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Msgr. Thomas Paul Hadden Remembered

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Reverend Monsignor Thomas Paul Hadden, Vicar Emeritus of African Ancestry Ministry and Evangelization in the Diocese of Raleigh, died October 8, 2012, in Southern Pines after a brief illness. Msgr. Hadden was born May 31, 1929, in Raleigh.

Born to Reverend Thomas Gary and Clarice Hadden, Msgr. Hadden, at the age of 12, informed his father, who was pastor of St. Paul’s AME Church in Raleigh, that he wanted to become a Catholic. He said his parents did not object, and he became a Catholic in eighth grade, while a student at St. Monica’s Catholic School in Raleigh.

Upon graduating high school in 1946, he enrolled in St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. In a 2002 interview on Catholic Perspective, the Diocesan TV program, Msgr. Hadden said it was the only seminary at the time that would accept African American candidates. In 1950, he enrolled at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, and then in 1955, with the support of then Bishop Vincent S. Waters, Msgr. Hadden entered the North American College in Rome, becoming the first African American student at the school.

He was ordained in Rome on December 20, 1958.

Msgr. Hadden’s first pastoral assignment took him to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Newton Grove, where he served as Parochial Vicar from 1959-1960. Following brief assignments in Charlotte and Durham, Bishop Waters assigned him Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph Church in New Bern in 1962. He stayed in that city until 1971, assuming the role of pastor at St. Joseph and then becoming pastor of St. Paul Church and St. Joseph in 1964.

His assignment as pastor of St. Paul Church was a challenging one for the young priest, since it was a predominately white parish. As he noted in the TV interview, he faced opposition among a small group in the parish community. But in the course of time, the opposition subsided either by people coming to know him or some leaving the parish.

In 1971, he was assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Raleigh. That assignment lasted two years, then Bishop Waters appointed him Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral, making him the first African American priest to be installed as a rector of a Diocesan Cathedral. “The Bishop told me that his Cathedral was in trouble,” Msgr Hadden said in the interview. “He asked me to go in and renew it.”

Msgr. Hadden’s tenure as rector lasted 10 years. During that time, he fulfilled Bishop Waters’ wishes. In addition to bringing life to the parish, he became active in downtown ministerial associations and guided the parish into social outreach.  Recognizing that Latinos were making their way into the Capital City, Msgr. Hadden began a Spanish Mass and studied Spanish to be able to celebrate the liturgy. He confided, “I oftentimes mixed Italian in with the Spanish.”

In 1983, Bishop Joseph F. Gossman assigned him to Holy Trinity Church and Our Lady of Atonement Church in Kinston. Then in 1985, he was assigned to St. Mary Catholic Church in Wilmington, where he remained until his retirement from active ministry in 2000. During his time at St. Mary, the parish began a number of social outreach programs to assist the poor in the Wilmington/New Hanover County area.

While retired from active ministry, Msgr. Hadden continued to exercise priestly ministry in various parishes and remained Vicar for African Ancestry Catholics, retiring from the position in 2011, after having held the post since 1988. 

“Msgr. Hadden was always a leader,” said Msgr. John Wall, pastor of the Newman Center Parish at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I first learned of this as a fellow student at the North American College in Rome. He was well respected by the students and faculty there.

“Through the years of his priesthood he continued to be a leader. He was a real Churchman,” Msgr. Wall continued. “His love and reverence for the Liturgy were well known. In his various parish assignments he won the respect not only of his parishioners but also members of the community at large in the towns he served across eastern North Carolina. Looking back, I am so proud of the effort he took to purchase the Tileston School in Wilmington, which now serves thousands of underprivileged people in that community. The Tileston School purchase and its subsequent social outreach is a memorial to his love and concern for so many. I will miss him greatly.”

Fr. Marcos Leon, pastor of St. Ann Church in Clayton and the priest who assumed the position of Vicar for African Ancestry Catholics, noted how he met Msgr. Hadden in 1996. “He had a strong desire to minister to the migrant population in Wilmington,” Fr. Leon said. “He asked Bishop Gossman to assign him a native Spanish speaking seminarian to begin a Spanish Mass. He became a great mentor to me. He frequently encouraged me about the importance of Catholic social teaching. He would always welcome new cultures.”

Msgr. Jerry Sherba, Diocesan Chancellor and Vicar Judicial of the Diocese, also commented as Msgr. Sherba as a mentor. In a reflection on Msgr. Hadden’s life, Msgr. Sherba wrote, “He was first and foremost a priest, who above all, was a man of prayer. His faith in God was profound. His love for our Blessed Mother was truly that of a son to his mother.”

“He loved the Catholic Church and was very proud to be a priest,” Msgr. Sherba said.

Watch Part 1 of 2002 video interview with Msgr. Hadden (Describes early life & Priesthood)


Watch Part 2 of 2002 video interview with Msgr. Hadden (Discusses African American Catholics in NC)


Read legacy/bio of Msgr. Hadden written by Fr. Marcos Leon (PDF)