The Canons Regular follow a way of life developed by Saint Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries. Saint Augustine established a community based on the first Christian community in Jerusalem as described in the Acts of the Apostles: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed were his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). When he became a bishop, Saint Augustine created a community life based on these characteristics: poverty, chastity, obedience, liturgical life, the care of souls, fraternal charity, and moderation. This way of life is called the Rule of Saint Augustine.
The founder of the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception -Dom Adrien Gréa
The founder of the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception was born in France in 1828. As a law student in Paris, he became friends with the founder of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Frederic Ozanam. Although Dom Gréa went to mass daily, his own father was an atheist who opposed his decision to become a priest. For this reason, Dom Grea had to study privately under the tutelage of a priest. He became a priest in 1856. Several years later he was offered the post of Vicar General. At first, Dom Grea refused, saying he was too young and inexperienced. Eventually he accepted the position. It was during this time that he realized the need for clergy to live a common life. He saw the many failures that arose from clergy not being united, even if they lived under the same roof. He wanted the parish to be a true Christian community, like those of the past. From this desire, the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception was born in 1865 in St. Claude, France.
In 1880, the Canons Regular had their first parish and priory. However, it was short-lived as the Catholic Church as the community was soon reported to the anti-clerical State authorities. In 1890 the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception left St. Claude and went to the ancient Abbey and Basilica of St. Antoine in the diocese of Grenoble, where Dom Grea was appointed Abbot of St. Antoine. In 1907, Dom Augustine Delaroche was named Vicar General, due to Dom Gréa’s advancing age. In the Brief, “Salutare Maxime,” of February 11, 1913, Pope St. Pius X approved definitively the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception and he eagerly recommended the religious and community life to the parochial clergy. In that same year Dom Delaroche was appointed Superior General. In 1917, Dom Gréa entered into retirement at Rotalier, where he was struck by a fatal illness as soon as he arrived. He died on Friday, February 23, 1917 on the feast of St. Peter Damien, one of the great restorers of Canonical life in the eleventh century.
Prayer for the Beatification of Dom Adrien Gréa – Founder of the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception:
O God, the Source of all holiness and the Reward of those who become holy; the Inspiration of all those actions which lead to salvation; give glory to Yourself by giving glory to your servant Adrien. Remember, Lord, that forgetful of himself he lived solely for the honor of your Name and to that end strove to make known how wonderful was the divine constitution of your Church and also to restore to the parish clergy the practice of the religious life and truly liturgical worship from which the Apostolate receives the graces necessary for its success.
We humbly pray You to show us clearly by means of heavenly favors how highly he is esteemed by You and to grant us the grace for which we ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our Foundation in the United States
The Early Years
John Francis Taggart was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland on November 19, 1908. He was the youngest child of Hugh and Kathleen Taggart. His mother died when he was an infant, and he was raised by his elder sister. As a child young John would often go to church to talk with Jesus. Since he never heard Jesus respond he once went up to the tabernacle, knocked on the door and called: “Jesus, are you there?” Although he did not hear the answer at that time, the Lord would also call out to him one day, and John would answer by following that call to the holy priesthood.
A Vocation to the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception
After a youth spent partly working for the Guinness Brewery and partly in the Irish Republican Army, Fr. John became acquainted with the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception through a friend. He left Northern Ireland for France and entered the novitiate at St. Joseph de l’Ecluse, Taulignan in 1936. The following year he professed temporary vows. While a novice and student, Fr. John met Fr. Michael Sheahan. Fr. Sheahan, a fellow Irishman, was already professed and acted as assistant novice master, especially for Fr. John who was just beginning to learn French. Fr. John completed his priestly studies at Taulignan and was ordained a priest June 4, 1942. His first assignment was the parish of Les Carmes in Avignon. But since he was a citizen of Northern Ireland and a British subject, he was arrested and spent some time in a concentration camp in France operated by the Germans. Through the help of a kind guard (whose confession he had heard), Fr. John was able to escape the camp and later obtained an Irish passport, which kept him out of trouble, since Ireland was neutral in World War II.
