Fathers Egan, Figaro die; memorial services planned

CHARLESTON — Two priests who served in the diocese died in late July.

Father John J. Egan, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., who ministered in South Carolina, died July 23. The funeral Mass was held July 27 at St. Joseph Church in Charleston. Interment was in New Jersey.

Messages of condolence may be sent to his brother: Richard T. Egan, 24 Sunny Hill Road, Dover, NJ 07891.

Holy Ghost Father Egbert J. Figaro, who served as pastor of St. Patrick Church from 1978 to 1990 died on July 24. The Funeral Mass was on July 28 at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Chicago. A memorial Mass was said on July 30 at Spiritan Hall in Bensalem. Interment was in the Holy Ghost Fathers’ Cemetery.

Father Figaro was born in Atlantic City, N.J., on Feb. 16, 1925. His parents were Egbert N. Figaro and Rosalie Hendrickson Figaro, who emigrated from Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1916 and became naturalized citizens of the United States in November 1918. Both parents are deceased.

Father Figaro is survived by three sisters: Vera Collins of Chicago, Ill., Anne Tripp of Darby, Pa., and Rosa Hicks of Atlantic City, N.J. One brother, Theodore Figaro, is also deceased.

As a child, Figaro was educated in the elementary schools of Atlantic City and at St. Mary’s Preparatory School in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he came into contact with the Holy Ghost Fathers of Ireland. Two priests had a profound influence on the young Figaro, a distant cousin, Father William Leroy, and Father Leo A. Hudzik.

After graduating from high school, Figaro applied to the Diocese of Camden to study for the priesthood. At an interview with the bishop, he was shocked when the bishop informed him that the Diocese of Camden would not accept a “colored” candidate for the priesthood. He was urged to join the Society of the Divine Word for all black priests working in the South.

Figaro entered the Holy Ghost Fathers College at Cornwells on Oct. 15, 1945. Once in the seminary, the young man entered a course of fast-paced studies. At that time, Albert McKnight of Brooklyn and Leonard Cunningham of Charleston were the only other “colored” students in a group of 150 boarding seminarians.

The future priest spent two years at Cornwells Heights, and moved to the Holy Ghost Fathers Novitiate in Ridgefield, Conn. He spent a year in intensified religious education and pronounced his vows as a Holy Ghost Father in August 1947. He moved then to St. Mary Seminary in Norwalk, Conn.

In 1948, Figaro received his bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s at Duquesne. He was assigned to three years of studies in divinity at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He completed further studies at Chevilly in Paris, France, and the Holy Ghost Fathers International School in Rome, Italy. He returned to the United States in 1951 and received a bachelor of divinity degree awarded in the name of Yale St. Mary’s Divinity School.

On June 8, 1951, Father Figaro was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Henry O’Brien of Hartford, Conn. He said his first Mass two days later, June 10, 1951, at St. Monica Church, built on his original family homesite.

From June to September 1951, Father Figaro was assigned to St. Joseph Orphanage in Philadelphia. In September 1951, he was assigned to the Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he served as a teacher. While in Ann Arbor, Father Figaro enrolled at the University of Michigan and, in 1953, received a master’s degree in English literature.

Constantly searching for more knowledge, Father Figaro enrolled at Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti and in 1954 received a master’s degree in education.

In 1957, he received a doctorate of philosophy degree from the University of Michigan. While working at St. Emma Military Academy in Rock Castle, Va., in 1958, Father Figaro studied at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., and received an associate degree in physical sciences.

In the years from 1958-1971, Father Figaro was elected to many positions of the Holy Ghost Fathers, namely, Provincial Council, second assistant to the Provincial Council, and General Council of the Holy Ghost Fathers that included trips to Europe.

During the early ’70s, Father Figaro was active in the Civil Rights movement through the Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was involved during his priestly life in many social and civic organizations, including the Black Clergy Caucus, and the National Office of Black Catholics.

Father Figaro accepted the call to St. Patrick in Charleston under then Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler in 1978. This assignment made him the first African-American to pastor a Catholic parish in South Carolina. He was the moving force behind the major restoration and remodeling projects at the church.

During his tenure in the diocese, Father Figaro served as a deanery representative to the Priests Senate and was a delegate for the administration of the sacrament of confirmation. He was delegated to that position by rescript from the Holy See on two occasions.

Father Figaro was a member of the diocesan Building Commission and was on the Presbyteral Council. He was the representative to the Deanery Council on the Revised Code of Canon Law. He also held the office of episcopal vicar of the Coastal Vicariate and was active in ecumenical affairs. He organized an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which brought together several dozen black ministers and their congregations and choirs.

When his pastorate ended in 1990, Father Figaro became the longest functioning Holy Ghost Father to serve the parish. He will long be remembered for his liberal charity, his true and sincere piety, and dedicated service.

The public is invited to join the parishioners of St. Patrick Church, located at 134 Saint Philip St. in Charleston, for an ecumenical memorial service at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, and a Mass at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 8, at the parish. For information call the church at (843) 723-6066.

Messages of condolence may be sent to his sister: Vera Collins, 5471 South Hyde Park Blvd., Chicago, IL 60615.