The Reverend Cornelius deWitt Hastie, Episcopal priest of the diocese of Massachusetts, died June 15, 2016, of a massive heart attack while playing bridge at Temple Reyim in Newton. “I saw his essence leave him, and I knew he was dead,” his bridge partner said. He was 85.
Neal, as he was known, was born the fifth of six children on Jan. 22, 1931, the height of the Depression, in Spring Lake, N.J., to Colonel Frank Hastie and Cecile Amelie (deWitt) Hastie. Due to his father’s frequent assignments with the Army Corps of Engineers, he moved many times in his youth.
He received a four-year scholarship to attend Exeter, where he graduated magna cum laude, the youngest member of Phillips Exeter Academy Class of ’48, after a postgraduate year. With a four-year Pepsi-Cola scholarship, he received his B.A. cum laude from Harvard College in 1952, and an M.Div. from the Episcopal Theological School in 1956. As graduate secretary of Phillips Brooks House at Harvard, he supervised extensive student volunteer activities and kept the house an oasis of hospitality, social services, and religious meetings to fulfill Bishop Brooks’ vision. It was here Neal began to understand and act on his calling to a ministry of empowerment to the underserved, the poor, the imprisoned, the disabled, the aging — God’s people in the world.
At varying times he was the rector of St. John’s Church in the Roxbury section of Boston, St. James, and he served over 20 years as Protestant chaplain at the Suffolk County House of Correction, and part-time in Charlestown. He was the founding director of the St. James Educational Center, with many programs morphing into a Head Start Center, serving thousands of children and families over three decades.
His former wife, Elizabeth Lacy, a talented social worker, and Pauline Phelps, a dedicated teacher of parent teachers, were each instrumental in the early development of these classroom programs.
He and Elizabeth owned a home in Vineyard Haven, where he made many friends. These included the Rev. Brian Murdoch, the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven.
In 1981 he married Linda Chase Marvin, and together they had 35 years of shared family values, faith, travels, ministry, and humor.
The Rev. Hastie returned to Exeter with his family in 1996, to receive the John Phillips Award, the highest recognition the academy bestows. However, his highest professional satisfaction came when he heard from the youth his ministry touched “back in the day,” who were now successfully grown, educated, and working in the world. The day he died, Father Hastie had read a card from one young woman who wrote of her teenage years, “You have had an amazing life … I will never forget how well you took care of us. You will always have a special place in my heart.”
Over the years he was an icon of indefatigable energy, supplemented by a spirit-filled compassion for empowering people.
Neal retired after 39 years directing the St. James Educational Center. However, Father Hastie was not a retiring type. He began a volunteer nursing-home ministry, bringing weekly communion to residents and staff at four major institutions within walking distance of his Jamaica Plain home. He was fierce in challenging his retired colleagues to do likewise in their communities. The aged, the sick, the infirm became his retirement congregation. During these later years, he and Linda enjoyed many travels together, as well as literature and bridge. He had an insatiable appetite for learning.
Neal will be missed by his beloved sons John and George (formerly Beth); his daughter-in-law Bettina; grandson Caliban; brother Clement Hastie of Westchester, N.Y., as well as a host of nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Contributions in his memory may be made to B-SAFE Summer Youth Programs, c/o St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 419 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA 02118, or to the general fund of St. John St. James Episcopal Church, 149 Roxbury Street, Roxbury, MA 02119.