A Journey to Peru
In 1949 Fr. John was sent to Peru and began serving at the church of the Matriz in Callao. As he had done in France, Fr. John worked with young people in Peru. He had a boys group, the Brave Hearts and one for girls called the Brave Souls. He used to tell stories of his visits to native communities in the Andes Mountains. Once he told about how St. Therese of Lisieux interceded for the people during a drought. The people had been praying a novena to her and on the last day there was a terrific thunderstorm with a great downpour of rain. After the storm, Fr. John celebrated a great Mass of Thanksgiving with a procession of the statue of St. Therese.
Humor was one of the endearing qualities of Fr. John. He often referred to himself as a “roaming Catholic” because his priestly and religious duties kept him roaming all over the globe. For example, in July 1958 he was asked to assume the duties of novice master in England at Harlow. Among those in formation during his years were Michael Turner, James Cassidy, and the late Paul Boland and Michael Doyle.
From England to Los Angeles
In October 1967 Fr. John returned to Peru, where he served at the parish of San José in Bellavista, district of Callao. He remained in Peru just one year and in October 1968 he was asked to travel to Los Angeles.
Shortly after his arrival, he was officially assigned to the Our Lady Chapel in downtown Los Angeles. Fr. John’s gentle and patient spirit made him an ideal confessor. This ministry soon became his primary apostolate at the Chapel, where confessions were available for many hours every day. At the time of Fr. John’s arrival, the Chapel was under the direction of Fr. Peter Healy.
The California Community
During those first years in Los Angeles the only community life he experienced were the visits he made to his old friend and confessor, Msgr. Michael Sheahan. However, in March 1970 a companion, Fr. Andrea Bortolotti, C.R.I.C., arrived from Peru. Fr. Andrea was sent to retire in Los Angeles after a long apostolate in our foundation in Lima. At first Fr. Bortolotti stayed with Msgr. Sheahan at Santa Isabel parish, but the following year he joined Fr. John at the mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Pasadena. Community life for the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception was now a reality.
The First Candidates
Fr. John had two men, candidates for the Canons Regular, who began their experience of religious life in Pasadena with Frs. John and Andrea. One of these was William Ustaski, who was ordained in 1977, and now serves in a suburban parish of Los Angeles. With Fr. Andrea and the two men in formation, Fr. John used to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours and commuted daily from Pasadena to Los Angeles. His daily schedule would have tried a much stronger, younger person, yet this 63 year-old “Irish Barbarian” (as he used to call himself) was ready for the task.
The Dom Gréa House
The years 1972-77 were difficult for Fr. John. With all the work he had at Guadalupe Mission Church and the Our Lady Chapel, he also tried to maintain community life with Fr. Andrea, whose health was failing. In addition, he had the responsibility of guiding the recruits who came to him. In 1975 he rented a house on Lakewood Place in Pasadena. The five candidates who resided there also celebrated the Liturgy together. Fr. Charles Lueras first entered the community in 1975 and stayed at Lakewood Place. The following year they moved to Long Beach for the summer, but the great distance from Pasadena made it necessary to move to South Pasadena in the fall of 1976. Finally, in the summer of 1977 Fr. John received permission to occupy the convent of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Pasadena with a number of young men. This was the beginning of what was to become the Gréa House.
1977 was a year of joys and sorrows for Fr. John. In March he witnessed the priestly ordination of Fr. William Ustaski, the first American Canon Regular of the Immaculate Conception. In August, Br. Charles Lueras began his novitiate. But in September, the little church of Guadalupe burned down. This was a great trial for Fr. John because he had been serving the Hispanic community and building up this apostolate for several years. Still, this incident did not stop him; he continued to say Mass for the people in the small parish hall.
The First Novitiate
In 1978 three men requested entry into the novitiate. Fr. John thought they might be sent elsewhere, but Msgr. William North, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle Church, suggested the convent where the young men’s lay community was already established as a perfect location. Cardinal Timothy Manning, Archbishop of Los Angeles, approved the plan, and the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception had their first novitiate in the United States with Fr. John as its first superior. With the opening of the novitiate Fr. John moved from the rectory of the Guadalupe Mission Church to live with the novices at the convent (Gréa House). In 1978 Fr. Charles made his first profession and left for the seminary. These were years of growth for the California community. At one point there were ten in the community. As happens in all religious orders, many come but not all are called. Still, the California community was established, and the Liturgy of the Hours was celebrated daily from the beginning.
