By Carol Volkart, Newsletter Editor
When the members of Dunbar’s Immaculate Conception Parish welcomed Father John Horgan as their pastor last July, they also welcomed an expert on angels, medical ethics, and a 14,000-volume library into their community.
Plus, of course, a well-known name that surprises cab drivers and requires its bearer to quickly state, “No relation to the premier,” upon first introduction.
Father Horgan, 63, has an impressive background that includes graduation from Harvard University, seminary studies in Rome followed by ordination by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1986, and an active role in palliative and hospice work with several Vancouver hospitals, including St. Paul’s during the AIDS crisis.
During his nearly four decades in the Vancouver Archdiocese, the Cambridge, Mass.-born pastor has also served at Saints Peter and Paul in Shaughnessy; at St. Pius X in Deep Cove; and along with his hospital work, 12 years as a priest for the Musqueam Indian Band.
And now he is serving in the pretty cul-de-sac church on West 28th that nestles up against St. George’s Junior School.
It suits him well.
“I’m a neighbourhood person,” he says, noting he grew up in a similar environment. He says he’s had a soft spot for the city’s west side ever since his time at the Shaughnessy church, where he oversaw the creation of new stained-glass windows that have since become famous.
“Coming to Immaculate Conception is like coming home. I love the ambience and the people I’ve met.”
He noted that Catholic churches are very neighbourhood-focused, each with their own catchment area, although parishioners may come from outside, too. That neighbourliness shows up in many ways. At Immaculate Conception, it includes the beautifully kept gardens around the church and nearby rectory, which are maintained by parishioners. “The gardens are an important part of our outreach, and good neighbourliness,” he says. “I have a great appreciation for gardens.”
Inside that rectory is a very large library, which includes many volumes related to his fields of expertise, on which he has both lectured and written. One area is moral theology and medical ethics, arising out of his work with hospices and palliative care. A second is saints and angels, a subject of lifelong interest that he studied in Rome. He hosted the EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) series Angels of God. His 2018 book, His Angels at Our Side: Understanding Their Power In Our Souls and the World, casts angels as an integral part of the world, speaking to humans through moments of enlightenment, inspiration and intuition.
Outside his library is the new parish and community he is getting to know. Although churches saw a drop of 35 to 40 percent in attendance during the pandemic, and only recently returned to full capacity, Masses and services continued, and Immaculate Conception’s doors stayed open for those wanting a quiet moment during the day.
It’s a “marvellous” parish, says Father Horgan. He sees his goal as continuing to foster the little church’s role as a place of welcoming, strength and neighbourliness in the Dunbar community.