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Renaissance Man Brings a World of Experience from Rhode Island to Rome

Dr. Joseph Hagan is active in Little Compton government and has served at the Vatican for 20 years.

Every morning after daily Mass, Little Compton resident Dr. Joseph "Joe" H. Hagan heads to to socialize with his fellow locals.

A deeply spiritual man, Hagan's faith has helped him lead a phenomenal life. It’s one that has included conversing with presidents and popes, and serving at the Vatican as a Gentleman in Waiting for the past 20 years.

“John Paul liked to tease,” Hagan said, relating a conversation between the two.

But Hagan has never lost sight of home. A Renaissance man, the 76-year-old continues to find ways to serve his town and represent his state as an educator, legislator, college administrator, Vatican official and Lay Dominican.

A History of Faith, and National Service

Born in Providence, Hagan was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He attended parochial schools and earned a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and a master’s degree in social studies and administration from Boston University.

Discerning a calling, he entered seminary.

“I studied for two years and determined it was not my vocation,” he said. “But I remain in the order as a Lay Dominican.”

Hagan taught in the Providence Public Schools from 1958-61. Then for the next three years, he served as legislative assistant to the U. S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. He became staff assistant to the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency from 1964-65.

“The chairman was Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General at that time,” he said.

The decades that follow include a number of notable posts, including serving as special assistant for Congressional Relations in the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity from 1965-68; Vice President of Public Affairs at Bryant University; and a member of the National Council of the Humanities, appointed by President George H. W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served in that capacity for eight years.

In 1978, Hagan became the president of Assumption College in Worcester, MA, where he would serve for the next 20 years. During that time he also became a trustee of John Cabot University in Rome and was appointed as a Gentleman in Waiting at the Vatican.

“You are recommended for that position generally by someone, a high official in the Church,” he said. “So I traveled to Rome in both capacities.”

From 1999-2001, he also served as interim president of Roger Williams University in Bristol.

Bringing His Faith Back Home

Currently, Hagan serves on the Rhode Island Board of Governors of Higher Education, a post he has held since 2006. He is also very active in town affairs in Little Compton, having served as town moderator and chairman of the Zoning Board and Budget Committee.

A parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, he attends daily Mass and serves as a lector, Eucharistic minister and 4th degree Knight of Columbus.

Hagan also holds the Grand Cross of St. Gregory the Great, an honor from the pope; Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Sepulchers, and is a Knight of Honor of Devotion and Obedience of the Order of Malta. His wife, Patrice, is a Dame of Honor and Devotion and Obedience in the Order of Malta and has received a Papal Medal for her service to the Catholic Church, particularly for serving the poor.

The couple has one son, Kevin O’Malley Hagan. A graduate of Providence College and Roger Williams School of Law, he practices in Newport. He is married to Dominica, an Italian, and the couple has a two-year-old son, Thomas Antonio.

Reflections on Catholicism

According to Hagan, everyone is nervous when they meet the pope, and the popes do everything to put them at ease.

“Bush was very pleasant, as Clinton was, and pleased that I was an American on duty,” he said. “They are religious. Clinton is a spiritual man who reads the Bible. Bush is very spiritual. He and his wife are devout Methodists, and they got along beautifully with the pope. Bush is prolife, and Pope John Paul admired him. My opinion is that Bush is truly a Christian man, and the pope liked him very much.”

He said that Pope Benedict XVI is very traditional, but also warm and sweet.

“He has a beautiful personality. You can see it in his face,” said Hagan. “I think there was some question about his health when he was elected, but at the age of 84, he is extremely healthy, healthier now than when he was cardinal.”

The Hagans left for Rome on Sept. 19 to attend the ordination of the deacons of the North American College. They live in their own apartment in Rome, but plan to return home to Little Compton for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He notes that he is in Rome at least three months a year.

“I see the Church as being renewed,” Hagan said. “You would be so inspired by the young men who are preparing for the priesthood. They are incredible. We are going to have a group of wonderful priests as we go along.”

