Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips, 97, Mount St. Mary's College president

July 13, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips, a former president of Mount St. Mary's College who made the Emmitsburg school's campus a destination for religious pilgrims, died Sunday of heart failure at Providence Hospital in Washington. He was 97.

He restored and popularized the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes in the Frederick County hills, which annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors seeking a quiet spiritual sanctuary -- and a spring that some believe has miraculous healing powers.

Born in Washington, Monsignor Phillips came as a sixth-grade student to a junior high school on the Mount St. Mary's campus and remained for more than eight decades. He earned a bachelor of arts there and a master's degree in library science from Catholic University of America. He was ordained a priest in 1935 and given the honorary title of monsignor by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

He taught theology and church history at the Emmitsburg school and was a professor of philosophy, psychology and church history at nearby St. Joseph's College in Emmitsburg -- now the site of the National Fire Academy -- from 1938 to 1950. He taught medical ethics at Catholic University from 1937 to 1960.

"Monsignor Phillips was, in so many ways, the spirit of Mount St. Mary's," said Thomas H. Powell, the current president. "Having arrived here as a young boy, he spent his life in service to the Mount and her students."

He became the college's 19th president in 1967 and served for four years. It was during his presidency that the school's system of governance -- a board of trustees containing lay and clerical members -- was adopted.

He was the last priest to serve as president of Mount St. Mary's and later became its archivist. He collected correspondence and manuscripts and wrote scholarly articles related to library science. The college library is named for him, and the college awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1995.

Colleagues said Monsignor Phillips was best known for his resolve in restoring the shrine, which is located on the campus and the oldest U.S. replica of the Lourdes shrine in France.

In the late 1950s, he raised money to pave a road and parking lot for what had been a remote devotional area and small stone chapel maintained by seminarians. Skeptics and some faculty members called it "Hughie's Folly." Years later, as he welcomed busload after busload of pilgrims, he laughed about those who doubted him.

An early 1990s video, Whispers of Mount Saint Mary's, was made of his development of the grotto, which now includes a rosary path and outdoor bronze stations of the cross.

"He was an incomparable raconteur who remembered everybody who had gone to the Mount back to the 1920s," said the Rev. Michael Roach, a professor of church history at the school. "He was a master storyteller and had an endless array of tales. He was one of the pillars of devotional Catholicism in Maryland and Washington."

Monsignor Phillips was named director and chaplain of the shrine in 1958. After completely refurbishing it, he oversaw construction of the Pangborn Memorial Campanile, a bell tower topped by a 25-foot, gold-leaf statue of the Virgin Mary dedicated by New York's Cardinal Francis J. Spellman.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Monsignor Phillips is survived by nieces and nephews.

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