Died 27 October 2015
Jesuit Father John J. Higgins died Oct. 27, 2015. He was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1935, and grew up in a three-decker in St. Peter’s Parish there, arguably the heart of Irish Catholic Boston because of the large number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life that came from the parish. He was the oldest of four children—three boys and a girl—of John Higgins and Mary Kate Finn, who had emigrated from County Mayo, Ireland. He attended parish schools and Boston College High School and excelled in his studies. Graduating in 1953, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Shadowbrook, along with eight of his classmates.
In the novitiate he acquired the nickname “Beez,” after his maternal grandmother, and thereafter he was almost universally known as Beez to Jesuits and even lay people with whom he worked. As a novice he quickly demonstrated one of the qualities that would make him a legendary administrator in the province: an exhaustive knowledge of the province catalogue, impressive because it was acquired in the limited time available to a novice. His first year of juniorate was disrupted by the Shadowbrook fire, from which, like most of his fellow novices and juniors, he undramatically escaped with a blanket around his shoulders; in the aftermath he completed his studies at St. Andrew on Hudson.
He spent three years in philosophy studies at Weston (1957-1961). For regency he began his long association with Fairfield, teaching for two years at the Prep, before spending a third year acquiring an M.S. in psychology at Tufts University. He returned to Weston for theology studies (1963-1967) and was ordained a priest there, in 1966. He completed tertianship at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin in 1968.
He began doctoral studies in spirituality at Catholic University and received the S.T.D. degree in 1971. His dissertation became the basis of a book, Thomas Merton on Prayer, published by Doubleday in 1973. He returned to Fairfield to teach theology for only a year (1971-72) before being named rector of the community at Cheverus High School, in Portland, Maine. Thus began an extraordinary string of administrative appointments, in which Beez was either rector of one of the major communities of the province (Cheverus, 1972-1976; College of the Holy Cross, 1994- 1998; Fairfield, 1998-2004) or socius to the provincial (1976-1979, during which time he was also superior of Campbell House in Boston; and 2004-2010). For fifteen years between stints as socius (1979-1994) he held various administrative positions at Fairfield University, in admissions and as executive assistant to the president. The university honored him with an honorary degree in 1994. When his second term as socius ended in 2010, he enjoyed a semester of sabbatical at B.C. before returning to Fairfield to serve as minister and treasurer of the community (2011-2014).
In 2014 he experienced the first, sudden symptoms of esophageal cancer. The decision was made to move him to Boston for treatment and he took up permanent residence at Campion Center in the fall of that year. He went through periods of strength and weakness, but as summer yielded to autumn it became apparent that he was steadily declining. He died peacefully in the late evening of Oct. 27, 2015.