Fr Joe Maguire SMA – Funeral homily
Fr Joe Maguire SMA passed to his eternal reward on Monday, 21 November 2016. His funeral Mass was celebrated in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork, on Wednesday, 23 November. The Principal Celebrant was the SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Michael McCabe. He was assisted by Fr Pat Clarke [Archdiocese of Edinburgh, Scotland, who worked in Jos, Nigeria with Fr Joe], Fr Bernie Cotter SMA, Fr Seán Lynch SMA and Fr Alphonse Sekongo SMA. Bishops Timothy Carroll, Patrick J Harrington SMA, Noel O’Regan SMA and more than 40 SMA priests also concelebrated the funeral Mass. The chief mourner was Fr Joe’s sister, Mrs Sheila Barnwall with her family and other nieces, nephews, relatives and friends from Dublin and other parts of the country.
In his introduction to the Mass, Fr McCabe welcomed all who had travelled to be with the SMA as we said ‘goodbye’ to the oldest SMA priest in the Irish Province. “We gather here today to bid farewell to our dear brother, Fr Joe Maguire, and to pray that he now shares in the Risen life of the Lord who has promised eternal life to all who believe in him. Welcome to all who have come here today to take part in this funeral Mass, members of his family, particularly his sister Sheila, friends, neighbours, SMA priests and brothers. Sisters from the OLA, St Louis, Infant Jesus and Holy Child congregations. I also welcome Fr Pat Crean of Edinburgh Archdiocese and his sister Mary and Fr Martin Crean OSA.
I wish to convey my condolences to his sister, Sheila, his sisters-in-law, Josephine and Joyce, his nieces, including Sr Dolores in the USA, and his nephews, grandnephews, grandnieces, SMA confreres, the Archbishop, clergy, religious and people of the Archdiocese of Jos, Nigeria and Fr Joe’s other relatives and friends.
We remember in this Eucharist the deceased members of Fr Joe’s family, his parents, James and Julia, his brothers, Jimmy, Micheál and Kevin; his sisters Sr Michael and Christina, deceased relatives and friends as well as deceased members of our SMA family.”
After the Gospel, Fr Michael preached the following homily, an edited version of which we present here.
“We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus; God will bring them with him.”
“Those who trust in the Lord will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.”
“I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. … If anyone serves me my Father will honour him.”
Fr Joe died as he has lived – “in Jesus” – and has gone from us to be with him for ever. He gave his life totally and without conditions or reservations to the Lord as an SMA missionary priest. He had a long life – longer that the psalmist envisaged (“Seventy is the sum of our years or eighty for those who are strong”) – and was privileged to see the fruits of his ‘mighty sowing’ (P H Pearse). In February 2007, Fr Joe was one of a group of Irish missionaries, including the Provincial Leader at the time, Fr Fachtna O Driscoll, who were invited to take part in the centenary celebrations in Shendam (Nigeria) of the arrival of the first SMA missionaries in Northern Nigeria. Fr Joe wrote a vivid and detailed account of that event, describing it as “a wonderful, wonderful experience, one never to be forgotten”. In his account he paid tribute to the first SMA missionaries (three Frenchmen, Frs Waller, Mouren and Belin) to arrive in Northern Nigeria and embark on an enterprise that would, at the cost of their lives, yield a harvest surpassing all expectations. Fr Joe stated: “What Faith, Hope, Charity, Courage and Perseverance, those first missionaries have shown. Truly we can say, on their behalf, ‘Zeal for your house has consumed me’ (Jn 2:17).” We can also say the same for Fr Joe whose long life of missionary service built on the foundation laid by those pioneers. Zeal for the Lord and the growth of his reign of love, truth and just was the patent force that shaped Fr Joe’s life. As we mourn the passing of a great missionary, we thank God for his ministry and what he achieved, and recall some of the key moments of that life.
Joe was born in Warren St, South Circular Road, Dublin on 28 March, 1922. He was the fifth born of a family of seven: four boys and three girls. Having completed his primary education at Grantham National School and Synge Street CBS, Joe moved to Mungret College, Limerick, for his secondary Education. At that time, Mungret College was an Apostolic School, established by the Jesuits to educate young men who might be thinking of becoming missionary priests. During his years at Mungret the seed of a missionary vocation was sown in Joe’s heart. However, on completing his secondary education, Joe decided to join the SMA – not the Jesuits – and, in September 1941, he entered the SMA Novitiate in Cloughballymore, Co Galway where he also studied philosophy. Two years later, he moved on to the SMA Major Seminary in Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, where he completed his theological studies. He became a permanent member of the Society on 12 June 1946 and, one year later, on 18 June, 1947, along with 15 classmates, he was ordained priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty at St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry. The next day, Fr Joe celebrated his first Mass at Our Lady of Good Council Church, Mourne Rd, Drimnagh, Dublin, where his family then lived. His first missionary appointment was to the Prefecture of Jos, Northern Nigeria, and the 8 January 1948, Fr Joe, along with three of his classmates – Frs Tommy Drummond, Bill Power and David O’Regan – left Dun Laoghaire for Southampton and from there set sail for Nigeria.
