By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

The eldest of the three Meehan priest brothers, Msgr. James H. Meehan, pastor emeritus of St. John Neumann Parish in Bryn Mawr, died Friday, June 26, 2009. He was 83 years old.

Before serving at St. John Neumann Parish, Msgr. Meehan was vicar for religious for the Archdiocese and principal of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia.

The second of six children of the late James Henry and Loretta (nee Donnelly) Meehan was born Jan. 19, 1926, in Philadelphia.

In addition to two other siblings, he is survived by his two priest brothers, Father Joseph J. Meehan, 75, pastor emeritus of St. Eugene Parish, Primos, and Msgr. Francis X. Meehan, 72, pastor emeritus of SS. Simon and Jude Parish, West Chester.

In a reference to how their brother James reached so many people, Father Joseph Meehan described him as “a brother beyond blood brother, beyond brother priest, really a brother to all of us.”

His deep sense of mercy came early on, said Msgr. Francis Meehan. “Even while in the seminary, he introduced our family to a great devotion to the Sacred Heart. Trusting God’s mercy as larger than our sins was so important to him.”

Both brothers also recalled his passion for administering the sacrament of reconciliation. “In the confessional, he would seem to connect in a way that would lift people from shame or excessive guilt,” Msgr. Meehan said.

He attended St. Laurence School in Highland Park, Our Lady of Lourdes School and St. Joseph Preparatory School in Philadelphia before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. He received a bachelor’s degree from St. Charles and, in 1969, a master’s degree in religious studies from La Salle College (now University) in Philadelphia.

A good friend since his days in the seminary was Msgr. William J.J. O’Donnell, now pastor emeritus of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Warminster. Although the two were not classmates, they became good friends on the baseball team, where Msgr. James Meehan was known for his pitching skills.

The seminary friends would meet up again as teachers at St. James Catholic High School for Boys in Chester.

Msgr. Meehan was a sought-after retreat master for high school students, Msgr. O’Donnell said.

He also remembered his friend as a reader and golfer and as one who had the timing of a comedian in delivering jokes.

“A tireless worker,” Msgr. Meehan was also “a compassionate confessor,” Msgr. O’Donnell said. “He had a lot of sympathy for people with troubled consciences.”

He was ordained May 27, 1950, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia by Auxiliary Bishop J. Carroll McCormick. Pope Paul VI named him a monsignor Sept. 24, 1973.

Assignments included parochial vicar, St. Patrick Parish, Pottsville; religion instructor at St. James Catholic High School for Boys, Chester and Bishop McDevitt High School, Wyncote.

He served as principal of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls from 1967 to 1971. In the Office of the Vicar for Religious, he was the assistant vicar for religious from 1971 to 1972 and vicar for religious from 1972 to 1979.

At St. John Neumann Parish in Bryn Mawr, he was the parochial administrator from November 1978 to August 1980, when he was appointed pastor. He was named pastor emeritus of St. John Neumann Parish in June 2001.

“He was loved by so many people and helped so many people,” said Joanne Sacchetti, 72, a parish secretary at St. John Neumann who was hired by Msgr. Meehan.

Parishioners appreciated his humility and heartfelt homilies which would “make you laugh, then make you cry,” Sacchetti said.

Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated Msgr. Meehan’s funeral Mass Thursday, July 2, at St. Dorothy Church in Drexel Hill. Concelebrants included his two priest brothers. The homily was delivered by Father Meehan.

On July 1, Father Meehan served as principal celebrant at a parish Mass at St. John Neumann Church in Bryn Mawr. Concelebrants at the parish Mass included Msgr. Francis Meehan, who was also the homilist.

Interment was at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a brother, John.

In addition to his two priest brothers, he is survived by another brother, Michael, a sister, Margaret Mary Hughes, and numerous nieces and nephews.