Emerson Hynes ’37 — A Legacy Lives

On April 11 I attended events on campus that marked the 100th birthday of Eugene McCarthy ’35. McCarthy has had an enormous influence on generations of individuals at Saint John’s and at Saint Ben’s, and his life and legacy have touched uncounted numbers across the country. That evening over a hundred people congregated to celebrate McCarthy’s remarkable life, and among them were members of the extended family of Emerson Hynes ’37, whose life McCarthy also influenced.

Emerson grew up on a farm in Winnebago, MN, the youngest of ten children. His father died when Emerson was just a toddler, and that event had consequences that impacted the entire family. It meant that his oldest sibling Stanley had to withdraw from his studies at Saint John’s and return home to help their mother take care of the family. Through it all Emerson’s intellect and love of literature developed, however, and in 1933 he enrolled at Saint John’s. Four years later he became the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

While at Saint John’s Emerson studied philosophy under Fr. Virgil Michel, OSB, who became Emerson’s mentor. Together they studied Catholic social justice, and after graduation from Saint John’s Emerson received a scholarship to study for a master’s degree in apologetics at Notre Dame. Then, in 1939, Fr. Walter Reger, OSB arranged for Emerson’s return to Collegeville to teach philosophy and sociology.

Shortly thereafter he married Arlene McCarty and they built a home, Kilfenora, in Collegeville, where together they raised ten children. Very quickly the Hynes family became an ingrained fixture in the Collegeville and Saint John’s communities. 

In 1959 Emerson and Arlene moved their family to Washington, DC when Emerson’s dear friend Eugene McCarthy asked him to serve as his legislative assistant in the United States Senate. It was a difficult decision to move away from rural Collegeville, but Emerson was drawn to the challenge. He believed that his expertise in ethics and Catholic social teaching could be influential in the Senate. There he worked for McCarthy until McCarthy resigned from the Senate in 1970.

In July of 1971 Emerson died of complications from a stroke. In the following decade the Hynes family established the Emerson Hynes Memorial Scholarship at Saint John’s, and it continues to be awarded annually to students who demonstrate financial need and show academic promise and leadership potential. The criteria of the scholarship exemplify Emerson’s upbringing, his intellectual curiosity and his love for Saint John’s. In the 2015-16 academic year one student again received the scholarship, and it promises to influence future Johnnies for decades to come.

Emerson’s story is personal to me, as he is my maternal grandmother’s uncle as well as uncle to my godfather and uncle. Not surprisingly I’ve heard lots of stories about Emerson and his relationships at Saint John’s, about Kilfenora, and about his work in Washington with Senator McCarthy. I am humbled to be related to Emerson and I’m proud that the Hynes family continues to value a Saint John’s education. Most of all, I’m thrilled that Emerson’s life, through the generosity of his family, will continue to have an impact on young men who seek a holistic education at Saint John’s.

[Editor’s note:  Besides being related to Emerson Hynes, Ted Kain is assistant director of annual giving in the Office of Institutional Advancement.]