John J. McVeigh, priest and advocate for children

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Father John J. McVeigh

The Rev. John J. McVeigh dedicated his life to helping others, especially children, whom he encouraged to seek educational opportunities.

Father McVeigh, 90, a Philadelphia native and a 1944 graduate of West Catholic High School, died Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Also known as "Father Jack," he spent much of his time in the ministry in parishes in Reno, Nev., and Las Vegas. He returned to the East Coast after retirement, living in Haddonfield and most recently in Cape May.

While retired, Father McVeigh said Mass regularly at Sacred Heart Church in Mount Holly and Holy Saviour Church in Linwood, which closed last year.

Before retiring in 1991, Father McVeigh traveled the world, meeting St. Teresa of Calcutta in India on several occasions, calling her a "tough cookie" as she provided food, clothing, and medication to impoverished villages, said Holly Notaro, whose mother, Jeannette H. Notaro, is Father McVeigh's cousin. "He admired her for her toughness and tenacity," Holly Notaro said.

During the Vietnam War, Father McVeigh was based in Saigon, overseeing Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services. In 1975, as the war neared its end and Americans were ordered to leave, Father McVeigh made sure children and his workers could be evacuated safely before he would leave, the Notaros said.

He was among the last to board a helicopter. They were rescued from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon before the fall of the South Vietnamese capital.

In 1976, Father McVeigh met Teresa again when he was asked to pick her up at Philadelphia's airport when she was honored at Immaculata University, Holly Notaro said, joking that her cousin was Mother Teresa's chauffeur.

Notaro said Father McVeigh took an interest in his extended family - especially the children - whom he visited frequently on the East Coast. He was an only child who lost his father, John Joseph McVeigh, at a young age, and his mother, Ann Cecilia Kane, to cancer when he was a teenager.

During his senior year of high school, Father McVeigh enlisted in the Navy, leaving for military service shortly after graduation. He became a submariner during World War II, his family said. He reenlisted and served in the Navy Reserve.

In the early 1950s, he entered the priesthood. In 1958, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in theology from Niagara University, and in 1965 he received his master's degree in social work from the Catholic University of America.

Father McVeigh served on the faculty of Bishop Manogue High School in Reno, and was the chaplain for Fallon Air Force Base and the Reno VA Hospital. He also served as a director of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, often traveling overseas.

While in Vietnam, he assisted with the adoptions of Vietnamese children by American families. About 20 years ago, a woman contacted him trying to find out about her biological parents. The two remained friends over the years, Holly Notaro said.

In addition to his cousin and her daughter, he is survived by cousins Tracy McClurg, Jeannine Pratt, Robert Jr. and Timothy Kane, and Marybeth Kelly.

The family will receive friends from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church, 200 Windsor Ave., Haddonfield. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11 a.m. Burial will be private.

Memorial contributions may be made to Catholic Relief Services, Box 17090, Baltimore, Md. 21297-0303 (www.crs.org), or Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, 1845 Haddon Ave., Camden, N.J. 08103 (www.catholiccharitiescamden.org/give).

bboyer@phillynews.com

856-779-3838@BBBoyer

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