Reverend Msgr. Barry Egan-Jones 1932-2012. “God’s publicist,” priest promoted Jewish Christian dialogue.

By Alan Hustak on July 30, 2012

Barry Egan-Jones was English-language director of public relations for the Roman Catholic diocese of Montreal for 25 years before he was named administrator of St. Patrick’s basilica in 1996 where he was given the daunting task of completing the $2.5-million restoration of the historic downtown church.  He started the Catholic Times diocesan newspaper, was on the CBC’s regional advisory council and was the commentator for the national broadcaster during Pope John Paul’s 1984 visit to Canada.  Urbane and socially well-connected, Rev. Egan Jones also conducted part of his ministry writing pointed letters to the editor.  He was 80 when he died of a heart attack on July 25. 

“He was had contacts in high places, especially in this world,  contacts who were very supportive of his work, people like Paul Desmarais, John Rae, John Turner and Conrad Black,” said Brian O’Neil, vice president of the National Hockey League, and a former warden of the basilica. “He did a super job and ran the parish very well.”

IMG_2664.JPGBarry Jones, the youngest of two boys in a CNR  executive’s  family, was born January 6, 1932. His mother, Margaret Egan, was Irish, and Jones didn’t add her name to his own until later in life. He grew up in Westmount and almost died as a child from a burst appendix. A studious and bookish boy, he was educated at St. Jerome’s College in Kingston and at Concordia University He worked for the Royal Bank , Bell Canada and for a PR firm before he decided to enter the priesthood.  “He dodged the idea of the priesthood until he succumbed to the call,” said his brother Bruce. “He wasn’t ordained until he was 30.”  Egan Jones spent a year at the National Defense College in Kingston before being appointed English language communications officer for the Diocese of Montreal in 1965. He had a radio program on CJAD, Checkpoint 65, and was instrumental in the beginnings of Vision TV.  Egan Jones was active in Jewish-Christian dialogue and was founding chairman of an interfaith task force on Soviet Jewry. In 1985 he was part of a mission to the Soviet Union where he interviewed so called Refusnicks, Jews who were prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union.

Jones had been a parish priest at St. Malachy’s in Montreal but by 1996 was pastor of the upscale Annunciation Parish in the Town of Mount Royal and planning to retire when the pastor of St. Patrick’s, Russell Breen was disabled by a stroke.  Jones was assigned to finish the $2.5-million restoration that Breen had undertaken.  He wasn’t happy about it, but he agreed to do it.  “Never tell God your plans, unless you want to hear him laugh in your face,” he said as he resigned himself to the task.  As parochial administrator at St. Patrick’s, considered the mother church for the city’s 250,000 English speaking Roman Catholics,  Eagan-Jones not only raised another $1-million for a new copper roof for the historic downtown landmark,  he replenished the church’s capital funds  and converted an abandoned parking lot below the basilica into a park. He retired in 2001. 

 “It was easy for me to follow him at St. Patrick’s because of what he had done and the efficient manner he had run the church,” said Msgr. Francis Coyle, the basilica’s present parochial administrator. “He was a refined man, articulate and well-read who enjoyed his martinis. He was also a gourmand and a good cook, He made the best lamb chops I ever had.” 

 Msgr. Egan-Jones opened the basilica to the 1997 Aids Awareness Program in Montreal because he explained “the church cannot be discriminate against disease. AIDS is not a sin, and we support efforts to find a cure for it.” He also said that while he had no difficulty accepting same sex unions as a civil affair, the Roman Catholic Church considered marriage a religious rite and as such, had to be faithful to its principles, “which aren’t based on the whims of public opinion.”

 Eagan-Jones was founding president of the Laurentian Branch of the Heraldry Society of Canada  and was Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher and commander of the Order of Merit of St. Lazarus. Pope John Paul II appointed Egan-Jones a chaplain of his papal household 

 “He was quietly effective,” said Jay Gould, another of his former wardens, “He was a practical, small c, conservative catholic, aware that as an institution the church has been around for 2,000 years. But he was also a realist. He was not dogmatic. He could be incredibly open minded. He believed that an informed conscience was as important as any canon law. He was a great spiritual mentor, communicator, and a great humanitarian.”  

The funeral is at the basilica 10 a.m. Wednesday (August 1st)

 

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