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Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips: Eulogy

Librarian and President of Mount St. Mary's University

Father Lombardi's Eulogy

Msgr. Hugh J Phillips
Rest In Peace!

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 high school.

Monsignor PhillipsHughie 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 the 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?

Pupil, Priest, 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 from 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).

GrottoPhillip'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 Belltower, 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.

Human relationships: 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 trying!

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 became saintly!

"May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the Martyrs come to greet you, and take you to the Holy City, the New and Eternal Jerusalem."

Monsignor, we love you! Pray for us!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi

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