At this time Fr. John continued his daily trips to the Our Lady Chapel, but always said Mass and Morning Prayer at the novitiate chapel before departing. In 1980 he welcomed Pasquale Vuoso into the community and sent a third candidate to the Seminary of Mt. Angel in Oregon. That same year Fr. Paul Chalumeaux, C.R.I.C. was sent from Canada to assist in the formation program. Fr. Paul spoke no English, but with the help of Msgr. Sheahan (now retired at Nazareth House, Los Angeles) he was able to give conferences to the novices. Fr. John, with his radiant personality, continued to give a wonderful example of dedication to community life and liturgical prayer.
In 1981 Fr. Charles was ordained and began to help Fr. John at the Our Lady Chapel. Fr. John was 75 and would now receive some welcome assistance with the burden of pastoral work. Fr. Pasquale Vuoso was ordained in 1987. Now with young priests in the community, the time had come to look for a more complete pastoral setting.
In the General Chapter of 1988, it was decided that Fr. John (now nearly 80) should retire as superior. Fr. Pasquale was appointed to succeed him. While the community was looking for a parish with the help of the Vicar for Clergy, another candidate, Thomas Dome, arrived in 1990 to begin his postulancy.
After investigating a number of parishes, the community finally accepted the parish of St. Francis of Assisi and moved there in June of 1991 after more than 21 years in Pasadena. Fr. John accompanied the community to St. Francis of Assisi parish. At 82 he was still going occasionally to the Our Lady Chapel, but now he would have to retire after 23 years of hearing thousands of confessions and saying hundreds of Masses.
A Devoted Servant of Mary to the End
In November 1991, Fr. John went to retire in Nazareth House, where his dear friend Msgr. Sheahan had lived. The Sisters of Nazareth cared for him with great love and generosity in his golden years, and he continued to receive penitents for some years until weakness and infirmities made it impossible. Nevertheless, even during his last years, Fr. John never lost his serenity and sense of humor. He was never a burden to the nurses even to the end. On the night before he died the sisters gathered around his bed and sang hymns as he lay dying.
At the funeral Mass for Fr. John on Jan. 8, 1998, Fr. James Kolling, the director of the Our Lady Chapel since 1982, read the Gospel of the raising of Lazarus. He reminded us in the homily that whenever Jesus came to a funeral he would give life. The concluding passage of the homily is given here:
“We cannot end this funeral by giving life to Father John Taggart, CRIC. We must end this funeral by celebrating the life that Jesus gave to Father John, whose life is now fulfilled in Jesus. We celebrate HIS life in Father John which first came to him through Baptism and then so beautifully in Father John’s Priesthood. He shared the life of Jesus in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the innumerable Communions that he distributed to you, members of Our Lady Chapel. Father John’s special charisma was to share the life of Jesus by establishing in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles his community, the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. It was all done from this small, insignificant chapel which Father John served so well and so faithfully for twenty-three years. First Bill [Ustaski], then Charles [Lueras], James [Garceau] and Pasquale [Vuoso] […], who are serving as Priests in Saint Francis of Assisi Parish. We have much to celebrate today. Not the funeral of Father John, but his life and the life of Jesus which Father (John) shared with us so generously, and the life of the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. Father John lives in Jesus, and his community. May this same Jesus, whose life Father John reflected among us, embrace him now in eternal life.”
We remained at St. Francis of Assisi Parish until July 1, 2000 when we accepted to serve in the two parishes in Santa Paula, California: St. Sebastian and Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was Msgr. Sheahan who desired that the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception come to Southern California since the 1930’s and Divine Providence has lead us to where we are today. We remember Fr. John Taggart, the founder of our California Community, with much love for his perseverance, love for our Blessed Mother and for his wit, for only a man totally dedicated to our Blessed Mother could have accomplished God’s Will in the manner in which he did.