In the middle of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Msgr. Emmet P. Fagan informed another priest at St. Patrick’s parish in Bay Shore that they were going on a mission: they were going to board up a broken window in the home of a single mother blocks away, recalled the priest, Msgr. Brian McNamara.
It was typical of the way Fagan rolled up his sleeves and got into the nitty-gritty of serving the faithful, even in the midst of one of the most powerful storms ever to strike Long Island, according to McNamara and others.
Fagan, 85, a longtime director of the huge Catholic Charities social outreach organization run by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, died March 3 of problems related to congestive heart failure.
“He touched thousands of lives working through Charities and also in his personal touch,” said Msgr. Joseph A. Mirro, who was a close friend of Fagan’s. “He was a priest’s priest and a good model for” seminarians — part of the reason he was sent to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington at one point to work.
Fagan was the younger brother of the late Msgr. John Fagan, another well-known diocesan priest who ran Little Flower Children and Family Services in Wading River, a network of homes that serve troubled children. Together, the two were key figures in the diocese’s social outreach efforts, McNamara and Mirro said.
Emmet Fagan served as associate director of Catholic Charities from 1960 to 1970, and then as director until 1983. He took over, and expanded, the agency amid the Vatican II reforms that, among other things, called for greater outreach to society’s forgotten and underprivileged.
Both brothers eagerly embraced the changes, said their sister, Sister Kathleen Fagan, a former head of the Marymount School in New York and London.
Emmet Fagan was “just a beautiful human being,” she said. “He enjoyed people. He was not a judgmental man.”
The family grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where Emmet attended parochial school and Brooklyn Prep, a defunct Jesuit high school, his sister said. He went on to St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, another Jesuit school, and spent summers in a Marine training program.
But he felt called to the priesthood, and wanted to join Maryknoll, the main overseas mission organization of the U.S. Catholic Church, Kathleen Fagan said. Emmet’s father informed him that “I think it would break your mother’s heart” to have him living most of his life overseas.
So he rethought his plans, and entered the seminary in Huntington as a seminarian for the Diocese of Brooklyn, which at the time comprised Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Two years after Fagan’s ordination in 1955, the Brooklyn diocese was split in two and the Diocese of Rockville Centre was created.
He served as associate pastor at the Church of Maria Regina in Seaford for five years, before moving to the recently formed Catholic Charities in 1960 — where he remained for more than two decades. He received a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University.
By 1983, he was named pastor of St. Patrick’s in Bay Shore, where he served 17 years. In 2000 he moved to the Church of St. Jude in Mastic Beach, and was appointed vicar for the Western Vicariate in the diocese.
He was so highly regarded that he was sent to the seminary in 2005 to serve as temporary rector, mainly to be a role model for seminarians, Mirro said. “He was a very energetic man,” Mirro said. “He would do anything for anybody.”
In 2006, a close priest friend of his, the Rev. William Costello, was killed by a drunken driver while taking a stroll in Springs. Fagan, rather than being consumed with anger, befriended the woman and tried to help her.
He “saw her not as somebody who killed his friend, but as a woman who would never be the same again,” Mirro said. “He tried to help her restore her life and he never gave up trying to do that.”
He is also survived by another sister, Jane Fucigna of Garden City.
After a funeral Mass on March 8, Fagan was buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Bay Shore.