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Jesuit Father Francis Moan, former Loyola Blakefield headmaster, dies at 93

Jesuit Francis X. Moan died April 17, 2020 at the age of 93. (Courtesy photo)

Jesuit Father Francis X. Moan, a Baltimore native who eventually became a headmaster at his alma mater, Loyola Blakefield, and later tirelessly worked to improve the lives of refugees in America, died April 17 from complications of COVID-19, his family said. He was 93.

John Stewart, the former dean of students at Loyola Blakefield, worked under Father Moan from 1971 to 1974 when he oversaw academics at the private Catholic high school in Towson. Stewart said Father Moan worked to restore academic rigor and Jesuit traditions at school after previous administrations embraced more experimental approaches to education.

“We were going through a lot of institutional changes at the time, and it was a tough time for the school,” Stewart said. “And I think Father Moan deserves a great deal of credit for guiding the school into a very good place.”

A graduate of the class of 1945, Father Moan worked to make Loyola Blakefield – as headmaster — more like it was when he was a student there.

“Father Moan pretty much brought it back as a more traditional Jesuit education with a strong focus on the academics,” Stewart said. “He was a very intelligent man, very forthright man and a very good man to work for.”

The youngest of 11 children, Father Moan was born on Feb. 19, 1927 in the city’s Hamilton neighborhood, where he attended St. Dominic Elementary School. After high school, he entered the priesthood at the novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, Pa. He was ordained in 1957 at Woodstock College, a former Jesuit seminary in Howard County, and celebrated his first Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville.

He received bachelor’s degrees in English from Spring Hill College in Alabama and sacred theology from Woodstock College. Father Moan later earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University in New York.

Before he became headmaster at Loyola Blakefield, he taught Latin, Greek and religion at schools in Maryland, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

At St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, Father Moan met Jim Conn,  then a high school freshman, in 1960. Father Moan had such a huge impact on him that he would also become a Jesuit priest and an educator.

“I wanted to be just like him. And in many ways, I’m a sort of a pale shadow of what he was,” Father Conn said.

Later, Father Conn would follow in Father Moan’s footsteps and serve as headmaster of Loyola Blakefield from 1976 to 1980.

“He is the best teacher that I have ever had in my whole life. Now I’m a person who has spent a lot of time in school … so I was taught by all kinds of world class scholars over the years and none of them are displaced,” said Father Conn, who now serves as the superior of Casa Santa Maria, a residence for graduate students at the Pontifical North American College in Rome

But Father Conn said Father Moan was no pushover and was known throughout St. Joe’s Prep for his high standards.

“He was very hard on us,” Father Conn said. “He demanded and he got our very best. And yet, in some kind of quiet way, he let us know that he loved us. And that was the magic of that moment. And that’s what made him so unique.”

After his time at Blakefield, Father Moan became an administrator at several universities. He later settled in Washington, D.C., and served in a variety of roles, including as an editor for National Jesuit News. Even in retirement, he continued to write. His last article for America Magazine, a national Jesuit publication, appeared in 2011.

The column titled “Bless Me, Father …” recounted his decades of hearing confession.

“I would say that 80 percent of what is related in confession is not really sinful. Yet I would not discourage people from saying what they actually say in the confessional. For what they admit to is their membership in this imperfect world where we all live. They would like it to be better. And since they are not as good as they want to be, they remind themselves to hope for a better world. Three cheers for that,” Father Moan wrote.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Father Moan became the Coordinator of American Assistancy Refugee Project and director of Refugee Voices, a publication and now a website where refugees tell their stories.

His work with refugees took him around the world, especially Southeast Asia. Father Conn said Father Moan’s devotion to refugees stemmed from his Jesuit teachings.

“I think that he was probably deeply influenced in his own spirituality and the idea of wanting to do more,” Father Conn said. “To be able to be of service to the poorest of the poor and those who were displaced and marginalized and homeless.”

Father Conn said Father Moan, in his spare time, loved art and was a voracious reader. Father Moan spent his final years at Manresa Hall, a nursing facility for Jesuits in Merion Station, Pa.  Father Conn said he never once visited without finding Father Moan with a new book in his hand.

Mark Pomplon, Father Moan’s nephew, said he’s learned some much more about his uncle in the days since his death. Pomplon, a parishioner at St. Francis De Sales in Abingdon, said his uncle was known for his humility.

“You would never know he had been everywhere around the world. You would never know that he had talked to so many people, so many important people, he had never even never let on that he had been dealing with high levels of government, high levels of any kind of news event,” Pomplon said. “He was just very down to earth.”

Stewart, who attends Masses at Stella Maris in Timonium, remembers that Father Moan wrote to him frequently over the years and kept a keen eye on the goings on of Loyola Blakefield, no matter how small.

When Stewart became dean of students in the 1980s, Father Moan was pleased that the practice of calling detention jug had returned. Stewart said “Jug” possibly stands for ‘Justice Under God’ or may be a play on “jugum,” the Latin word for yoke or burden to bear, no one knows for sure.

“He wrote me a note, glad to see that ‘Jugs were back.’” Steward said.

Email Tim Swift at tswift@catholicreview.org

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