Hagan acknowledged the tragedy of the clergy abuse crisis and expressed sadness for the victims and the loss of credibility of the Church. But, he said the priesthood remains faithful, and the people in the pews, even with all the problems, remain faithful to Mass and have a great love for their priests.

This year, Hagan might stay in Rome even longer to teach a course in leadership studies, delivering a series of lectures at John Cabot University, where he is now chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Hagan said that all lay people today must work hard to be an example of real Christian living.

“St. Paul said that you can tell a Christian by their love, and when issues come up, we should just confront them in a Christian way,” he said. “People can believe what they want, but it is what it is, and you have to be fearless not to just go along. St. Dominic said to be a champion of the faith and a true light of the world. And I take that very seriously even as a lay person.”

malcom lagauche October 15, 2011 at 03:56 PM
We have the obligtory lesson in religion again, but there is another point I find quite curious about this article. In mentioning Dr. Hagan's son, the author stated: "He is married to Dominica, an Italian ... " Why not include the national backgrounds of all the people in this story? I've been a journalist for over two decades and I've never found it necessary to mention the national background of a person in an article unless the piece was specifically about ethnic diversity. My wife was born in the Azores and moved to Fall River when she was 16. Over the years, I've mentioned her in articles or books, yet I've not found it necessary to follow her namw with, " ... a Portuguese ... " I must look at the latest edition of the AP Style book because maybe standard journalistic practices have changed drastically. Sincerely, Malcom Lagauche, a Brit (via Rhode Island, about 17 generations removed).
Mike October 15, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Perhaps a point of interest since Dr. Hagan spends much time in Italy?
malcom lagauche October 15, 2011 at 05:14 PM
That could be, but it's still a long shot. There is nothing in the article to indicate such a distinction between the various nationalities. Plus, is she an Italian (one who lived in Italy and held an Italian passport) or a US citizen of Italian descent? It just is weird to see this jump out in the text.I lived in England for six years and The Netherlands for two, but I never mention someone as being British or Dutch in the same context as the designation in this article.
Jeannie Veegh October 15, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Agreed regarding the unnecessary mention of “the Italian”, however, equally unnecessary (and shortsighted) was the critique of this article as an “obligatory lesson in religion.” Really? So a story about an accomplished, highly educated, worldly, generous man hailing from our own little backyard should be left untold because the factual religious matters become a … lesson? Perhaps ruffle a theophobes’ feathers? This might just be the perfect example as to why journalism, now, is so unprincipled. This man is what he is. Incredible what this man had accomplished so far in 76 yrs. Still going strong, searching for ways to give back. He is interesting. So the self-proclaimed “journalist” couldn’t locate the merit of this story?
malcom lagauche October 15, 2011 at 10:04 PM
I did not make that remark to denigrate Dr. Hagan in any way. It was in reference to the proliferation of religious articles in the Patch under the guise of news reporting. I lived the first 27 years of my life in Tiverton and don't know the man. But, one sentence stuck out: "From 1999-2001, he also served as interim president of Roger Williams University in Bristol." To me, this was a very significant achievement and I would have liked to learn more about his time at Roger Wiliiams: his administration; what accomplishments or growth the university experienced, etc. However, I only saw one sentence of this yet read myriad paragraphs about the pope. This is not good local journalism. Let's hear more about Dr. Hagan's days at Roger Williams. I was the editor of an adjudicated local weekly newspaper in southern California. I respect local reporting because it is going the way of the dinosaur and I would like to see the Patch do a better job. .
malcom lagauche October 15, 2011 at 10:17 PM
By the way, I am not a "self-proclaimed" journalist. I have hundreds of published articles under my belt including publications such as The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The St. Louis Dispatch, as well as varous local newspapers and national sports and political magazines in addition to Encarta Encyclopedia. If one doesn't like my ;position on a subject, that's fine. If everybody agreed with one stand, we would live in a dull world. But, one should not make accusations without knowing the facts. By the way, I am not a "theophobe." Theophobia is a word to designate someone who has abnormal fear of a deity or divine punishment or who hates a diety. I am an atheist, meaning that I don't believe in the concept of a deity. It is impossible to be afraid of or hate something that one does not believe in. Maybe the Patch will highlight a local atheist in a column. It would certainly help to balance the intrusion of religion into personal biographical information about local personalities.
