Obituary: Rev. Thomas Duggan

Grandfather, pastor to international and US churches, active at Pilgrim Place

Born in Chicago in 1934, the Rev. Thomas Duggan died from complications of lymphoma, on October 21 at his home in Claremont.

When Tom was a young child his family moved from Chicago to Pelham, New York, with his father practicing law in New York City. His father assumed his son would follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer, but he went in a different direction when he later experienced a call to the ministry.

While his parents were not churchgoers, they wanted their children to attend a church. They might have sent them to the town’s main Episcopal church, but because it was wartime and the family needed to save rationed gasoline, they instead sent the youngster and his brother to the closer Presbyterian Church.  He was fascinated by the church and greatly influenced by its youth minister. As a student at Princeton his interest continued. Yale Divinity School followed. In 1959 he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At that time a Yale classmate told him about a Presbyterian teaching abroad program. Intrigued, he applied, and soon found himself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English.

There he met Gail Egan, who was also teaching in the program. Three years later they were married.

“Thailand changed both of us,” Rev. Duggan said. Besides broadening his world view, the experience convinced him his true calling was as pastor more than teacher.

Back to the United States in 1964, he served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Milford, Connecticut. In 1967 he was associate pastor in Hayward, California, was president of the local council of churches, and supervised students from San Francisco Theological Seminary. From 1971 to 1975, he was pastor of the Federated Community Church in Flagstaff, Arizona. He served one term as moderator of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon.

After so many moves a member of Rev. Duggan’s home church in New York advised him, “If you don’t settle down you will never amount to anything.”

However, upon seeing a notice that the American Protestant Church of The Hague, The Netherlands was seeking a pastor, he applied. Three fulfilling years in Holland were the result. During this time Rev. Duggan finished his doctor of ministry from Princeton Seminary.

One of his advisors wanted to submit his name for an opening at the American Church in Paris. “Always before,” Rev. Duggan said, “the senior pastor at ACP had been a very prestigious pastor nearing the end of his career.”

The selection committee decided to choose a youthful pastor who could reach out to younger people in their changing congregation. The church was founded in 1857, and in the 1930s moved to a new location along the Seine in the heart of Paris.

The Duggan family, including their two children, arrived there in 1978. They spent the next 14 years experiencing a remarkable time. The American Church overseas plays a very different role in people’s lives than it does at home. It provides a comfortable community where people speak English. So, people go to church when otherwise they might not, his family shared. “Jokingly they say husbands come because there are no Sunday newspapers in English and no American sports on TV,” they added.

Traditionally composed of American expatriates, diplomats, and the business community, by the 1980s the American Church in Paris had become a more diverse population of different cultures and expectations. Reverend Duggan faced many new challenges. One unforgettable event was provided when bombs exploded at a neighboring building. Terrorists were targeting a multinational housed near the church. Not only was the explosion felt inside the church, the police cordoned off the house of worship to prevent possible car bombs, and everyone entering the church was searched.

His responsibilities were numerous. He had to coordinate some 30 organizations that were part of the church’s outreach. A new grand pipe organ was installed in the church, enhancing not only worship services but increasing the numerous cultural programs ACP provided for the wider community. Two Tiffany windows needed special care and the pulpit was completed with six new carvings. These and other projects required endless fundraising.

Although serving as senior pastor of the American Church in Paris had probably been the highlight of his career, by 1992 he felt ready for a change. He spent the next six years pastoring a church in Thailand, seeing many of his previous students, now middle aged and middle class, making significant contributions to Thai society.

Retiring to Pilgrim Place, he served as interim pastor in three Southern California houses of worship, including Claremont Presbyterian Church. Rev. Duggan contributed to life at Pilgrim Place in many ways. He was on the board of directors, the nominating committee, chair of the Pilgrim Place Festival, and was active in the Napier Initiative and Progressive Christians Uniting.

He is survived by his wife, Gail; daughter, Frieda Duggan; son, Christopher Duggan and daughter-in-law Tara; and grandsons Liam and Ari.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, January 18, 2020 in Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall, 665 Avery Rd., Claremont.



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