Apart from a short break in Ireland in 1975, for medical treatment, Fr Joe was to spend the next fifty one years of his life in Northern Nigeria. His arrival in Nigeria coincided with the beginning of a great upsurge in education, as the Nigerian Government gave capital grants and grant-in-aid for primary schools. As a result, primary schools sprang up all over Nigeria and greatly facilitated the work of evangelisation. Fr Joe’s own apostolate was quite varied and enriching involving parish work, teacher training, and six years in the Minor Seminary in Barakin Ladi. He also held important administrative and leadership roles. In 1979 he was elected SMA Regional Superior with responsibility for the welfare of SMA members in Northern Nigeria – a post he held until 1983. Later he was elected Society Superior in Jos. Fr Joe also represented the Region of Northern Nigeria as a delegate at the 1973 SMA General Assembly, and also at the Irish Provincial Assemblies in 1973, 1979 and 1983. As a Leader, Fr Joe was well organised, conscientious and efficient, a man of enormous integrity who easily won the trust and admiration of others. He gave 100% of himself to whatever task he was asked to undertake. While he could be demanding of others, he was most demanding of himself and led by the example of his life. He was a genial and gracious host to the many sisters and priests who came to visit the Regional House. He welcomed and supported the fidei donum priests who came to work in Jos from the diocese of Edinburgh. He was, above all, a true friend and mentor for the local clergy. One of those priests, Paul Gokok, now studying in Germany, and who was baptised by Fr Joe in 1968, on hearing of Joe’s death, phoned to convey his condolences.
As I have already mentioned, Fr Joe lived to see the mustard seed of God’s word grow into a mighty tree. When he first arrived in Jos Prefecture, in January 1948, there were only nine parishes in that vast territory. Transport was minimal with just 4 cars in the entire Prefecture. By the time he left to return to Ireland, in 1999, he has seen that Prefecture transformed into an Archdiocese with several suffragan dioceses, served by indigenous bishops and priests – and with a vast cohort of sisters, catechists, and lay leaders. For Fr Joe, this phenomenal growth was, of course, God’s doing – it was a miracle of grace. However, it was made possible by the missionaries’ wholehearted commitment to the task of evangelisation (what Joe termed “getting stuck into the work”) and perseverance. And underlying and fuelling that perseverance and commitment were a solid life of prayer, the daily celebration of the Eucharist, and the encouraging response of the people.
Fr Joe’s commitment to the SMA and the people of Nigeria was leavened by a profound sense of gratitude for the grace of his priesthood and missionary vocation. When I and my sibblings were growing up, grandmother – to get us to wash ourselves – used to say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Whatever be the truth of that claim, gratitude or thankfulness is the clearest expression of Godliness, and Fr Joe was truly grateful for all that the Lord was doing in and through his life and ministry. Two moments which brought him immense joy and for which he was especially grateful were the visit of Pope John Paul II to Kaduna in February 1982 and his own return visit to Shendam, Nigeria, in 2007 (at the age of 83) for the centenary celebration of the arrival of the missionaries in Northern Nigeria.
Fr Joe was a selfless worker in the vineyard of the Lord, but he was also a keen sportsman – especially hurling and football – and an enthusiastic supporter of his home county, Dublin. He was an unabashed admirer of the achievements of the great Kevin Heffernan with whom he struck up a close friendship – and whom he advised on matters of football strategy! Joe’s enthusiasm for the Dubs had not dimmed over the years and he was delighted this year to see Dublin once again win the All Ireland final against Mayo.
The last 17 years of Fr Joe’s life were spent in the SMA community of Blackrock Road, where he continued to contribute to the life of the Province and participate fully in all aspects of the life of the community. He took particularly to heart the injunction of Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5:17) and his visits to the oratory grew more frequent as the years went by. He suffered bouts of ill health, especially in recent years, but these did not dampen his energy or his determination to live life to the full. It was only with the greatest reluctance that, less than two years ago, he moved to St Theresa’s Nursing Unit. There he was well cared for by Sr Margaret Kiely RSM and nursing Staff. While in St Theresa’s he continued to take his meals with the main community and attend all community exercises. The words of Sir Harry Lauder’s famous song sum up Joe’s spirit of steely determination to keep going right up to the end:
Keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end. Tho’ the way be long, let your heart be strong, keep right on round the bend.
Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on, till you come to your happy abode, where all the love you’ve been dreaming of will be there at the end of the road.
Only the day before Fr Joe died, seeing how frail he was and yet insistent on keep going, I remarked to a confrere: “Joe will surely die on his feet”. And, indeed, he kept journeying right on ‘to the end of the road’, until the Lord was ready to take him to himself, and, as the words of the first Reading today puts it, “live with him in love”.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.