The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother John Thomas McLaughlin, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Fargo, ND, Br. John died in Austin, TX, on May 14, 2016. He was in his 66th year of religious life in the Congregation.
Anyone who knew Brother John McLaughlin immediately associated him with the town of his birth. To nail down the precise location, one of his favorite t-shirts bore the coordinates: 46.89° N, 98.79° W.
John was born in Fargo, North Dakota, on August 27, 1930. His mother, Mayme Sundquist, a North Dakota native of Swedish stock, was born in Bismark. She worked as an office manager, and she loved to dance. John’s father, Raymond McLaughlin, originally from Chicago, repeatedly attended a dance program in which Mayme performed, but didn’t let on until after they were married that he didn’t really like dancing.
Raymond was a regional salesman for the Quaker Oats Company, but eventually quit that job to follow his dream of owning a grocery store, Service Grocery, in Fargo. Though the business failed during the Depression, the family enjoyed living in the duplex apartments above the store, and, for years after, consumed the staple supplies stored on the shelves. Dad then worked as a clerk at “almost one of the best hotels” in Fargo, until he collapsed behind the counter while telling what Jack called “a killer” of a joke.
Jack proved to be his father’s son, sharing similar qualities: a fun-loving personality, adaptability, service, optimism in the midst of the Depression, and hospitality.
A month and a day after his birth, he was baptized John Thomas at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fargo. During his last year of elementary school at St. Mary’s Cathedral, he received the sacrament of confirmation. For high school, John attended Fargo’s Sacred Heart Academy, where he was known as “Dude.” During the cherished years of his youth in Fargo, he established lifelong friendships and collected many happy memories that he often shared to the delight of his listeners.
Industrious since grade school, John regularly earned enough money to pay his own tuition. He enjoyed his various employments as a delivery boy, a soda jerk, a railroad worker, and thought to himself, “Hey, I’m getting paid for this!”
Sometime during those early years of Catholic education, John was impressed with the image of a bird pecking away at the Rock of Gibraltar as a symbol of timeless eternity, and he took to heart the lesson: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
In September 1948, he went to the Holy Cross candidate program in Watertown, Wisconsin, “just to get the vocation idea out of his system,” but very quickly found a new family in Holy Cross. And when the prayers of the candidates were solicited for the “hidden army” of Holy Cross missionaries, John selected Brother Fulgence Dougherty, a fellow North Dakotan, as a special beneficiary of his prayers, only to find out later that Fulgence had moved to South Dakota at an early age.
At St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, as a 19 year old looking out at night from his second floor window, he could see off in the distance the glowing blue neon sign at Bob’s Place, a bar, and he would often wonder how things were going over there.
On February 2, 1950, at the novitiate, Brother John made his first profession of vows. Three and a half years later, he finalized his choice to live forever as a Brother of Holy Cross.
Brother John received his undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame in 1953, and, accumulating credits through summer study, in 1964 completed a master’s degree in Education at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, California.
Brother John’s subject area was mathematics, and he loved teaching. His first few teaching assignments took him from coast to coast, from Connecticut to Michigan to California. He proved to be very capable and early on showed potential as an administrator. When 29 year old Jack arrived in Long Beach, California, to become principal of St. Anthony High School, the pastor, Msgr. Bernard Dolan, greeted him with the line: “Aren’t you a little young to be crucified?”
In succeeding years, Brother John served as the Executive Director of Rancho San Antonio, Chatsworth, California; Director of Studies and later Principal at Holy Cross School, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Principal at St. Francis High School, Mountain View, California. He served well in these administrative positions, but typically deflected praise, saying that he was surrounded by people who made him look good.
Brother John taught at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, California, and again served at Long Beach and Mountain View in the classroom. He closed out a teaching career of 46 years at St. Anthony Cathedral School in Beaumont, Texas, one of his favorite assignments. When called to province administration, he continued to serve the mission of education by assisting with school accreditation visits for the Texas Catholic Conference.
Brother John accepted all of his assignments with remarkable generosity. He had a genuine interest in others and reached out to engage civic and Church communities. Always he was approachable and upbeat. In a good number of his assignments, he was appointed local superior, and he was frequently nominated as a candidate for provincial.
John loved and promoted community life. He was a faithful, prayerful religious who daily, with a strong “Amen,” affirmed his desire for Jesus in the Eucharist. Jack shared his life with us as a fully human, God-loving, family-loving, community-loving, Holy Cross Brother. He gave it all, and he will be dearly missed. May God give eternal joy to our beloved Brother John.
– Brother Richard Critz, CSC
He was a “gandy dancer” in high school in the summers for the Great Northern Railroad. That’s a person who labors manually to maintain the tracks, working on the railroad all the live-long day. When he graduated, from Fargo, North Dakota’s Sacred Heart Academy, he asked his aunt to bankroll his trip from Fargo to Watertown, Wisconsin, (by train of course) to see what the Brothers of Holy Cross were all about. He went on from there to Rolling Prairie and then to Notre Dame for his education, where he learned that no matter what the odds great or small Notre Dame would win over all. After graduating, he was assigned first to West Haven and then to Monroe, Michigan, and finally went by train to St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, California, where he and the St. Anthony Saints went marching in. Anyone who spent any time with Jack will recognize that there has to be a musical soundtrack to this story.
