Father John Harvey

April 14, 1918 - December 27, 2010

Fr. John Harvey OSFS - A Priest for All Times

We live in a time when the laity are grateful to recall that the validity of the sacraments is not dependent on the worthiness of the one administering them.  The efficacy of our sacraments is a result, not of the holiness of priests but of Christ Himself who is their Author.  Yet, what a blessing it is when the priest who invites us to partake of the sacraments is an authentic example of Christian charity, humility, courage, and joy!  Fr. John Harvey OSFS was such a priest: a loving and holy spiritual father who cared deeply and genuinely about all those around him, especially those to whom he’d been called to minister as a priest, teacher, and counsellor.

How fitting then that Fr. Harvey was requested to start and direct Courage, an apostolate whose members often hunger for a true spiritual father to care about the hidden wounds in their hearts.  One recalls the words of Jesus, asking “What man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for fish, would give him a serpent?” Yet, there are representatives of the Church today who give her children stones and serpents instead of bread and fish when they neglect to present chastity as essential to the Gospel’s call to conversion and salvation.  Fr. Harvey had the courage to present the full teachings of the Church through this apostolate, and he did this with the utmost pastoral care and attention for individual souls. In so doing, he imitated our Heavenly Father who only wants the best for His children.

Fr. Harvey was first of all a kind person, a gentleman, a scholar, and a faithful Catholic.  Bringing these qualities of heart and mind into his priesthood, he gave others an example of what it means to truly Live Jesus whatever one’s station or calling in life. As an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Father exemplified the spirituality of St. Francis who himself came to be known as the gentleman saint.  Both Fr. Harvey and St. Francis had great respect for the laity, recognizing that all of us are called to holiness, ministry, and the great work of evangelization by virtue of our baptism. Their lives are an example of humility, faithfulness, and the importance of perseverance in obedience to the Truth.

In his thirty years of ministry with the Courage apostolate, Father had much experience of the ironic resistance within some dioceses to the promotion of clear Catholic teaching on chastity and homosexuality; nevertheless, he faithfully persisted in the mission given to him by Terence Cardinal Cooke.  Through much prayer, hard work, sacrifice, and the support of the faithful, the Courage apostolate grew to become an international ministry under Fr. Harvey’s tireless leadership, despite opposition in many quarters. Father drew strength for his mission from saying daily Mass, praying often from his breviary, hearing confessions, and from his heartfelt devotion to the Blessed Mother. He was a spiritual warrior and his weapons were love, truth, and prayer.

A well-balanced life allows for prayer, work, play, and laughter, and Father Harvey knew how to enjoy himself!  He never passed up the opportunity to attend a ball-game or to enjoy a good meal.  He was happy to share a shot of scotch with friends at the end of a long week, he liked to attend an occasional movie, and he loved to watch plays performed at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival on the campus of De Sales University.  Father enjoyed a good joke and always bounced back from difficulties with a smile on his face.  He never tired of ministry or of studying, teaching, and writing.  It was always evident to those who knew him that the Courage apostolate and especially its members were first in Father’s heart, no matter where he was or what he was doing.

Father understood human frailty and weakness and showed compassion for all.  He understood that each person’s story was unique, and prayerfully considered how best to advise each and every soul who sought his counsel, whether lay person, priest, or bishop.  Still, he never shied away from publicly addressing the errors of his day and correcting false teaching.  Father was obedient to his superiors, but he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind on matters of grave importance, even (or perhaps especially) when it contradicted the prevailing “wisdom” of the day.  This sprung from his genuine concern for the salvation of souls, and his love of the Church and the divinely revealed Truths She is bound to proclaim and uphold.

Our broken world and Church are sorely in need of purification and a deep conversion of heart to holiness. The spiritual remedy to our current state of affairs can only be found in frequent reception of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession, combined with renewed commitment to a life of prayer, service, and the cultivation of interior chastity in union with Christ.  This is true for laity, clergy, and all religious.  Accordingly, one of the goals of Courage is simply this: To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.

Father Harvey exhorted us all to develop chastity of the heart through a deepened prayer life, spiritual support, and good fellowship, and in this too he led by example.  He was an authentic father to the members of Courage and a model to other priests.  What member of the laity or clergy doesn’t feel inspired by a priest whose heart and personality truly radiates the humble presence of the Holy Spirit?  Who isn’t encouraged when a dedicated priest takes a genuine holy interest in their life, and walks patiently with them on their earthly journey like a true spiritual father?  Who isn’t strengthened and renewed with fresh resolve when such a priest is ready to cheerfully and protectively fight on their behalf, for the good of souls?  This is who Father Harvey was for the Courage Apostolate, and this is who I believe he continues to be in the presence of God.

Tina Nair
Personal Assistant to Father Harvey, 1996 – 2006