Harry Hartigan jokes that his is not “your grandma’s Catholic Church.” Hartigan isn’t your typical religious leader, either.
After a diverse career, including 10 years as a toy buyer; eight as a flight attendant; nearly two decades as a paralegal, and years as a project manager, the 70-year-old great-grandfather is answering a lifelong call.
Today, Hartigan will be ordained as a priest of the liberal St. Theresa’s Catholic Apostolic Church in North America. His ex-wife, Eileen Finn, will serve as the ordination’s cantor. His three grown children also have roles in the ceremony.
“Can you imagine at this age? I could be sitting on the beach,” Hartigan said with a laugh, sipping tea at a coffee shop in his Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. “It’s a major milestone in my life.”
When he thinks about it, though, he’s been ministering since childhood.
A Chicago native raised Irish Catholic, he served mass every day as an altar boy. He “scrubbed floors in the convent,” and attended Catholic high school.
He married at 21 and divorced 18 years later, when he came out as gay.
“People who are LGBT are not welcomed in a lot of churches,” he said.
But he never stopped finding ways to connect spiritually, including working with AIDS patients.
Hartigan moved to Minneapolis in 1978 to work for Target, then as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines. He was a paralegal for 18 years, before retiring in 2013 after six years at the University of Minnesota in capital planning and project management. He is the grandfather of six and great-grandfather of two, with another on the way.
The seed for his spiritual work dates back to 2008, when he fractured his shoulder after a winter fall. As he healed, he read “The Book of Mychal,” about New York Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge who perished in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“His example of parking judgment,” Hartigan said, spoke to him. Hartigan decided to found “The Order of Mychal” to do God’s work without restrictions. He drew monthly gatherings of six or eight.
In the process, he met the Rev. Michael Dakotah, founder of St. Theresa’s Parish in Minneapolis. Hartigan put Dakotah on his advisory board and began attending Dakotah’s services at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.
“Michael kept saying, ‘You should be a priest.’ And I would say, ‘I don’t want to be a priest. I’m happy doing my work with the Order of Mychal,’ ” Hartigan recalled.
“Next thing I know, I’m talking to the bishop. Before I knew it, I was going for the priesthood.”
In 2014, he began his online studies in liturgy, theology and sacraments.
At least once a month, he wanted to quit. But every week he reminded himself that “this is what God wants.”
He was ordained as a deacon in 2015. As a priest, Hartigan will be able to consecrate during mass, give general absolution and perform confirmations.
He will continue the work he began as a deacon, being a spiritual adviser to clients in Minnesota’s Sex Offender Program. His biggest congregation is the 20 to 25 men at Moose Lake who participate in services twice a month. Another 15 to 20 men, and one woman, join him in St. Peter twice a month, where he holds a LGBT support group.
He’s also performed three weddings for his congregation and promotes to outsiders the publication the “Hoosegow Journal.” The bimonthly newsletter features informational articles, personal essays and jokes, written by and shared by those who are civilly committed.
“These folks need to know that God loves them,” he said, “that they’re human beings.”
The men made him a “gorgeous rainbow stole for my ordination,” he said.
Hartigan’s ceremony will be held at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.
He will wear red on Saturday and white on Sunday when he celebrates his first mass.
“There’s a maturity that comes with age,” Hartigan said. “My Aunt El used to say, ‘You cannot put an old hat on young shoulders.’ ”
Twice while pumping gas and once in a shopping mall, Hartigan was approached by people who noticed his collar. They asked the same question:
“Will you pray with me?”
Absolutely, he will pray with them.
“You never know,” Hartigan said, “where God is going to put you.”