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Father Harold Purcell - Former Passionist

Harold Purcell
Father Harold Purcell, C.P.
Editor of The Sign circa 1933

Father Harold Purcell (birthname Thomas) was born to Nicholas and Mary Lawler Purcell in Gerardville, Pennsylvania, on January 3, 1881. He was attracted to the Passionists at a parish mission in Philadelphia where he was raised after the death of his father. He entered the Prep School at Dunkirk and then the novitiate in Pittsburgh. He professed vows in 1898 and was ordained a priest in 1904.

For seventeen years Father Harold gave missions and retreats in 42 of the then 48 States. Of particular note were those given to non-Catholics in the far West and deep South. In 1921 he was asked to begin The Sign magazine. The first copy was published in July, 1921. The Sign was about Catholic life and teaching and supported the newly established Passionist mission in China. He served as editor of The Sign until 1934.

On July 28, 1934 Father Harold left the Passionist community to pursue his dream of building the "City of St. Jude." This "center for the religious, charitable, educational and industrial advancement of the Negro people" was eventually built in Montgomery, Alabama. Father Harold had been invited by the bishop of Mobile, but permission to go there was denied because the project was not seen to be in conformity with the Passionist charism.

He opened St. Jude's clinic for Negroes where the list of patients soon grew to 20,000. In 1936 he bought a site on the outskirts of Montgomery and with the help of Bishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile, he built a combination church-school and social center. In 1947 a new school was built and a $1,500,000 hospital was opened in 1951. With the exception of a grant for the hospital, the $5,000,000 for the building of "The City of St. Jude" was raised by him through private funds.

Father Purcell died on October 22, 1952 in his small room at the "city" at the age of 72.

For more on Father Harold Purcell see the book: "Build Me a City": The Life of Reverend Harold Purcell, The Founder of the City of St. Jude, Sister Mary Ruth Coffman, OSB (Montgomery, AL, 1985). See also the City of St. Jude website