John Marsden, O.S.A.

1851 – 1879 (October 2)

John Marsden, one of three sons of Laurence Marsden and Helen Duckett, all of whom became members of the American Province, was born on September 23, 1851 in Clitheroe, England, and was baptized there in the local Catholic Church five days later. Following the completion of studies at the Latin School in Troy, he was enrolled at Villanova in 1869 and began his novitiate on January 23, 1870. John made his first profession on January 21, 1871, and his solemn profession on January 25, 1874. He continued his studies at Villanova and in April, 1874, was appointed “dean of the novitiate.” John was ordained to the priesthood on March 7, 1875, with his novitiate classmate, Peter C. McGovern, and a diocesan priest, by Bishop Martin Crane, O.S.A. of Sandhurst, Australia, at St. Augustine’s Church in Philadelphia. He celebrated his First Mass there with his brothers, Charles as deacon, and William as sub-deacon.

Father John’s only assignment was to St. Mary’s Parish in Lawrence. In April, 1875, he was appointed director of the choir. In July, 1876, he directed the combined choirs of three churches in the city cared for by the Augustinians, St. Mary, Immaculate Conception, and St. Laurence O’Toole, for the funeral of Father Ambrose Mullen, O.S.A., rector of St. Augustine’s Parish in Andover. On Christmas morning, 1876, Saint Mary’s witnessed the rare celebration of a Solemn High Mass celebrated by the three Marsden brothers, with John as celebrant, Charles as deacon and William as sub-deacon. 

During the six month absence of Saint Mary’s pastor, from July to December, 1878, Father John served as parish administrator. It was during this period that his illness first became evident. In January, 1879 he went to Jacksonville, Florida on the advice of his physician, where he remained until May when he returned to Philadelphia, somewhat improved. He returned to Lawrence in July. After a few weeks he seemed much better but he suffered a hemorrhage in September. Father Gilmore, the pastor, had the sad duty to inform him, as he had his brother Charles two years previously, that the end was near. Father John was resigned, and asked for the sacraments, which Father Gilmore administered at 8 o’clock Sunday evening, September 28th, at the same hour, same day of the week and on the vigil of the same feast, that of the Seven Sorrows, that he had administered them to his brother Charles. 

He died at St. Mary’s at 8am on Thursday, October 2, 1879 at 29 years of age. The cause was consumption. A Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated on Tuesday, October 7th, with about 50 clergy present. Father Pacifico Neno, Prior Provincial, led the recitation of the Office of the Dead, and was celebrant of the Mass. At the end of the Mass the sermon was given by Father Henry A. Fleming, O.S.A. of St. Augustine, Philadelphia, a good friend and novitiate classmate of Father John, who had spent several weeks with him at the beginning of his illness. In his homily, he spoke of him as “a good and holy priest, and a devoted and zealous son of St. Augustine; pious, earnest and unselfish to a remarkable degree.”

Father John Marsden is buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Lawrence.