John Aloysius Segren, O.P.
On April 16, 1909, John Bernard Segren was born in New York City to John and Jane (Bickel) Segren. He was educated in St. Catherine's parochial grade school, and Regis High School, New York. John was to be associated from birth to death with the Eastside of New York, with the Dominican Church of St. Catherine of Siena as a pivotal point. Even when stationed in Ohio for many years, many summers he returned to assist at St. Catherine's!
Following two years at Providence College, in 1930 he entered the novitiate of the Order at St. Rose Priory in Springfield, Kentucky, where he received the religious name of Aloysius. He made his profession of vows there on August 16, 1931. Brother Aloysius pursued further studies in philosophy and theology at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., and at St. Joseph Priory in Somerset, Ohio. He also took graduate studies in history at Catholic University. Upon his ordination to the priesthood on June 11, 1937, by Archbishop Michael J. Curley of Baltimore, Maryland, Father Segren was appointed assistant Master of Students at the House of Studies in Washington for 3 years, until September 1940, when he was assigned to Aquinas College High School in Columbus, Ohio.
Father Segren, in the course of twenty-five years at Aquinas, became a beloved member of the Aquinas High School community and the community at large. It was Father Segren's sad task to be in charge at Aquinas when it closed in 1965.
Father Segren was then assigned to his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in New York City and, until the time of his death, he labored with great devotion at this site in the parochial ministry, as director of the St. Jude Shrine, as subprior of the religious community, bringing Christ in many different ways to many people. He was ever a priestly priest, an exemplary Dominican, and a gracious person. He died in New York October 22, 1979. He is buried in the Dominican plot at Calvary Cemetery, Long Island City, New York. This is across the river from New York City.
Obit from: Dominican Province of St. Joseph, Acts of the Provincial Chapter, 1980, pp. 101, 102.
Fr. Segren was Dean of Students when I attended Aquinas from 1959 – 1963. Already, he had been there 19 years. It was apparent that he loved Aquinas and the students. Mild-mannered, yet a veteran of the hallowed halls and the wiles of students, he sometimes substituted for Fr. Smith as Dean of Discipline. To me, it was a task that seemed opposite his personality. He was a thoughtful historian.
In my freshman year, studies were not always on my daily agenda. So sometimes, I borrowed someone else’s homework to copy. In fact, the small corner in the cafeteria near the front door was my favorite spot, because I thought no one could sneak up on me. Boy, was I wrong!
One morning around 7:45 am, I was busy with my lightning-fast copying process, when I heard Fr. Segren’s voice. He said “Tom, you didn’t copy that number right. Fr. Thomas won’t like that.” Wow! Was I surprised? I never heard his footsteps--I think he walked on air or had a stealth mode. Reality quickly set in. Caught red-handed, I expected a firm hand to hit my dumb head. Yet, Fr. Segren only took my paper and Mike Hooper’s paper and ripped them to shreds. Then firmly, he told me “No cheating allowed – do your own work even if you get a D,” and walked away. I think I got a C in Algebra 1 that year.
Throughout the next 3 years, I often saw Fr. Segren at Aquinas sporting events. He followed the Aquinas teams, and supported them by coming to the games. He was at the Linden McKinley game in 1960, when he and Fr. Crombie came to aid me and three other students.
We had made a huge 10-foot long white butcher-paper banner saying “Beat Linden”. The only problem was the paint we used. All we could find was oil-based house paint. When we paraded around the field on the Linden McKinley side, ten or more of their fans ran through the banner. Once they realized that they had wet green paint on themselves, they chased us back to the Aquinas stands.
Fr. Segren and Fr. Crombie saw the commotion, and stopped the angry hoard from skewering us. Then the priests ordered us to sit the remainder of the game, just 3 rows below their watchful eyes. The green Linden McKinley fans watched us the remainder of the game, but dared not come near us. Oil paint does not dry quickly, so both priests escorted us out of the stadium after the game. Fr. Segren had a great smile on his face as we left.
In my senior year, I did feel Fr. Segren’s wrath. We seniors were having a giant snowball fight on the track near Fr. Smith’s office. Fr. Segren appeared and stopped it. Ice balls, not snowballs, had hit the windows of Fr. Smith’s office and broke a window. Fr. Segren was subbing for Fr. Smith, and an ice ball nearly hit him in the head inside the office. No one owned up to making the infamous ice ball, so our just punishment was a slap on the face. I say just punishment because Fr. Segren could have been injured just like the window.
When Fr. Crombie died of a heart attack (broken heart) in 1964, Fr. Segren became President of Aquinas. To him fell the sad task of closing Aquinas. Can you imagine how Fr. Segren, the historian, felt, ending the history of Aquinas?
In late August, 1965, I saw Fr. Segren for the last time. I stopped in to see him because I was in London when Aquinas closed. He spoke fondly of the students and Aquinas’ last days. He asked me if I would like any books from the library. We went up, and I chose some Ohio History sets that I had read while at Aquinas. I only took a few sets because I felt I was attending a funeral. The vacant building with its memory-filled halls seemed to have already joined the dead who still remained from the Old Catholic cemetery on which Aquinas stood. I remember gathering up the books, with Fr. Segren carrying a couple for me. After the books were in the car, instead of shaking hands goodbye, Father gave me his blessing. I was leaving Aquinas for the last time, and he was leaving his home of 25 years, and the thousands of students whose lives he had quietly changed.
I hope other Aquinas Alumni will share their memories about Fr. John Aloysius Segren, O.P. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and a sincere smile that I think reflects the joy he felt as a Dominican and a teacher at Aquinas College High School, Columbus, Ohio.
Thanks to Fr. Richard Ambrose McAlister, O.P., Aquinas Class of 1952, for providing the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, Acts of the Provincial Chapter Obit. Also, special thanks for his advice and prayers.
Thomas Aquinas Burke - Class of 1963
Aquinas College High School
November 25, 2003