Christ the King Award Recipient for 2015:
Rev. Charles Gagan, S.J. ’55
Fr. Charlie Gagan, S.J., center with members of the Class of 1955.
St. Ignatius College Preparatory presents the 2015 Christ the King Award to Charles R. Gagan.
Citation by Tim Reardon ’86, SI Alumni Director
In 1988, as the new prefect of St. Ignatius Church, Charlie Gagan’s first responsibility was to repair the beautiful but deteriorating upper church. In order to accomplish this task, he needed to raise 8 million dollars for the construction project. When he went to Al Wilsey and asked for some capital to kick off the campaign, Wilsey told him that he had already committed so much money to the San Francisco Opera that it simply wouldn’t be possible to contribute at that time.
Charlie responded to Wilsey’s rejection by saying, “Well, I know you love the Catholic Church, Al, and the Jesuits in particular. So you were the first person on my list. And if you’re not willing to help, I guess I’m just going to have to scrap the whole project.”
After a moment of silence, Al nodded at Gagan and said, “Well-done, Charlie. I think you might end up being pretty good at this.” That day, Wilsey committed to making a considerable donation, and others followed.
Today we honor Charles R. Gagan as the recipient of The Alumni Association of Saint Ignatius College Preparatory’s highest honor, the Christ the King Award.
Confucius says, “The superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in his actions.” However, Confucius, in this dictum, seems to discount the truly exceptional people, the Charles Gagans of the world, who are both talkers and doers.
Charlie’s verbal skills were not born on that day in 1988. Rather, it seems, they were a God-given gift. In fact, as a small child, he was nicknamed “the little attorney.” If you ask Charlie about this moniker, he’ll tell you, “I might not have been very good at sports, but I could really talk.”
Charlie Gagan, “the Little Attorney,” was born in San Francisco to Brian and Josephine Gagan in 1938. He was one of five children and grew up on Chabot Terrace between Lone Mountain and USF. His father was a graduate of Santa Clara University and Georgetown Law School and a great friend to the USF Jesuits.
Brian Gagan died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 1949. Charlie was eleven years old, and Josephine was left with five kids to raise on her own. But the Jesuits were always there to help. “They were center to my early life,” said Gagan. “My father, living across the street, welcomed Jesuits into our home constantly. And after he died, the Jesuits looked after me at SI. Great teachers like Dick Spohn, Bob Leonard, Leo Rock, and so many others had a huge impact on my life.”
So it was no surprise when Charlie, immediately after graduation, with seven others from the class of ’55, entered the Jesuits. “Fr. Spohn drove us to Los Gatos,” he said. “He didn’t want any mothers at the good bye…too much emotion.”
After the study of Philosophy in Spokane, he was sent to SI for regency and had three great years teaching Latin under the tutelage of Fr. Tom Reed. Back then, regents were sent to schools and simply given the responsibilities of the departing regents, who had preceded them. Well, for Charlie, Latin was an easy fit; however, the position of JV tennis coach presented some interesting challenges, mostly because he had never picked up a racket in his life.
So Charlie spent his afternoons sitting on the bench beside the Golden Gate Park tennis courts chatting with the lads as they rotated in and out of practice. While some of the boys worked on their backhands, Charlie would be off to the side, verbally rallying with the rest of the team.
He was ordained in 1968 and became assistant principal to Fr. Ed McFadden at SI before being sent to Loyola High in Los Angeles, where he was appointed principal in 1972. Although he was reticent to leave San Francisco, he believes that his migration south steered his life in new directions that would eventually lead him to other passions not yet realized.
He is most proud of his outreach into the neighborhoods surrounding Loyola. As principal, he decided that the school needed more diversity, so he took over admissions. Charlie increased low-income minority enrollment by 30% and raised the money for the financial aid to support these kids who needed it most. Bill Thomason, SI ’68, is the former principal and current alumni director at Loyola High. He was hired by Charlie Gagan and says of his old boss, “It is clear to me, and statistics will support the fact, that Loyola High School is one of the leaders in ethnic diversity among all our secondary institutions in the Jesuit network, clearly and nearly solely due to the efforts of Charlie Gagan.”
After Loyola, in 1980, Gagan was sent to Xavier Hall at USF, which had 92 Jesuits living there at the time. He says that he was “Fr. Minister, or the hotel manager,” before being sent for a brief stint to Loyola University. When he returned to St. Ignatius Church as the Prefect, he began the aforementioned 8 million dollar fundraising and building project. And when SI became a parish in 1994, he was named Pastor—only the third pastor in the history of the church, the first since 1863. He remained in that post until 2012.
During the years at St. Ignatius Parish, the church had a strong social ministry outreach. While Gagan was tutoring at Sacred Heart Grammar School at Fell and Fillmore, the Archdiocese announced that the school would have to close. Charlie met with Archbishop Levada and told him that a group of lay people were willing to take on the financial obligations if Sacred Heart could become an independent Catholic school. Levada agreed to the proposal.
When the Western Addition became gentrified, enrollment dropped, so Sacred Heart merged with St. Dominic’s and became Megan Furth Academy. In 2011, the school moved to its current location in the Mission District to continue this venture which is so close to Charlie’s heart.
Fr. Gagan is now missioned as Chaplain to the independent Catholic School, Mission Dolores Academy. But Charlie is not only the school’s chaplain and spiritual guide to the school community. He is also the founder of the school and the self-described Chairman of the Board.
Mission Dolores Academy graduates are now actively recruited by all the Catholic and private high schools in the City. Twelve of them are studying now at St. Ignatius, on scholarships provided by Charlie’s own SI classmates from the mighty Class of ’55, one of the most generous classes in the history of SI.
A reliable source once heard Fr. Gagan describe his job in this way: “People ask me to lunch. I go. Then I phone them and ask for money. They give it to me.”
Pope Francis tells us “Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as in spirit.”
It’s appropriate that Charlie Gagan, this man of words, this man who brought light to the St. Ignatius steeple and to the students of Mission Dolores Academy, has been living out our Jesuit pope’s message for many years. Long before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Charlie Gagan had become the Word in body as well as in spirit.
For his SI Class of ’55 (so many of whom are here today), Bill Hogan says that Charlie is their chosen chaplain: “He visits our sick, buries our dead, and consoles our repentant. He is a sacrament among us, an outward sign giving grace, God’s gift to us. We are blessed to have him in our midst.”
The following is an excerpt from the table blessing read at the celebration for Fr. Gagan’s 60 years in the Society of Jesus:
“Gracious and loving God, we are grateful for the life and gift of Charlie Gagan. Steeped in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, his response to your grace in so many ministries reflects a lifetime of prayer, discipline, study, and hard work as a Jesuit, prayerful priest, challenging teacher, spirited school principal, generous minister to his Jesuit brothers, resourceful fundraiser, successful leader as pastor, tireless educator of the young, who delight him with their greetings of ‘Father Charlie, Father Charlie.’
“Each of these titles reveals the multi-faceted talents of your servant who for 60 years has truly been a ‘Man for Others’.”
On behalf of the school, the St. Ignatius Alumni Association, the Regents and Trustees, thank you for being a loyal and humble friend of SI and a role model for future Ignatians.
SAINT IGNATIUS COLLEGE PREPARATORY is proud to bestow its highest honor, the Christ the King Award, upon distinguished graduate Rev. Charles Robert Gagan, S.J., SI Class of 1955.
GIVEN THIS TWENTY-SECOND DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2015.