Written by Jack Garland Thursday, 18 July 2013 00:00
Years ago, Readers Digest featured an article entitled “The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met.” Such a description would certainly be fitting for one of Mineola’s most legendary citizens. Father Vincent Hagan arrived at Corpus Christi Church in 1945 and served in the parish for a good part of his life. During that time, he became one of the most admired figures in town. He had such a high-profile presence in the village that he was recognized and greeted by all residents and merchants, regardless of their religion.
As kids, we loved his friendly personality as well as his mischievous sense of humor, but he inspired just enough fear in us to keep us in line. If any of us tried to put one over on him, he would unleash his verbal wrath and we would definitely hear about it – as would any one else within a two-block radius.
Father Hagan was a man of many attributes, but skillful driving was not one of them. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the streets of Mineola safe, he would often be seen en route to the homes of sick or elderly parishioners traveling on foot or upon what soon became his trademark, a bicycle. There were even instances of his pedaling his bike through the corridors of Nassau (now Winthrop) Hospital.
One of his responsibilities in the parish was to train and administer the contingent of Mass servers, which, at the time, was an exclusively male organization. I remember the hours he spent patiently teaching us, one syllable at a time, the required Latin prayers for the entire Mass.
Each summer, he would commandeer a bus and driver from Chaminade High School and treat the altar boys to a day at Bear Mountain. Single-handedly, he would supervise all 50 of us, from wiggly 8 year olds to smart-alecky teens, and make it look easy.
As chaplain of our parish’s Boy Scout Troop 250, father would traditionally join us at many events. On our first camping trip to the newly-acquired and vastly undeveloped Camp Onteora in upstate Livingston Manor, he said Mass in the camp’s designated inter-faith chapel which was, in reality, a stable. Although he repeatedly reminded us that Jesus was born in a stable, it offered little consolation for us kids who had to walk a mile from the campsite to worship in a stable that smelled exactly like a stable.
When we returned to Mineola, some of our troop’s adult leaders who were employed at Grumman pooled their skills to design and build a portable aluminum altar that folded up into a size slightly smaller than a rectangular guitar case. For our camping trip the next summer, our field chapel was only a few feet from our bunks and we attended Mass in the open air amidst the aroma of the pines. Everyone agreed that this beautiful setting was a vast improvement (except when it rained).
The year 1971 marked the end of an era in Mineola. After having served for 26 years at Corpus Christi, Father Hagan was re-assigned to Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Copaigue. Although there was a certain amount of prestige in the fact that he was made pastor, the transfer resulted in a loss that was felt by him as well as his countless friends in the village. At about the same time, an automobile accident took the life of his twin brother, a NYC police officer. Father Hagan had always been the upbeat jokester but, sadly, he felt the huge burden of that tragedy until his death in 1992.
This iconic figure played a significant and influential role for many of us in Mineola and it was an honor to have known him. Let us remember that, for every member of the clergy whose name appears in disturbing headlines, there are thousands of Father Hagans of every faith who serve their God and their community with dignity and devotion. The title of the Readers Digest feature is most appropriate; I’m certain that every person who associated with him would agree that, not only was Father Hagan a “character”, but he was truly unforgettable.