Robert E October 15, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Malcom if you read the writers bio on Patch "Linda Andrade Rodrigues is the religion writer for the Tiverton-Little Compton Patch. She is also the religion editor at The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where she has served for the past 12 years." Maybe the fact that she is the religion writer is why she keeps writing about religion. If she was the sports writer I would expect she write about sports. Being a journalist I would think you would realize religion writers write about religion hence the title religion writer.
Jeannie Veegh October 16, 2011 at 01:42 AM
Malcom, irrespective of the fact that Ms. Rodrigues is a religion writer (thanks Robert), this man (Dr. Hagan) was immersed in religion/spirituality his entire personal and professional life. Your suggestion that The Patch should now highlight a local atheist to “balance the intrusion of religion into personal biographical information” was (sorry) laughable at best. Removing religion from this article would have been like taking the lolly out of the pop. Had Ms. Rodrigues diluted this, she would have had no article. It was a chronological summery of this man’s career and life. The Roger Williams gig was less than 2 years of a 53 year journey. None of the other stuff impressed you? Clearly, this wasn’t another example of “proliferation of religious articles”. It’s not about disagreeing with a position on a subject. I would unquestionably agree that the Walter Cronkite’s of this world are, regrettably, extinct. Recently you commented, ironically on another of Ms. Rodrigues’ religious articles, referencing your professional history in journalism…..“We never delved into such long-winded religious talk because that is not reporting. I have written hundreds of reports in my career and no one would know my political or religious views. That's the way it's supposed to be”. With all due respect Mr. Laguache, 2.5 minutes of google-ing your gazillions of articles, verify that you really don’t practice what you preach.
malcom lagauche October 16, 2011 at 01:44 AM
You are right, of course. But, a religion column, like a sports column, is devoted to the subject at hand. If I see a religion column in a newspaper, I usually don't read it. People who aren't sports fans don't read the sports pages. But, a general article on the Arts, Local Connections page should not read like it came from a religion page. I learned almost nothing about Dr. Hagan other than he prays a lot and likes the pope, despite his outstanding local achievements. I'd like to know more about the guy,. In this issue of the Patch, there is a profile of a local musician in the Arts, Local Connections section called, "Tiverton Guitarist Strums New Album, Balances Artistic Talents." It is a supberb piece written by Ned Brady. I left a comment praising the article. I learned a lot about the guitarist and Brady wrote such a compelling piece that it prompted me to visit the homepage of Gary Farias, the guitarist. Maybe the Patch should include a religion page and let Ms. Andrade Rodrigues write articles laden with religion. This would be proper and accurate. I find it problematic that I know more about Dr. Hagan's church attendance than I do about his presidency at a university. I was the editor of a nationwide sports magazine and never wrote about an athele's religion. I also have written articles for secular and skeptical publications, yet I never brought up the batting average of a baseball player. I would like to see the same distinctionis made in the Patch.
malcom lagauche October 16, 2011 at 02:01 AM
If you notice, I used the word "report." My online columns are mostly in-depth analyses of issues that include facts and commentary. These are not reports.I have worked at mainstream publications and organizations, such as WKFD-AM Radio station and Radio Netherlands World Broadcasting service. You have never read nor heard any of my many reports and my statement still stands. Before you make further accusations, realize the difference among reporting,commentary, and editorial writing. At this point in my career, most of my writing is not reporting, however, I do receive an occasional request to write a report on a subject. I am more of an analyst and I also have a targeted audience, like a religous reporter would have. I don't need a lesson in journalism. If you consider being the president of a university to be a mere footnote in someone's career, so be it. I don't find it laughable to occasionally interview an atheist. There are 30 million of us in the US and some religious reporters have had enough imagination to do just that. I've been interviewed several times by the San DIego Union-Tribune and San DIego City Beat. They've also highlighted Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Pagans and other religions. In the Patch, despite Ms. Andrade Rodriques being the religion specialist, I've only seen articles about Christians. There are many people of faith who are not Christians.
