James J. Prendergast, 86, of Villanova, a lawyer and supporter of Catholic causes, died Saturday, Jan. 19, of respiratory failure at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Mr. Prendergast had a career as a senior specialist in municipal finance at the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz from 1977 to 1997. He prepared by earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from St. Joseph’s University and a law degree from Temple University.

“He was considered a ‘titan’ among municipal bond practitioners, and represented numerous investment bankers and municipal authorities in connection with the issuance of tax-exempt bonds,” a Pepper Hamilton spokesperson said. “In collaboration with his partner, David A. Franklin, he compiled and edited a ‘Glossary of Public Finance Terminology,’ which is widely used in the municipal finance industry, even today.”

He was considered such an expert on municipal bonds that in August 1990, he was retained by then-City Solicitor Charisse R. Lillie when the city was trying to raise $450 million by selling short-term notes. The city was in danger of running out of cash by the end of that year, the Inquirer reported at the time.

Mr. Prendergast was asked for guidance on what financial information had to be made public, and whether a special bond committee created to handle the transaction could be held liable if the city defaulted.

Before joining Pepper Hamilton, Mr. Prendergast was a partner for almost two decades with another law firm, Townsend Elliott & Munson in Philadelphia.

The son of Irish immigrants, Mr. Prendergast was born in Philadelphia and graduated from St. Thomas More High School. In 1954, he married Dorothy Downes.

The couple had seven children, two of whom had severe cystic fibrosis. Patrick, born in 1957, died of the disease in 1961. Dorothy M., known as “Dottie,” was born in 1960 and died in 1963. They are buried in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township.

“The strength that those two people had, to grow and take care of us," was amazing, the couple’s eldest daughter, Mary, said. “In heaven, I think, there’s a penthouse, and I think that’s where they’re going. He was a fighter.”

Patrick and Dottie, two of the seven Prendergast children, died young from cystic fibrosis. Their grave site is at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield, Delaware County. Photo courtesy of billiongraves.com.
Courtesy of billiongraves.com
Patrick and Dottie, two of the seven Prendergast children, died young from cystic fibrosis. Their grave site is at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield, Delaware County. Photo courtesy of billiongraves.com.

Mr. Prendergast, a Republican, ran successfully in November 1993 for election to the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners. He ran again in 1997 on a platform of fiscal austerity and served until 2000, the township said.

Mr. Prendergast was a dedicated family man and friend, with a sense of humor and compassion. “He was love in action, always thinking of others first, praying, helping, giving, and caring,” his family said.

He took an interest in Catholic causes, serving as a councilman for St. Thomas of Villanova chapel on the campus of Villanova University. He was a member of the Justinian Society and the founder and vice president of the Girls Catholic Academy League, part of the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies.

“He had a special place in his heart for his alma mater, St. Thomas More High School,” his family said.

He was a member of the Overbrook Country Club, Whitemarsh Country Club, Union League of Philadelphia, and Vesper Club.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by children Cate C. Greaney, Frank, Tom, and James Jr., and six grandchildren.

A visitation from 10 to 10:50 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Thomas of Villanova Chapel on the campus of Villanova University, 800 E. Lancaster Ave. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 4550 Montgomery Ave., Suite 1100 N, Bethesda, Md. 20814.