In 1956, after two years in Long Beach, he went to St. Francis in Mountain View, a school only two years old. He learned administration there with Brother Fisher Iwasko and, in 1959, at the ripe age of 29, found himself once again in Long Beach (where he sang that they have the things you’ll find in New York, Paris or Rome). This time he was principal at St. Anthony Boys’ High School in Long Beach, and Monsignor Bernard Dolan asked if he weren’t a little young for martyrdom.
The picture of Brother John McLaughlin’s life and his gift of himself to Holy Cross is already becoming clear and simply becomes clearer over the next forty years. After three years as principal in Long Beach, he went up the road (no train needed) to Chatsworth, where he became Executive Director of Rancho San Antonio. He hadn’t really been trained for that, but he was assigned to do the job, so he did it for six years. He must have been quite successful; he was proud of the letter he received attesting to that from James Francis Cardinal McIntyre. He showed the letter to everyone, but no one had the heart to tell him it looked like a form letter sent to lots of people.
After finishing up at Rancho, he told the provincial he was ready to go anywhere, even Wichita Falls (I wonder if he knew Richard Daly was there); but he was needed in New Orleans, where he spent two years as Director of Studies and Superior. In 1970, he was assigned to be principal at St. Francis High School, which he did for six years. He then was assigned to Moreau High School in Hayward, where he was superior and taught math and English and religion. Then it was back again to New Orleans as Principal/Headmaster. Look what the man had taken on…he is starting his fourth time as the head of an institution, and he just turned 50. That is remarkable.
But it was clear to the powers that be that Jack was tired, and he was assigned to teach for a few years without any other responsibilities at Long Beach and Mountain View. It was in this era that he was accused of being willing to have a party for any reason. The first “dead cat in the alley” gathering occurred in Long Beach in this time.
He was called upon a final time by some provincial to help start a new establishment in Beaumont, Texas, where young Brothers could get some experience living in community and in ministry after formation. He taught middle school math at St. Anthony Cathedral School; but he also saw life there as a real adventure.
John was a joyfully obedient man. And his joy was infectious. Wherever he was, he liked the students he taught and their families. He liked the teachers and staff members he worked with. And he loved us, his Brothers and confreres, even when he lost at cribbage or progressive rummy. He would often say, there’s never a bad day in Long Beach, or Mountain View, or Beaumont or wherever he was. I think for the most part that was true for him, even though a few times he may have been trying to convince himself.
He was not above doing some crazy things from time to time—his Willie Nelson pony tail which he wore to a chapter for example. And I know of no one else who wore purple shorts with a rabbit tail on the back and recruited members of the Hossenfeffers. He especially did not like the competition with Brother Francis Feeley to see who could be the nicest, ending in a tie when Frank said something bad about Postum and caused Jack to call Frank a bad name.
I arrived in Beaumont, Texas, in 1997 for the beginning of the school year; most of you have heard that the I-10 leads to Beaumont where ever you’re coming from. I was met by a number of angry women who wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I told them I was taking Brother John’s classes. I learned right then that I might be taking his classes, but I would never replace Brother John. I think that says it all about Jack. There was the challenge to try to keep up with Jack’s legend, with Bernard telling me things like, “Jack always bought flowers for the ladies on Valentine’s Day,” so I did, even making the mistake of giving one to the boys’ coach.
Jack is gone. He boarded his final train, an express to the pearly gates. Our tickets are for a later train. And there isn’t one of us who will ever be able to replace Jack; I suppose we could try though, and we would be better for it and the world would too. He was a Holy Cross man bringing hope to so many people of all ages and touching their lives. He was a true believer.
The last line of the plaque in the Church at Ruille honoring Father Jacques Dujarie really seems to apply as well to Brother John McLaughlin. It says: “He went about doing good.” What greater compliment could we give to anyone; isn’t that what Jesus did.
– Eulogy delivered by Br. Donald Blauvelt
Chapel of Br. Vincent Pieu, Austin, TX
May 16, 2016
Our cousin, Brother Jack, has been, and is, a favorite member of the Foster/McLaughlin family.
After my husband Robert died, Jack was a constant support. Then when my son’s wife died, Jack was again there with prayers and notes of support. But beyond that, it is his humor that we all cherish. My two sons, Mark and Matthew, love Brother Jack.
I am crying now for me; but not for Jack, who is happy with God and all the family. I will miss him and his cheery comforting notes.
– Marilyn Foster
John McLaughlin represented the South West province for the publication Brothers to Others: Our Way of Being and what a joy it was working with him, a real gentleman and a gentle soul. The limited times I ran into John, before and since then, were always the same—a warm, genuine, and truly interested welcome. Rest in peace, John.
– Br. Joe McTaggart