Robert E October 16, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Malcom first let me say I am not here supporting the Christian religion I am not a Christian I am pagan. What I am supporting is a person’s choice to have or not have a religious view. You can't separate a persons religious views from the rest of him its part of what makes them, them. When you are doing a story on a persons life their religion is part of that life and to them may be a large part of that life. If you have been a journalist for over two decades and never reported on the religion of the person that shows your personal bias. If all you learned about Dr. Hagan is that he prays a lot and likes the pope maybe you should reread the article with the blinders off and an open mind. You have every right not to believe and no one has the right to force you to believe but other people have a right to believe and you don't have a right to tell them not to. I Wish everybody would learn to just let people believe what they want. It would be a much better world. I agree with you it would be nice to see reports about other religions besides Christianity but I have learned to accept that that seldom happens in this society and does not change what I personally believe. I hope you can learn to just let them believe what they want secure in knowing what you believe is true to you.
malcom lagauche October 16, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Of course, I've written articles in which I mention a person's religion or non-belief. But they are in the context of the article, not as the major part of a general look at a local person who has accomplished many things. In the case of Dr. Hagan, it would be appropriate to give a mention that he is a devout person. But, almost the entire article was religiously-based. I've written biographical articles about Islamic scholars and Christian activists. In them, religion does come into play more than with the average person. However, when I've interviewed Sparky Anderson or Don Larson or Wilt Chamberlain, I never asked them about their religion. I realize this argument can go on indefinitely. I am taking a journalistic view of this, not a relgious one. In fact, atheists are religiously neutral. We don't hate relligion, we just don't practice it. I have written many a piece criticizing people or groups for denigrating Christians, Muslims, Jews and pagans, as well as other believers. In San Diego, we have an active pagan community. I am close friends with many. If you notice, in an earlier article in the Patch, a speaker at Holy Ghost Church denigrated pagans. I made a point of this in my comment. It included a hateful statement against people who did not adhere to Christian beliefs. There should have been a line drawn in using that quote.That's the problem when you mix religious thought with reporting facts about an event.
Robert E October 16, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Malcom I do not have problems with the Christian religion but I have had problems with some so called Christians. Again I feel that a religious writer is going to focus on religion but a more correct title would be Christian writer sense most religious writer only consider the Christian religion and know nothing of other religions. If the mainstream media would do more stories on other religions maybe I and others that are not Christians would not have to put up with the many misunderstandings regarding our religions. Nothing is more frustrating then to have someone who knows nothing or my religion tell me what it is that I believe because they saw a movie or TV show. The entertainment industries would not be able to get away with misrepresenting the Christians the way they do other religions.
Mike October 16, 2011 at 07:01 PM
And after all this, I still have no issue with the "article," but I still think the pope is still an a$$ and the Vatican (not Catholics) is as hypocritical and damaging to humanity as it ever was.
malcom lagauche October 16, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Well put, Robert. I have wondered why pagans are so looked down upon by many in our society. Paganism is a benign belief system that honors nature and peace. And, the word "witch" is bandied about in such a horrendous way. Most Americans think a witch is someone who wears a black pointed hat and rides a broom, all the time putting curses on people. I wrote a feature article about a 13-year-old girl in Michigan who committed suicide. She began to practice Wicca and showed her mother books about the practice. Her mother was in favor of her choice.. At school, she was constantly harassed, not only by students, but teachers as well, because of her views. The students sang Christian hmyns to her to taunther. Eventually, she was physically attacked almost every day after school. I interviewed the mother at length. It was a sad story and gained national attention. Instead of mocking her, her fellow students should have asked her to explain Wicca to them. Of course, the kids were only following the lead of adults who made disparaging remarks about paganism. If the Patch will give you my e-mail address, I'll send you a copy of the story.
malcom lagauche October 16, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Without delving any further, Mike, because this is not the appropriate forum, you have an excellent point.

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