Father John H. Gorham, MM
Born: April 30, 1923
Ordained: June 10, 1950
Died: February 17, 1987
On the Feast of the Seven Founders of the Missionary Order of Servites, Fr. John H. Gorham joined the company of Maryknollers in eternity on February 17, 1987 in a hospital in Mexico City.
Father John was born on April 30, 1923 in Portland, Maine, of Peter B. and Annie M. Gorham, devout Irish parents. He attended Cathedral Grammar School and Cheverus High in Portland, and a year at Holy Cross, Worcester. As an altar boy for many years John had the desire to be a priest. He wrote in his freshman year at Cheverus: “a Maryknoll Father addressed the student body and awakened in me an interest in the Missions and in Maryknoll.” He finally decided to enter after one year at Holy Cross College. John spent one year at the Venard and then moved on to Maryknoll for Philosophy. He took his First Oath at Bedford Novitiate on August 30, 1946, his Final on June 9 at Maryknoll and was ordained on June 10, 1950.
His first mission assignment was to Guatemala where he learned Spanish. With other Maryknollers he served for ten years in the rugged Cuchumantanes Mountain region among the people of Huehuetenango. Maryknollers in Guatemala started the tradition of training lay catechists in their parishes and mission stations. In the early 1950’s Fr. John was one of the first to bring the catechists from various parishes together for week-long catechetical congresses.
In 1961 he was assigned to assist Fr. James McNiff at CELAM in Bogota for two years and then completed ten years as head of the Catechetics Department of CELAM in Bogota.
Pope Paul VI, in his historic visit to Colombia in 1968, chose St. Cecilia Parish to be the site of his encounter with Bogota’s poor. The parish then was not an attractive one. Five years later Father John was appointed pastor at his own desire. At the beginning of his pastorate the parish was asleep and the physical plant run down. His years there were busy and active as he and his parishioners rebuilt the parish materially, spiritually and apostolically. It was recognized in the Archdiocese as a great missionary accomplishment.
Father John was characterized by confreres as a hard worker, a great organizer, and his secret was “to be with the people”. St. Cecilia’s became one of the most active and forward-looking communities in South Bogota in the middle of the 1970’s. Because of his devotion and closeness to them, his parishioners had a deep affection for him and wanted him to remain with them. After eight years with them he turned the parish back to the Archdiocese in 1982 in such condition that his successor, a Colombian priest, could assume not only a smoothly running parish but also one with sufficient trained local people capable of managing and continuing pastoral programs. Father John was the last Maryknoller to serve in Colombia.
All his priestly life he kept close to young people and sponsored various kinds of groups. He had a reputation for being deeply concerned about promoting vocations to the priesthood during his years at CELAM and in the parishes where he ministered with the youth.
Father John spent a sabbatical year in the U.S. and remained home awhile helping with his family, until he was assigned to Mexico in 1984. Since then he has served in the Parish of San Pedro de los Pinos, Mexico City. He brought some Colombian lay persons with him as lay missioners to aid him in San Pedro.
Funeral services and Mass were held in Mexico City. A memorial Mass was concelebrated at Maryknoll on February 19 with Fr. John Harrington as principal celebrant, Fr. Richard Albertine, homilist, and Fr. James B. Nagle reading the biography.