Life Story / Obituary
On Monday, October 31, 2022, the Reverend John P. “Jack” LaGoe passed away in Traverse City, Michigan. He was a fierce advocate for the poor and the forgotten, a fisherman who loved the rivers and forests of Michigan, and a priest who could weave the verse of his favorite poets into the teachings of scripture. Fr. Jack was born on February 10, 1932 in Marion, Michigan. He was the son of the late Herbert and Marie (Flood) LaGoe.
Fr. Jack graduated from Marion High School in 1949. He developed a love of sports at a young age, and he excelled in football, basketball, and baseball for the Marion Eagles. Athletics was a passion that remained with him for the rest of his life. His childhood was spent fishing the rivers and streams near his home. Through adulthood during trout season, Fr. Jack could be found traversing the forests and meadows in the Upper Peninsula to reach his secret fishing spots on his favorite rivers. It was his favorite time of year, and he was happiest when he shared the river with his brother, Jim. He never lost his appreciation for the quiet of the deep wood and the swirl of breath in cold, clean air.
Fr. Jack studied at McGill University in Montreal, Canada; St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan; and the Casa Santa Maria at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood on June 3, 1961.
Fr. Jack was a servant priest who fought for the poor, railed against war, and walked beside his friends and neighbors in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights to fight the injustices of racism. Fr. Jack served as the vice-president of the Muskegon NAACP for twenty years. He was a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Muskegon Department of Social Services. He was the founder, and for over 25 years, the director of the Christian Community Center in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, where he lived, preached, ministered to people who lived in poverty, advocated for those who suffered from mental illness, and used his position as a Catholic priest to speak for those he felt politicians and community leaders had forgotten. He often said his intent was to help amplify the voices of the marginalized so that those in power could not turn away as if those who suffered from injustice did not exist. He ministered to the men imprisoned at the Muskegon Correctional Facility, because he felt it was important that each knew he was loved by God. He had a contagious passion for telling truth to power that inspired many others to take up the struggle of making the world a better place for everyone.
Fr. Jack loved to intermingle the words of his favorite authors with scripture to make a point in a sermon or while leading from the front lines of anti-war and civil rights marches; causes to which he was committed his entire life. To quote the Ann Arbor News from an article in 2007, “In a single sentence he can quote Shakespeare, the poet Langston Hughes, and scripture - - and shake his fist at politics.”
Fr. Jack was a lover of music and art. Throughout his ministry he was surrounded by musicians who wished to support his work by singing the songs he loved. He was the most attentive member of any concert audience, and he always found a moment to thank musicians for sharing their talents. One musician remembered Fr. Jack’s words of appreciation following a performance during an event, organized by Fr. Jack, to raise money for Catholic Social Services: “Music is an elixir for the soul. It can mend what is broken.” He saw the hand of God in the artist’s work.
Most of all, Fr. Jack was a servant of his community. He loved being a priest, and he found his greatest purpose as a disciple of Jesus.
Fr. Jack was preceded in death by his siblings: Herbert LaGoe, Francis LaGoe, Marianne Martin, Monica Muth, Rose Chvojka, Paul LaGoe, James LaGoe, and Rita Berry . He is survived by his friend, Janice Schuler, and the Schuler and Christian families; Sister-in -law, Gwen LaGoe; his musician family of Dave and Kate Habetler, and Steve and Terry Cousins; and many beloved nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Fr. Jack’s life will take place on November 6, 11:30 AM, at Jacobs Farm, 7100 East Traverse Highway, Traverse City, Michigan.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Father Jack Foundation at the Community Foundation of Muskegon County (www.muskegonfoundation.org).
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