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The Reverend John Joseph Higgins Collection

The Reverend John Joseph Higgins Collection was donated to Christian Brothers University by Judge & Mrs. Thomas Aquinas Higgins, Katherine Higgins Brogden, and Margaret Higgins Thompson "to honor a man called by God to be his missionary" in 1994. Comprised of the personal library and readings of Reverend John J. Higgins M.M, it includes 158 books and pamphlets.  Subjects covered include the history of Bolivia and of the Catholic Church in South America, and related topics.

Contact archives@cbu.edu for more information on this collection.

About Father Higgins

Born in 1925, John J. Higgins, the eldest of four children, was baptized, educated and first received the sacraments in the Cathedral parish in Nashville. He attended Father Ryan High School and later graduated from Peabody Demonstration School. He continued his studies at Peabody College until September, 1945, when he entered the Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Religious Education degrees.

Ordained on June 14, 1952, the newly ordained Father Higgins was assigned to the Diocese of Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Assignments

In the first years of his ministry, Father Higgins was assigned to parish work in the Church of Santa Ana of the Cala Cala district of Cochabamba, Bolivia. He also served the parishes of El Paso and Condebamba, among the Quechua-speaking native population.

In his first parish, located in a rural area, Father John decided to build a new church. Friends of his grandfather, Charles J. McGee, who worked for the Tennessee Central Railroad, donated a bell for the church which had once been a part of a Tennessee Central steam locomotive. Father John J. Considine later wrote of this "Tennessee-Bolivia" connection in an article in the Maryknoll magazine, Field Afar.

Father John also worked to build a clinic at Condebamba and staffed it with Maryknoll Sisters. In the same area he helped form a farming cooperative for some 25 families. In Cochabamba, Father Higgins became not only physically but also psychologically close to the people he served, and they to him.

An avid reader, he acquired a profound understanding of the history and struggle of the native Bolivians.His knowledge of Bolivian history caused him to devote attention to the restoration and embellishment of San Pedro Temple in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, where he was stationed in 1959. In 1962, he was named pastor of San Pedro Parish. In this parish, Father John ministered to some 40,000 parishioners, and much of his traveling was done on motorcycle or horseback.

First Banking Co-op

While in La Paz, Father John established Bolivia's first banking cooperative. Father John spearheaded the establishment of the San Pedro Savings and Credit Cooperative in April, 1964, and within three years had enrolled some 830 members. The October 16, 1988 issue of U. S. News and World Report quoted Father John as saying, "When we started, we held a 9 week course just to get across the idea that money would be safe in something besides jewelry and gold nuggets. And the idea you could put $100 in the bank and get back $110 in a year, without doing anything, was completely mystifying."

Other Projects

Father John organized the Congregation of Jesus of Nazareth, and the women of the parish assisted in many of the temporal needs of the imprisoned. He also aided many of the prisoners in staying out of jail once released.

Another project was the Saint Vincent Clinic. One of his last decisions before returning to the States was to move the clinic nearer the Maryknoll Sisters' house. A food kitchen was begun under his leadership, and some 80 people were fed a hot meal daily - oftentimes the only meal they had all day.

Legacy

Father John Higgins, in his 15 years of ministry to the people of Bolivia, returned to his native Tennessee on only a few occasions. Once was in 1964, when he sang the Mass of Resurrection for his father's funeral at the Cathedral in Nashville.

His last trip home brought tragedy. The Maryknoll Society flew Father John to Washington, D.C., for a series of tests in September, 1967, which revealed terminal cancer. He was then flown to Nashville for treatment. Only three weeks later the 42-year-old priest, known as Father Juan by those he loved and served in Bolivia, died on September 26, 1967.

He was buried from the Cathedral of the Incarnation where the Mass of the Resurrection was sung by the Very Reverend John J. McCormack, Superior General of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. Father John Higgins was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in Nashville. He was survived by his mother, two sisters (Mrs. Morris H. Brogden and Mrs. Walton C. Thompson) and his brother (Judge Thomas A. Higgins), all of Nashville.

Father Higgins told his mother shortly before his death, "If I had known of this in La Paz, I would have stayed to die among my faithful and have been buried in Bolivia."

On the octave of Father Higgins' death, a Mass was celebrated in his honor at his parish of San Pedro, La Paz, Bolivia.

When looking over the 15 years Father John spent in priestly devotion to his "people," one might recall the words of his first pastor, Monsignor Albert A. Siener, on the day Father Higgins celebrated his first Solemn High Mass in the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville.

The priest has titles of honor, which endear him to his people. He is the shepherd who watches over and guards his flock from danger, who leads it into green pastures and goes in search of lost sheep. He is a mediator between God and man. He is an ambassador, a herald bringing to men the glad tidings of redemption. He is a minister of Christ and a dispenser of His mysteries. But of all the titles there is none more significant nor more honorable than that of Father.

This title sums up in a word all those dear ties which bind him to his people. He is the spiritual father who regenerated them in baptism and made them children of God, who watches over them with parental care; their unfailing friend in time of need, their counselor in affliction, the sharer of their joys and sorrows. The priest may receive from the church other titles of distinction, but none can ever be dearer to him than that of Father.

-- Adapted from The Tennessee Register, April 13, 1987.