Born Aug. 20, 1921 in Norristown, the son of the late Henry B. and Elizabeth E. (Boyle) Degnan, he attended St. Patrick School in Norristown and West Catholic High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
He was ordained May 22, 1948 by Bishop J. Carroll McCormick, and his first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Paul Parish, Philadelphia. His subsequent assignments included faculty, St. James High School, Chester; Bishop McDevitt High School, Wyncote and St. Charles Seminary, where he was dean and vice rector. He was appointed pastor of St. Joseph in 1972 and served for 24 years until he was named pastor emeritus in 1996.
Marjorie Tracey remembers Msgr. Degnan initially when she was a volunteer and later business manager at St. Joseph.
“He was a wonderful, gentle, kind man,” she said. “He was extremely intelligent and devoted to St. Joseph’s and to his mother, who was a widow. He loved his dogs Rags and Blazer. He would walk into the school with Blazer and he could greet almost every child by first name. That was one of his strengths. He never forgot a name once he heard it and people appreciated that.”
During his tenure Msgr. Degnan refurbished St. Joseph Church, added classrooms to the school and built a gymnasium/parish hall. But his greatest legacy is the relationships he built.
“He was a spiritual father and mentor to so many; I’ve never seen a priest with so many friendships and he kept them all,” said Father Harry E. McCreedy, who was parochial vicar at St. Joseph during the final three years of Msgr. Degnan’s pastorship.
At the same time Msgr. Degnan retired, Father McCreedy was appointed pastor of St. Paul in East Norriton, which is very close to Msgr. Degnan’s home parish. Father McCreedy invited him to live at the St. Paul Rectory and there Msgr. Degnan remained until his death, making even more friends.
“He felt very comfortable here among old friends,” Father McCreedy said. “He also had a particular fondness for his time at St. James High School and he married many of his students and did their baptisms, and the same was true for the people of St. Joseph. People have been calling us from all over since he died.”
Bishop Louis A. DeSimone entered St. Charles after Msgr. Degnan; the two first met first on Bishop DeSimone’s first day in the seminary.
“Our friendship grew through the baseball field. He was very good, I pretended I was,” Bishop DeSimone said. “After the seminary we kept in touch, and he asked me to do several confirmations at St. Joseph. Harry Degnan was a magnificent, humble, joyous priest, and I’m saddened to lose him as a friend.”
A parish Mass was scheduled to be celebrated at St. Joseph on Friday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. with Bishop Daniel E. Thomas as principal celebrant.
Bishop DeSimone is scheduled to be principal celebrant of his funeral Mass at St. Paul on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 11 a.m. Concelebrants are Msgrs. Ralph J. Chieffo, Richard J. Skelly and Charles P. Vance; also Fathers Francis J. Cornely and Charles R. O’Hara, Robert C. Vogan (current pastor of St. Joseph’s) and Father McCreedy, who will also be the homilist.
Msgr. Degnan is survived by cousins. Interment will be at St. Patrick Cemetery, East Norriton.