By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – It’s a fact. Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, do seem to have an affinity for law enforcement work. It turns out this is true not only for police departments but for the Federal Bureau of Investigation too.
There was a local get-together in Philadelphia at the end of July celebrating the 100th anniversary of the agency and among the current and former members of J. Edgar Hoover’s troops were four local Catholics, including a Sister of St. Joseph.
Paul V. Hagan of St. Margaret Parish, Narberth, was easily the senior member of the group. He started with the agency in 1935 as a clerk on the 5-to-midnight shift. This was during the Depression years, and the money he earned paid his way through then-St. Joseph’s College. After he got his accounting degree, he went to agent school and became a full-fledged F.B.I. agent. His first assignment was to Cleveland, but he also worked in Buffalo, Chicago and Philadelphia.
“Mr. Hoover believed in transferring people around,” Hagan said. “He was a great man, despite the stories you hear. There’s a lot of unjust criticism. He was respected and well-regarded by all of the agents.”
Hagan’s career was entirely in criminal work, much of it white collar crime. He worked on cases involving fraud, false claims to the government, interstate transfer of stolen goods, bank robbery and embezzlement. He retired at the mandatory age of 55 and later worked in security in private industry.
Looking back on his years with the F.B.I., “it was the best experience one could have,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed going to work every day. It was a case of being on the right side and wanting to see justice done.”
It was 1942 and Therese Ganly was sitting in her senior French class at Little Flower High School when the announcement came over the P.A.
“If anyone is interest in working in Washington and will be 18, come to the office after class.”
Because her older sister, Mary, was a Sister of St. Joseph (Sister William Ignatius) missioned in Washington, Therese applied.
This was war time, jobs were plentiful, and the F.B.I. was looking for clerical help. After a background check was done, she got a letter from Hoover inviting her to join.
The work was comparing incoming fingerprint descriptions with existing criminal print descriptions on file. Meanwhile she was seriously considering a religious vocation.
The following January she transferred to the Philadelphia office for general secretarial work which gave her more exposure to the day-to-day work of the agency. Ultimately she decided to join the Sisters of St. Joseph, which she did in September 1943.
After fruitful years as a teacher, Sister Therese is living at the St. Joseph Sisters’ motherhouse in Chestnut Hill. She has kept fond memories of the many good people she worked with at the F.B.I., many of them Catholic, and she was not alone in entering religious life. In Philadelphia, “I knew Mary McCall, she was a stenographer [for the F.B.I.]. She entered the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as Sister Maria Espiritu.”
Sister Maria, who spent years in the missions and is now living at the Blessed Sacrament Sisters’ Motherhouse in Bensalem, didn’t make the July reunion but she too has stories to tell.
Sister Maria Espiritu was actually the secretary to the Philadelphia agent in charge and worked there until 1953 when she entered the Blessed Sacrament Sisters. She said because most of their socialization was with other FBI employees “we formed very close bonds.” Asked about the striking number of Irish Catholics in the agency, she said they joked that F.B.I. meant “foreign-born Irish.”
Joseph McQuillan of St. Alphonsus Parish, Maple Glen, started his career in electrical contracting work before taking the F.B.I. test. “I didn’t think I’d qualify, but I did,” he said. An agent from 1966 to 1998, he began in investigative work in Mississippi and Detroit, covering the gamut – extortion, bank robberies, organized crime and kidnappings.
Then, because of his electrical background, he was transferred to the technical field – electronic surveillance, telephone taps and covert operations – rising to technical operations supervisor for the Philadelphia office. In a way, surveillance work was more dangerous. Because it was covert, the agents didn’t just have to be wary of aggressive criminals, they could be mistaken for a robber by security people and police, McQuillan noted.
Again, the great satisfaction was in “seeing results of your efforts. You’d testify and see the criminals go off to jail most of the time,” he said.
In retirement, McQuillan is an avid collector of F.B.I. memorabilia and F.B.I.-based toys, and exhibited part of this collection at the summer celebration.
Deborah Tooey, of St. Luke Parish, Glenside, was born into the F.B.I. Her father was an agent for 25 years. She worked at Bonwit Teller in her student days at Melrose Academy. Then her father talked her into taking the F.B.I. test.
She started in 1959 and stayed 37 years. Back then women could not be agents so she began in a clerical position, went on to be a radio operator and finally an investigative assistant doing background checks. Her work involved “bank robberies, extortion, kidnapping; it was all very interesting,” she said. “I enjoyed it immensely, it was a wonderful job. I think it’s changed now. Its come a long way with computers and other things,” she said.
After her retirement, Tooey devoted her time to the sick elderly, including her own mother. She never entered formal employment again. The F.B.I. was enough for a lifetime. “It was a wonderful place and I’ve met all my friends from there. I would recommend it to anyone,” she said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.