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Monsignor Alfred F. Horrigan

Monsignor Alfred F. Horrigan Known widely as the founding president of Bellarmine College (now Bellarmine University), Monsignor Alfred F. Horrigan also was well known and respected as a parish priest and as a human rights advocate. Because he touched so many lives, Msgr. Horrigan leaves many legacies, but is remembered by all who knew him for his kindness, intelligence, and eloquence.

Growing Up, Education, and Career Beginnings
Although he spent nearly his entire life in Louisville, Ky., Horrigan entered the world in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 9, 1914, one of five boys and two girls born to William J. and Anna Kienle Horrigan. When Alfred was 5, his family moved to Kentucky when his father, an Army officer and civil engineer for the Army was assigned to the Corps of Engineers in Fort Knox. After his father’s retirement from the Army, the Horrigan family settled in Louisville, where Alfred attended St. James School and Church. He would later become the church’s pastor, and the school would later named its child development center in his honor.

Early in childhood, Horrigan was nicknamed “Shadow” because he was devoted to his mother and often followed so closely in her footsteps that he was like her “little shadow.” The name “Shadow” was soon shortened to “Shad,” and that nickname stayed with him his entire life.

Another important facet of Horrigan’s childhood was his fascination with the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He told one biographer, “Galahad’s search for the (Holy) Grail became for me the search for priesthood.”  Later on, his fascination with the Arthurian legend was manifested in the naming of Bellarmine’s athletic teams (Knights), newspaper (The Concord), and the yearbook (The Lance).

Horrigan attended high school at St. Joseph’s in Rensselaer, Ind., before earning his bachelor’s degree from St. Meinrad Seminary in 1940 and his master’s and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America in 1942 and 1944. After his ordination in 1940—and throughout holiday periods while at Catholic University—Father Horrigan served as the assistant pastor at Holy Spirit Church in Louisville. In 1944, he was named assistant pastor at the Cathedral of the Assumption. He was appointed editor of The Record, the official Diocesan newspaper, in 1946 and served in this capacity until 1950 and as associate editor until 1967.

During his years at the Cathedral, Fr. Horrigan was head of the Department of Philosophy at Nazareth College (now Spalding University) from 1944 to 1950 and served on the faculty of Ursuline College and the University of Louisville.

The Bellarmine Years

In 1949, Archbishop John A. Floersh selected Fr. Horrigan to serve as Bellarmine’s founding president. In this role, he oversaw the inception and ultimate success of Louisville’s first and only men’s Catholic college. During his 24-year tenure as Bellarmine president, Msgr. Horrigan was responsible for establishing the high quality and dedication of teaching that has become Bellarmine’s trademark. He also oversaw the merger with Ursuline College, which formed Bellarmine’s first co-educational student body. When reluctantly accepting Msgr. Horrigan’s resignation in 1972, Board of Trustees Chairman Kenneth A. Barker said, “(Msgr. Horrigan) has fathered an educational asset in which the entire community can take justifiable pride. He has assisted thousands of young people to reach education heights they may have thought unattainable, and has helped, through the college’s graduates, to develop the leadership of our community. He has served God, church, college and this community extremely well.”

A lasting legacy of Msgr. Horrigan’s presidency is the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine. The foundation of the center can be traced to a meeting Msgr. Horrigan had in 1960 with his friend Thomas Merton and Dom James Fox, then Abbot of the Abbey of Gethsamani. According to Merton’s Secretary, Brother Patrick Hart, it was during this meeting that Msgr. Horrigan offered Bellarmine’s library to Merton as the repository for his writings and manuscripts. The Abbot and Merton agreed that scholars coming from all over the world would be best served by establishing the Merton Center at Bellarmine.

During his Bellarmine presidency, Msgr. Horrigan also worked to promote racial desegregation. He served as vice chairman of Louisville Human Relations Commission from 1962 until 1966 when he was named as chairman of the merged Louisville-Jefferson County Human Relations Commission. The Commission’s joint fourth and fifth Annual Report, published in 1968, paid homage to Msgr. Horrigan, saying, “His courageous leadership, particularly during those days of April 1967, when the struggle for an open-housing ordinance reached its climax in violent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, was an inspiration to all reasonable people in the community. When seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocked forward movement…Msgr. Horrigan’s patience and wisdom kept us on a steady course.”

Another important milestone occurred for Fr. Horrigan during his presidency at Bellarmine. In 1955, Pope Pius XII named Fr. Horrigan a domestic prelate (Monsignor).

Post-Bellarmine

Following Msgr. Horrigan’s service to Bellarmine, St. James Church and the Archdiocese were the beneficiaries of his work. He served as executive assistant to the Archbishop of Louisville from 1973-75 and as executive director of the Archdiocesan Commission on Peace and Justice from 1974-76. He became the pastor of St. James Church in 1976 and served in that capacity until 1984. He then continued to serve St. James as senior associate until 1997. He also was a member of the WHAS 11 panel “The Moral Side of the News” for 20 years, serving from 1976 to 1996.

In 1980, Msgr. Horrigan was a co-founder of the Council of Peacemaking, a local ecumenical organization formed to promote peace and justice. In 1993, he was recognized ed by the Council as “Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, and active fund-raiser” over its then 13-year history. In 2003, he was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame for “exemplary leadership in civil rights.”

Following his retirement from St. James in 1997, Msgr. Horrigan became a resident at Christopher East Health Care Facility. In 2005, Msgr. Horrigan moved to the Nazareth Home on Newburg Road in Louisville, where his room provided him a great view of Bellarmine’s campus and, in particular, Horrigan Hall.

Awards and Honors

The many awards Msgr. Horrigan received over the years include:  National Conference of Christians and Jews Annual Brotherhood Award (1964); Ottenheimer Award for Civic Service (1967); WHAS News “Man of the Year” (1968); Better Business Bureau and Advertising Club of Louisville “Man of the Year” (1969); Spalding Distinguished Educator Award (1973); Alumnus of the Year, School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America (1982); Bellarmine Senior Fellow (1986); St. Meinrad Distinguished Alumnus of the Year (1990); Catholic School System of the Archdiocese of Louisville Alumnus of the Year (1992). He also has received honorary doctorates from Bellarmine, Belmont-Abbey College, St. Joseph College, Centre College and the University of San Diego.

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