Father John J. Lombardi
"Blessed are those who
hunger and thirst for righteousness- for they
shall be filled" (Mt. 5: 6). A great man has
died. And he, Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips, we
hope and trust, is being filled with the Lord's
Love and Light now, in Heaven. He was a pupil
and then priest, and eventually a college
president. Just who was this man?
Bishop Malooly, wrote to
the priests of the Baltimore Archdiocese
regarding Msgr: "He was born on February 23,
1907 at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C.
The youngest of six children of William Thomas
Phillips and Margaret Hurney Phillips. He was
baptized a month later at the Shrine of the
Sacred Heart Parish in Washington. Tragedy
struck the Phillips' family almost immediately.
His father died very suddenly of a heart attack
shortly after Hughie's birth. His mother, after
a painful battle with lung disease died of
pneumonia when Hughie was about five years old.
He spent time with various relatives receiving
his First Communion and Confirmation at St
Patrick's Church in Washington.
In 1920 Hugh Phillips
visited Emmitsburg and Mount St Mary's for the
first time. In September of 1921 he would enter
into seventh grade on Mt. St Mary's campus and
he would spend his entire life affiliated with
the Mount. In 1923 he graduated from the grade
school and in 1927 from the then Mt St Mary's
Hughie became the 19th
president of Mt St Mary's College in 1967 and
remained so until 1971. In the years after
ordination leading up to the presidency he was
involved as a professor at St Joseph's College,
the school of nursing at Catholic University of
America and of course Mt St Mary's College and
Seminary. He was librarian of the College from
1935 until 1967. For his many contributions to
the Church he was named a Domestic Prelate with
the title of Right Reverend Monsignor by His
Holiness Pope Paul VI in April, 1965.
He was appointed
Director of the National Shrine Grotto of
Lourdes in 1958 and would remain until June 21,
2001, when he was named Chaplain Emeritus. He
would spend his energy and enthusiasm doing all
that he could to promote that special and holy
Place. On December 8, 1965, Cardinal Shehan
proclaimed the Grotto a Public Oratory. Hughie
was proud that the Shrine at the Grotto was the
oldest dedicated in th4e country dedicated to
the Blessed Virgin Mary dating back to 1808.
During this time he completely refurbished the
Shrine, opening it to the public…"
Monsignor was buried
Friday, July 16 at a Mass celebrated by his good
friend, Archbishop Harry Flynn.
I recently saw a book
title, entitled, "Standing on the Shoulders of
Giants," about advances made by great men and
women. The title is catchy, and, you must admit,
we do that-"stand on the shoulders of giants,"
whether they be athletes, artists or angelic
people. Catholics believe some of these "giants"
are saints. When I talk to people at the Grotto,
people refer to Monsignor as a "saint," or a
"holy man." So many have been privileged to know
and love him. He will be truly missed. But: let
us learn from God, by tracing the graces given
to this humble man…
Rags to Riches: Msgr.
came, more or less, orphan-like, to Mary's
Mountain. In childhood he lost his parents, his
family, his home. Then the Mystical Body helped
him. He then began his "second home" here at the
Mount. (Now, we pray and trust, he is in his
third home, Heaven!) Despite all his troubles,
challenges, Msgr. became a successful student,
then priest and even president of this beautiful
College-University! Think about it: Msgr.
overcame so many obstacles with great faith and
fortitude! He didn't let anything keep him
down…So: How can you, despite all your trials
and challenges, difficult family issues,
overcome all and cling to the King, Jesus
Christ, as Msgr did? How can you seek the favor
of the Blessed Virgin? Also: how can you help
others, who are orphaned or wandering in any way
thru life? Their next encounter-with you,
perhaps-can be a changing point, a conversion to
Christ because of your compassion and how much
God has graced you. "I can do all things thru
Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).
Babes and the Real Baby:
Msgr met three kinds of babies in his long
lifetime: the tender babies brought to him for
blessings; Babe Ruth and the Baby Jesus. A
graduate of the Mount seminary, Fr Farmer
recently described Msgr's relationship with Babe
Ruth. One time "the Babe" came to the Mount and
he hit fly balls from the seminary over the
gymnasium, impressing all. Msgr. mentioned one
time to some seminarians how he was good friends
with "the Babe". The seminarians must have
thought Msgr was telling another good story.
Then he said, "Wait here." Msgr went to his room
and brought back a large picture of "the Babe"
to the guys; they were astounded and impressed.
But, let's think: Msgr's real "Babe-Friend" was
the Baby Jesus. He celebrated daily Mass, talked
to Jesus thru his prayer books and the statues
he placed tenderly in the Grotto. Of all the
persons Msgr was privileged to meet, it was
Jesus Who was important in His life. St Paul
said: "I consider everything a loss because of
the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus My
Lord" (Phil 3:8).Can you say the same? How can
you make Jesus more the center of your life as
this "giant," Msgr. did? Daily?
