Born on June 18, 1914 in Midland, Pennsylvania, John Hardon grew up in a devout Catholic family and was greatly impacted by the fervor of his mother. Hardon’s father died from an accident when Hardon was a baby and so his mother kept the family together with her deep faith and strong determination.
He held on to the faith of his childhood and didn’t waver for the rest of his life.
One of the most significant events in Hardon’s life was the reception of Holy Communion at age 6. He wrote about it in his autobiography.
Sr. Benedicta, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame who prepared us for our first Holy Communion, told us, “Whatever you ask Our Lord on your First Communion day, you will receive.” When I returned to my pew after Communion, I immediately asked our Lord, “Make me a priest.” I had only the faintest idea what I was saying, but I never forgot what sister had told us to do. When I was ordained twenty-six years later, my first sentiment was to thank Our Lord for hearing my prayers.
During his school years Hardon was only strengthened in his faith felt an attraction to the priesthood grow by the time he graduated from high school. However, instead of entering seminary he enrolled at John Carroll University with the intention of becoming a doctor.
As he drew closer to graduation the call from God became more evident and he had to break the news to his girlfriend. It was difficult as he considered marrying her and breaking off the relationship left her in tears, but Hardon believed he was following God’s path. However difficult it was, he knew he had to follow God’s call.
Hardon then entered the Jesuit novitiate and was later ordained on June 18, 1947. After professing his final vows in 1953 he went on to teach at several different universities.
During his academic career Hardon also published many influential books on Catholic theology. He wrote the The Catholic Catechism in 1975 at the request of Pope Paul VI and the Modern Catholic Dictionary in 1980. He was even a consultant for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
His catechetical work was widely received and implemented by Church leaders such as Mother Teresa, and he founded an organization devoted to catechists called the Marian Catechetical Apostolate.
While Hardon is best remembered for his pursuit and defense of the truth, he was also known as a charitable man. A close friend of Hardon said about him, “I never heard him speak a word against anyone. He was charitable person, a man of great integrity, and prayerful.”
This charitable heart was born from a deep prayer life and devotion to the Mass. He taught others that, “it is not enough to believe intellectually in the Mass. It is not enough to attend Mass or even participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. We will benefit only as much from the graces of the sacrament sacrifice of the Mass as we mirror the image of the life of Christ in our lives.”
He had a deep devotion to Eucharistic adoration and would spend at least three hours a day before the Blessed Sacrament.
Hardon died on December 30, 2000, in Clarkston, Michigan, from bone cancer, and his life of fidelity and devotion to prayer has remained an inspiration to many. The official cause for his canonization was opened in 2005 by then Bishop Raymond Burke and he is currently known as “Servant of God.”
See more in our series on the Saints of the United States.