Memorial Mass for Eugene McCarthy planned here Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 24
St. John's University and the University of St. Thomas will hold memorial Masses on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 23 and 24, for former U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who was a 1935 alumnus of St. John 's and taught at St. Thomas after World War II.
The St. Thomas memorial Mass will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. Monsignor James Habiger, former executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, will be the celebrant.
The eulogists will include McCarthy’s daughter, Ellen McCarthy; George Latimer, former mayor of St. Paul; Carol Connolly, a poet, columnist and friend of McCarthy; and James Gabler, son of the late Joseph Gabler, a close McCarthy friend and fellow St. Thomas faculty member.
The Masses are open to the public. Receptions will follow each Mass, with further opportunities for friends and family members to share stories about McCarthy, who died Dec. 10 in Washington, D.C.
McCarthy was born on March 29, 1916, in Watkins, 20 miles south of St. Cloud. He was an accomplished student and graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School in 1932. He went on to graduate with highest honors from SJU in 1935 with a degree in English. McCarthy was deeply influenced by the monks at St. John’s Abbey and University and maintained close ties with his alma mater throughout his life.
McCarthy was also a member of the SJU baseball and hockey teams during his college years in Collegeville and was the leading scorer on the 1934-35 SJU hockey team that won the first Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in school history.
He taught in North Dakota and Minnesota high schools from 1935 to 1940 and earned a master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1938. He taught economics and education at St. John's from 1940 to 1943, coached the hockey and baseball teams and entered the monastery's novitiate during his final year at St. John’s.
McCarthy took a civilian intelligence position in 1944 at the War Department in Washington. He married Abigail Quigley of Wabasha the following year and they moved to St. Paul, where he taught sociology and economics at St. Thomas for two years.
The McCarthys lived on campus in Tom Town, a makeshift village of surplus military Quonset huts on the site of the current O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center. Faculty members in the metal duplexes elected a mayor and four council members, including McCarthy, to govern the small community.
McCarthy's interest in politics intensified during his two years at St. Thomas. Working closely with fellow professors and students such as the late Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Nicholas Coleman, McCarthy engineered a revolt of moderates within St. Paul 's DFL Party and was chosen president of the Ramsey County chapter of Americans for Democratic Action. He launched his 1948 campaign for Congress from the St. Thomas campus, defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Edward Devitt, who later became a federal judge.
The McCarthys moved to Washington in 1949, where he served in the House for five terms and in the Senate from 1959 to 1971. During those years, the family maintained homes in St. Paul 's Merriam Park neighborhood, near the St. Thomas campus.
After McCarthy left the Senate to focus on a career of writing, lecturing and teaching, he often returned to the St. John's and St. Thomas campuses.
McCarthy received two honorary degrees – a doctor of laws in 1960 and a doctor of humane letters in 1993 – from St. Thomas. He occasionally served as a visiting professor or lecturer at St. Thomas, and a portion of "I'm Sorry I Was Right," a documentary on his life, was filmed at St. Thomas in the late 1990s. He was the featured speaker at the re-dedication of the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts, formerly known as Albertus Magnus Hall, in October 2001.