President. Msgr was all of these, who gained in
knowledge of created and heavenly things as a
young boy. He eventually took theology classes
and learned more about God. He held many posts
and duties here at the College. His most
important post, though, was at the Altar of
Christ. Faithfully, for sixty-nine years, Msgr
celebrated the Mass, even up until his invalid
time at Carol Manor in Washington. Jesus Christ,
His Divine and Real Presence in the Holy
Eucharist and Mass was everything to him. Msgr
celebrated Mass outdoors at the Grotto itself,
in the lovely "Glass Chapel" on the Hill; he
promoted Eucharistic adoration and prayer before
Jesus. Thru the Great High Priest, Jesus
re-presenting Himself in Mass, Msgr. Phillips,
an earthly priest, became not only saintly, but
intimate friends with Jesus, Who says: "Whoever
eats my Flesh and drinks My Blood will abide in
Me and I in him" (Jn. 6:56). How can you be more
faithful and fervent to the Lord in the
Eucharist, as Msgr was? On the shoulders of
giants you can! Sixty-nine years!
Host: Msgr. often
remembered most people who would make a return
visit to the Grotto. He knew their names and
often prayed over people, concluding, with a
gentle nudge on his blessing-hand to the
forehead: "The Lord never says 'No' to His
Blessed Mother." At the Grotto, where nearly a
quarter million pilgrims visit, Msgr welcomed
the ill and elderly, the happy and sad, the
dying and desperate of the world. The Grotto was
a haven, a refuge form the world. Recently a
couple came to the Grotto, mentioned Msgr's
passing, their sadness, and their love for him.
The lady-pilgrim then announced some news: "I
just got engaged at the Grotto!" They were
holding hands, swinging them, like bubblegum
friends. The couple was aged 75 yrs old! She
then asked, innocently and truly: "Fr. do you
think we have to take the Pre-Cana marriage
course?" We all had a half a laugh. Then the guy
said: "Just for a good laugh, we'll sign up for
Natural Family Planning class!" Their names?
Joseph and Mary. I thought of Msgr.-he would
have loved it. He met people like this all the
time, giving blessings, and, of course,
receiving them. The whole Mystical Body working
together in love. Like this giant, Msgr
Phillips, become more attuned to, and enchained
in the Mystical Body of Christ. Remember as
Jesus says: "I was a stranger and you welcomed
me" (Mt. 25: 35).
Phillip's Folly? When
Msgr began the 'development" of the Grotto-from
a quiet, little-visited or known place into what
we know it today, he was made fun of. When he
presented the idea of the Bellower, people
called all this "Phillips Folly." Anyway, the
Pangborn Belltower went up-120 feet high, with
the beautiful gold-leaf statue of Mary at the
top (25 ft.-gently smiling, hands open to all).
There is an old picture of Msgr. in black
biretta, tenderly looking upon the Mary-face of
the statue just before it was hoisted high by a
giant crane: Mother and son together. He loved
the Virgin Mary and persevered with her help.
How can you? Pray the Rosary: "Hail Mary, full
of Grace…" (Lk. 1:28).
StoryTeller: Msgr was,
of course, great at this. He told stories of
God, the Virgin, the Grotto and Mt St Mary's.
One of his most infamous ones was when he almost
went over the Grotto parking lot embankment in
his car, barely surviving the mysterious
accident, which no one knows the full details.
But, he concluded and said so often, "Mary saved
me". The "scene" is right below Mary's
statue-with her looking at souls passing by
below…How can you talk about God, holy things
and events more? The "giants" of our Church
teach us to relate everything to God.
One pilgrim recently
said: "He spoke to Mary as like a child. Not
childish, but child-like." Though Msgr received
many titles and honors, met many famous people
and wielded tremendous influence in his time, he
always had a tender devotion to Mary. Carol
Spoonhour, his assistant-secretary for 29yrs,
said, of Msgr: "He considered himself Mary's
son." How beautiful. How can you allow yourself
to be Mary's son or daughter? The Rosary, a
beautiful statue of Mary and, most of all, a
tender heart for her, will help.
Though he was a "famous person" and a priest.
Msgr related so well to laity-everyone. We may
think especially of his secretary-assistant
Carol. When making preparations for his burial,
I was amazed several times when Carol would say:
"Msgr would want it this way," or: "Msgr liked
this or that." Because of their long work
together Carol knew him well-and loved him much.
She was dedicated to him and gave her time and
talents to him to help him minister at the
Grotto. So did so many others, and among special
friends at the end, Michael Allen, who
faithfully droved Msgr. up to the Grotto
voluminous times, took care of his physical
needs and life at Carol Manor in his retirement,
and was with him at his death Also dedicated to
him were Bill Rohr, Bob Knapik and Jay Meyer-and
so many others. We can learn from this: we
priests need the laity and laity need priests.
Just as these folks helped Msgr in a holy,
orthodox way, how can you help your priests be
orthodox, holy, healthy, happy? You can, so keep
Some other faith-finds:
Msgr. liked the Healing
service after Mass on Sunday for the sick.
Sometimes 200-300 people came to seek the Lord's
healing thru this holy and wholesome man: How
can you seek healing and peace thru prayer and
the sacraments? …Msgr. insisted on walking up to
the Grotto once every day when he was active
here. When he couldn't walk up one time, his
friend, got a wheel chair and then brought Msgr.
to "his Lady" to visit the Grotto, and Msgr
fulfilled his wish. So: Let's help each other
out-to get up the "Mountain of Holiness"!...
Though Msgr, "Hughie," was a "giant" of a man,
he was, as we know, actually a human being-who
"May the Angles lead you
into paradise; may the Martyrs come to greet
you, and take you to the Holy City, the New and
Monsignor, we love you!
Pray for us!
other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi