Monday, February 08, 2010

....Circus priest gets taste of the big time singing on TV show ....

By Yadira Betances

NORTH ANDOVER — The Rev. Jerry Hogan knows a thing or two about show business. As a chaplain for circus performers, the priest is usually under the tent watching as acrobats and clowns bow to the crowd's applause.

Hogan is now getting his own taste of the spotlight. He will appear center ring next week as the guest of the CatholicTV show "Going My Way" - a modern day version of "The Merv Griffin Show," featuring clergy as the musical talent.

"You feel like you're on the set of Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno," said Hogan, who also serves at St. Michael Parish.

For his musical number, Hogan appropriately sang "Send in the Clowns" accompanied by the Rev. Chris Hickey on vocals and the Rev. Paul Rouse on the grand piano.

"(The song) is about sadness and where you are in life," he said. "It's also a code for when someone falls to bring in an act to keep the audience distracted."

During the interview, Hogan talked about his work with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus, Big Apple circus, Cirque de Soleil and other traveling shows, as well as his ministry at St. Michael's.

"I'm glad I did it, but I don't know if I'll watch it," Hogan said.

Hogan, 63, is chaplain to an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Catholics who work in the circus in the United States. He said 65 percent of the circus workers are Catholic because most of them come predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America and Europe.

"They have a great sense of faith and belief in God," he said.

In addition to bringing the church to clowns, acrobats and human cannonballs, he blesses everything from trapezes and tigers to train cars and tents.

Hogan fell in love with the circus when his father took him to one in 1954. In 1990, he joined the Circus Fans Association, and began writing to then-circus chaplain Jack Toner. Hogan often pitched in for him when he was not available, and when Toner retired in 1993 due to heart problems, Hogan became his replacement.

"It's been a blessing to be working with them. This is an outreach as my call as a priest and an affirmation of my vocation either here (at St. Michael) or in the circus," Hogan said.

There are also sad moments.

He was called to provide support when aerial acrobat Dessi Espana, died in 2004 after falling 30 feet onto a concrete floor during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show in St. Paul, Minn.

He also presided over the funeral of Gunther Gebel-Williams, the famed animal trainer for Ringling Bros. who died of cancer in 1991, as well as the funeral of another animal trainer who was mauled by a tiger in 1998. He was there when a Ringling Bros. circus trained derailed in Florida in 1994, killing a clown and an animal trainer.

When not traveling with the circus from Florida to New York, he is in constant contact with circus performers through e-mail.

At St. Michael, he is part of the ministry with the Rev. Paul Keyes and the Rev. John Delaney, team moderator.

In addition to celebrating Mass, Hogan also teaches religious education and leads a men's group at the church.

When not preaching or teaching, Hogan enjoys going to the theater, the symphony and the museum. He is an avid sports fan and has been a 39 year season ticket holder to the New England Patriots and enjoys watching the Red Sox and the Celtics.