Monsignor John T. Fagan
Roman Catholic priest, humanitarian and leader in the field of child care services for more than four decades, Monsignor John T. Fagan, retired as Executive Vice President of Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York after 42 years of service but remained committed to the agency mission. He died on February 9, 2006 in his home in Wading River, New York at the age of 79.
Active in the field of child care services until his retirement due to Parkinson’s disease, Father Fagan has been recognized nationally and regionally for his life-long commitment to children and families and advocacy for their rights. Cited by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for his “Outstanding Commitment to Children,” he served on numerous committees and boards, including the New York State Commission on Child Welfare, Suffolk County Task Force on Child Abuse, Fatality Review Panel of Children in Foster Care and the National Commission on Foster Care. Among many honors, he received Honorary Doctoral Degrees from Fordham University and Dowling College, was named “Honorary Big Brother of the Year” by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Suffolk County and was awarded the “Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award for Community Services” from the Long Island Association and the “Lifetime Humanitarian Award” from Little Flower Children and Family Services.
Father Fagan began his long history with Little Flower during the summer of 1945. He began as a volunteer counselor and lifeguard at Camp Claver summer camp for disadvantaged youth, which was located on Little Flower’s Wading River, Long Island site. Fagan entered the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Huntington and was ordained a priest in 1952. Assigned to work in the parishes of the Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach, Long Island and Resurrection-Ascension in Rego Park, Queens, he was asked by the Bishop in 1959 to head up the Little Flower agency at the age of thirty-three.
In a 1960 article that appeared in The News Review, Fagan spoke of his hopes for the future of the agency. “I have profound faith in the work of the Little Flower. As long as the agency fulfills her function and opens her arms to the neglected, unwanted, and emotionally disturbed child, with foster home or institutional care, it will prosper.”
In 1962, Father Fagan received a Master’s Degree in Psychiatric Social Work from the Fordham University School of Social Services. Under his direction, Little Flower grew into one of the largest children’s services agencies in New York state. What began as a summer camp for inner-city youth grew to include a multitude of programs and services to assist children and disabled adults in need across Long Island and New York City. Fagan’s inherent connection to the needs of children and families allowed him and the agency to respond to a variety of societal needs of the time.
In 1982, Little Flower was among the first to open a community-based residence for the mentally handicapped near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Later, they established a foster family program for developmentally disabled adults and opened two additional adult residences in Queens and Long Island.
In the late 1980’s, the crisis of “boarder babies” came upon the child welfare scene in New York. An advertisement in the New York Times, placed by Father Fagan for Little Flower, appealed for temporary families to meet the needs of this emergency. The appeal led to over 1,000 responses and the “Little Guys Project” eventually provided family placement for over 2,670 children by the time the crisis ended in 1991.
Father Fagan strongly believed that the best place for children to grow and prosper was in a family. In Little Flower’s residential program, he created small, more familial group living arrangements rather than the larger institutionalized group settings that prevailed at the time. He worked to create a sense of permanence and stability for the children served by the agency through the expansion of foster care and adoption programs.
Many Long Islanders were first introduced to the charismatic Father Fagan and his infectious sense of humor through their radio and television sets. In 1981, he initiated a ten minute Sunday homily for radio focused on foster care and adoption that aired for three years. Starting in 1986, Fagan wrote and produced the weekly “Little Flower Journal,” a sixty-second message that appeared on several Long Island radio stations, newspapers and Channel 55 for over 10 years.
In an interview with Dan’s Papers in the late 1990’s, Father Fagan was asked why he thought the Bishop chose him to work with the children of Little Flower. “I think I was made to be in the service to the children. They have a special place in my heart. I find them to have such resiliency and hope for the future.”