The Rev. David I. Hagan; Ministered from N. Phila. Home

By Tom Infield
Philadelphia Inquirer
May 3, 2005

The Rev. David I. Hagan, 66, whose often solitary life as a Roman Catholic priest in North Philadelphia was twice depicted in films, died of cancer Sunday night at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Father Hagan was not a traditional parish priest. Instead, he ministered to the neighborhood around his home at 22d and Berks Streets. He opened his 15-room rowhouse - and his heart - to neighborhood boys who needed a father figure, and to anyone else who needed a prayer, safe haven or a dollar.

He was recognized in a wider world as an early coach and mentor to several basketball players who achieved success - notably Hank Gathers.

Gathers was a student at Loyola Marymount University, seemingly destined to be a first-round draft choice in the NBA, when he died of a heart ailment while on a court in 1990.

Father Hagan's close relationship with Gathers was portrayed in the 1992 TV movie Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story. He was played by George Kennedy.

That was his first brush with Hollywood. In 2001, he was portrayed by John Ryan in Diary of a City Priest, a film biography of another North Philadelphia priest, the Rev. John McNamee. The title role in that film was played by David Morse, who later starred in the CBS television series Hack.

McNamee, who will lead Father Hagan's Funeral Mass on Thursday, said, "He wanted his life and work as a priest to reach out to the poor and the disenfranchised and those who didn't necessarily have the opportunities that he had."

Reared in an affluent family in the city's Mount Airy section, Father Hagan held degrees from Niagara University and Catholic University of America.

An oblate of St. Francis de Sales, he began his priesthood in the Washington area. He became involved in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and helped men legally avoid the draft as conscientious objectors.

He soon felt compelled to leave the suburban parish in which he was working.

"Preaching about racial justice in Alexandria, Va., didn't seem relevant to me anymore," he recalled in 1980. "The Vatican Council said that the church should be among the people, and I felt that is where Christ was - where the people most needed him, where the hate, despair and violence are."

He returned to Philadelphia.

This was at a peak of gang activity. The appearance of the white man in a black neighborhood drew the suspicion of some neighbors.

Over the years, like others in a neighborhood rife with crime, he was robbed and threatened with a knife and had his house burglarized. But he stayed.

Father Hagan taught for a while at Dobbins Vocational-Technical High School and Gratz High School. He later coached grade-schoolers at St. Elizabeth's School at 22d Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

He became not only accepted, but depended upon by the youth in the area.

"He gave these kids food, clothing, values, and a place to stay," B.G. Kelley, who helped with the script on the Gathers movie, wrote. "And he gave them his unconditional love."

Father Hagan is survived by five brothers and sisters.

A viewing will held from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Malachy Roman Catholic Church, 11th and Master Streets. A Funeral Mass will be said at 7 p.m. Burial will be at a later date in De Sales Centre in Childs, Md.


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