Spring Hill College mourns loss of Rev. Daniel A. Creagan, S.J.

Mon, 03/09/2009 (All day)

March 9, 2009

MOBILE, Ala. – The Rev. Daniel A. Creagan, S.J., the first chair of the fine arts department at Spring Hill College, died at age 80 on March 6, 2009. Visitation will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 10 at St. Joseph Chapel, followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 4 p.m. Internment will be in the Jesuit Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Fine Arts Department of Spring Hill College, 4000 Dauphin St., Mobile, AL 36608.

Creagan celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Jesuit priest in August 2008 with a concert, dinner and Mass in his honor. The following story on Creagan’s jubilee year originally was published in the winter 2008 issue of the Spring Hill College Magazine.

Fr. Creagan reflects on 50 years as a Jesuit priest

By Lindsay O’Quin Hughes

The Rev. Daniel Creagan, S.J. ’52 brought a creative and cultural pulse to the city of Mobile in the 1960s as Spring Hill College’s first chair of the fine arts department. After studying art and working in parishes around the country, Creagan has returned to Spring Hill to retire and to celebrate his jubilee year as a Jesuit priest.

Creagan entered the Society of Jesus in 1945 and was ordained in France on July 31, 1958, a moment that he remembers “almost like yesterday.” Although no one else in his family was a priest, Creagan knew that becoming a Jesuit was his calling since childhood, having been taught by the Jesuits as a boy.

And, he was just as certain about his passion for art. “That’s the same as becoming a priest,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that always is.”

As a student, Creagan would get caught drawing when he should have been doing his arithmetic or English work. “The nuns were despairing, telling me I would be standing on the street corner with a tin cup. ‘You can’t make a living as an artist!’” he recalled the nuns warning him. “Well, they were right – absolutely right about that.”

Creagan said the Jesuits, while fascinated by his interest in art, encouraged him to pursue other academic avenues. So, he was sent to Spring Hill College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1952.

Creagan went on to earn a degree in theology in 1958 from Les Fontaines Seminaire Missionaire in Chantilly, France. But, Creagan said his time in Europe only strengthened his interest in art history, and in 1963 he earned his master’s degree in art history from the University of Colorado.

Although Spring Hill had offered courses in art history, the college did not offer a degree program in fine art until 1961, when Creagan returned to Spring Hill and was named the first chair of the fine arts department. Serving in that capacity, he taught studio art, art history, music appreciation and guitar at Spring Hill until 1983.

Creagan fondly recalls working with the fine arts faculty, including Frederick Mueller, Ira Swingle Jr., Lee Hoffman, Dennis Ciesil, George Black, David McCann and Barbara Starr. During his years at Spring Hill, Creagan directed numerous plays as well as liturgies and choral productions in St. Joseph Chapel, which provided Mobile a venue for the arts.

“Back then Spring Hill was really the only show in town. I think Mobile sort of looked to us for cultural life,” he said.

Creagan said he tried to bring to the college as many “big names” as he could, including flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya and folk singer Joan Baez, a visit that didn’t sit well with many Mobilians.

“That was the talk of the town, because Joan Baez was one of these raging liberals, and Mobile had a hard time dealing with that,” he said with a smile.

During his time in Mobile, Creagan received the Mobile Press-Register’s M.O. Beale Award for inaugurating the Fall Festival of the Arts, Mobile’s first citywide arts festival; and he served on the original board of directors for the Mobile Museum of Art.

Since his departure from Spring Hill, Creagan’s work has focused on parish life, including serving as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Abbeville, S.C.; as pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Orleans; and as parochial vicar at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church in Spring, Texas.

Creagan has also continued his involvement in the arts, studying at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, at the Atelier Kare in Houston, and at an icon-painting workshop by the Prosopon School of Iconology. Creagan said during his studies, he developed a great respect for the atelier system, which emphasizes classical techniques of drawing and painting.

“The atelier system really taught art. They didn’t just put a student in front of a canvas and say, ‘Express yourself!’” said Creagan, who believes in the importance of a good foundation to art. “Of course, the atelier is not the only way to learn art, but there has to be a pathway to learning.”

In July 2006, the Society sent Creagan to Spring Hill College to retire. Since his arrival, Creagan has exhibited his work at Stewartfield in a show titled “A Celebration of Realism,” which raised $27,000 in artwork sales to benefit the fine arts department. His show “Back to the Atelier: Recent Works and New Directions,” which hung in the Mobile Arts Council’s Skinny Gallery in downtown Mobile, brought in an additional $2,000.

Creagan continues to participate in Mass at St. Joseph Chapel and volunteers part time in the archives of the Marnie and John Burke Memorial Library with archivist Dr. Charles Boyle ’50, updating the filing system and entering items into the computer. Boyle, who admires Creagan’s paintings, said although Creagan insists that he is an “amateur” when it comes to computers, he does his job very well.

As Creagan stared out of the window to Spring Hill’s transformed campus, he reflected on his varied career as a Jesuit and his years at the college. “This was a good place to come back to, to retire,” he said with a hint of weariness. “There are some great moments. … I’m not sure where I got all the energy to do all that.”