founding was equally vital. In 1917, the daily log kept by the principal of Regis noted news of his death, followed by the simple but profound line, "He is the father of Regis High School."

Provided below is a reprint of the life of Father Hearn, as detailed in a 1918 edition of the Woodstock Letters (XVLII). On this anniversary of his death, we pause to reflect upon the inspirational life he led.

Father David W. Hearn, SJ
Woodstock Letters XVLII (1918)

The death of Father David W. Hearn, SJ, was indeed a cause for the deepest regret to many and especially to the Loyola School. He was always profoundly interested in it, even before he became its worthy Principal, and that interest did not abate when he was called to other fields of labor. Former and present students will recall him for his genial ways and his winning personality, Always kind and fatherly, he quickly endeared himself to the hearts of his pupils.

David W. Hearn was born in South Framingham, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1861, and made his preparatory studies at Boston College. At an early age the Divine call made itself manifest in him, and he was prompt to answer. He felt drawn to the Society of Jesus and applied for entrance into it and was accepted as a candidate. On the feast of St. Ignatius, July 31, 1880, David Hearn, then a boy of eighteen years, entered the Novitiate of the Society, situated at that time at West Park, New York. He spent two years there, laying the foundation, by prayer ad contemplation, for his future career. At the end of that period, he went to Frederick, Maryland, for his review of the classics. These studies he pursued for the ensuing two years, when he was transferred to Woodstock College, Maryland. Here he made his higher studies in philosophy and science for the space of three years. Then followed his years of teaching—mathematics at Georgetown; rhetoric and poetry at St. Peter’s College, Jersey City; literature to the Jesuit students at Frederick, Maryland—four years in all. Upon the completion of his years of teaching, he returned to Woodstock for his theological studies.

In the year 1895, he was ordained, continuing then another year in the study of theology immediately after which he was appointed prefect of studies at Boston College, which position he filled for one year. He then made his Third Year at Tronchiennes, Belgium. Upon his return from Europe, he was made prefect of studies at the College of St. Francis Xavier, New York City, of which college he became president on April 19, 1900. For about six years Father Hearn guided the destinies of St. Francis Xavier’s, and made the college well known and respected throughout the country for its scholarship and the prominent men it gave to Church and State. In 1907, Father Hearn returned to Boston College as prefect of studies.

May 20, 1909, saw Father Hearn installed as Principal of Loyola School and Superior of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York City. This was Father Hearn’s opportunity and he seized it. The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola was far from finished, especially in the interior. To the task of making his church as beautiful as possible, Father Hearn betook himself with enthusiasm and a knowledge of such things gleaned from actual acquaintance with several of the grandest cathedrals of the old world. During Father Hearn’s incumbency, the work of beautifying the church advanced considerably. Stained glass windows were put in throughout the upper church; mosaic stations of the cross, of surpassing richness and beauty, were installed; the main apse was ornamented with three large mosaics representing the wounding of St. Ignatius at the siege of Pampeluna, the confirmation of the Society of Jesus by the sovereign Pontiff, and St. Ignatius in glory; the walls and pilasters of the church were covered with marble in harmony with the frescoed vaults; marble was substituted for the wooden flooring and plaster walls of the vestibule; the lower church was enlarged, and the number of altars there increased from two to six; a new organ was erected in the lower church; and many other improvements were made. Surely such a list is to the lasting credit of any man, a monument to his sound taste and a testimony to his devotion.

But besides this splendid work for the church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Father Hearn devoted himself to other fields. One of these was the new Regis High School, on Eighty-fourth street, a magnificent institution which is increasing its number of students each year. It is a free Catholic high school, thus affording opportunity for higher education to many a Catholic boy in New York and vicinity. It is a masterpiece of beautiful and useful architecture. The other interest to which Father Hearn gave himself was the erection of a day nursery. This was erected at great expense; it is equipped with all modern improvements, and is one of the best institutions of its kind in the country.

The parish, under his skillful guidance, developed an enlarged the scope of its activities to a very appreciable extent; he gave deep thought and attention to the details of his various plans, but he was always ready to turn from them when the Loyola School was in question. He it was who made the school more widely known, and kept constantly before everybody the high ideals he wished to see achieved in Loyola. Many of the present students and alumni will recall his instructions at the reading of the monthly marks. Always paternal in character, his deep understanding of boys and their ways was yet mixed with a certain stern sense of duty and occasionally a well-deserved reprimand was forthcoming. Yet no one but respected him for this, and Father Hearn was indeed a popular through conscientious Principal.

On September 27, 1915, Father Hearn was transferred to Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, where he was made dean. It was owing to his declining health that Father Hearn was removed from the trying and wearing work as pastor of the church of St. Ignatius Loyola. His health became worse, not better. It was seen that he was rapidly failing. He realized his condition, and accepted the will of God. He did not give up his work, however, until absolutely forced to do so for lack of strength. He tried to perform his every duty as though he were in good health. The summer saw him decline to death’s door, and it was but a question of weeks before the summons of death would come. It came on September 15, 1917, and found him ready. He died fully fortified with the rites of the Church at Cornish, N.H. The burial took place at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass. Thus ended a career of devotion to the up-building of the two component parts of God’s kingdom on earth, the material and the spiritual. Those who were privileged to have him for a spiritual guide, will recall the soundness and solidity of his principles. To the material part of God’s kingdom there stand as monuments to Father Hearn, the wonderful church of St. Ignatius Loyola, one of the most beautiful parish churches in the country, as well as the Regis High School, and the St. Ignatius day Nursery. R. I. P.

Posted: 9/14/17